On December 3rd 2020, Nordwit’s Tampere team helped organise and participated in a seminar, titled Why does it benefit small and medium-sized businesses to consider (gender) equality? The seminar was part of a series of discussions titled Research and innovation in the Pirkanmaa region: gender equality as a solution, organized collaboratively by the Council of Tampere Region, the Centre for Economic Development, Transport and the Environment, Nordwit at Tampere University and the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment. The previous events in the series were workshops, which mapped the current state of gender equality in regional research and innovation (workshop 1) and focused on practices in university and regional funding (workshop 2). The third event was a open-to-all online seminar of about 30 participants, and its objective was to discuss the meaning of (gender) equality for a small or medium-sized business’s innovativeness and resilience.Continue reading “Advancing gender equality through collaboration between researchers and regional agencies”
In the previous blogpost, Gabrielle Griffin wrote about gender equality policies that function as “non-performative performatives” (Ahmed, 2012). Such policies not only fail to bring about institutional change but are also taken to be the action itself. It has been argued that gender budgeting is one solution to this problem in the implementation of gender equality plans. This is also one of the ten topics we, Nordwit-Pillar 1, focus on in our action to increase women’s participation in technology related innovation.
The CoP GenBUDGET of the ACTonGender project recently organized a webinar on the same topic, gender budgeting in higher education and research institutions. In it, two of the webinar’s presenters, Tiandara Addabbo and Jennifer Dahmen-Adkins, asserted that gender budgeting can be seen as a lever of structural change in research institutions. They argued that following research institutions’ money can reveal and help act against gender biases in the allocation of funds and resources. Thus, as the budget reflects an institution’s real policy commitments, an analysis of budgeting can also increase the sustainability of gender equality plans.
Another presentation, however, pointed to a challenge in implementing gender equality through gender budgeting; namely, the lack of transparency in budgets. Carmichael, Steinþórsdóttir and Taylor’s research on gendered workloads in research institutions showed that detecting gender biases in budgeting might be more difficult than assumed. Despite of the extensive use of management tools in workload allocation processes, transparency of process and equity of outcome are not ensured (ibid, 2020).
As we enter 2021, many research and higher education institutions might be readying to institute gender equality plans due to the new GEP requirement for eligibility in Horizon Europe. As the GEP requirements in research is in a new phase, it is critical to put the difficulties related to the implementation of gender equality policies on the agenda.
Carmichael,F., Steinþórsdóttir, F. S. and Taylor, S. (December 11th, 2020). “Gendered workload in universities as a feminist issue: A case study of a UK Business School.” Webinar on Gender Budgeting in research organizations. ActonGender
Last week our ‘sister’ centre Nordicore hosted an excellent webinar at which Charlotte Silander from SLU in Uppsala spoke about gender equality measures in academe in Finland, Norway and Sweden. She and colleagues have categorized gender equality measures in terms of organizational ones and those aimed at individuals. They showed that all universities have organisational equality measures such as equality policies but measures aimed at individuals are less frequently employed. The higher education institutions in the three different countries also had these equality measures to diverse degrees. Interestingly, though, these measures and the extent to which institutions had them did not seem to effect the numbers of women in senior positions. Given that pretty much all institutions had organizational measures such as relevant policies, one answer which offers itself to this conundrum is Sara Ahmed’s (2012) analysis of institutional policies as ‘non-performative performatives’, i.e. as measures that are meant to do certain things but they do not. Those of us who live institutional professional lives are only too familiar with such non-performative performatives. The processualization of academic life since the 1990’s has certainly led to greater degrees of bureaucracy and answered demands for accountability but it has not necessarily resulted in better outcomes. Still, 2021 is only around the corner – let’s hope for the future!
In her most recent blog post, Päivi Korvajärvi mentioned a conversation we had over Zoom with our Tampere Nordwit team, where we discussed the complexity of analyzing research interviews when the explicit and implicit content of the interviews are clearly contradictory. In this post I would like to expand on this conversation and the ethical dilemmas that arose from it.
One of my tasks as a research assistant is translating sections of interviews which were conducted in Finnish into English for international publication. This means that I’ve read through a lot of quotes from the interviews, intensely focused on capturing the exact meaning of what was said. What has caught my attention, more than anything else, is this: The women Nordwit has interviewed in Tampere for our research describe events and experiences in their academic careers that to us, reading the interviews with some level of gender studies expertise, seem obviously gendered and often openly discriminatory. The interviewees, however, appear to be very eager to offer up pretty much anything besides gender as an explanation or context for these experiences.
My belief is that this is a kind of defence mechanism: in order to survive in male-dominated fields that can be unwelcoming or outright hostile towards women, these women have had to choose not to acknowledge how their gender affects the way they are treated. To acknowledge that gender makes a difference in the workplace – often, for women, a negative difference – would mean having to acknowledge that there is a systematic problem and a structure of oppression, one that the individual academic employee is relatively powerless to change.
With a sense of powerlessness comes a lack of agency and feelings of victimhood, and women can’t function effectively in academia and do excellent research if they feel like they have no agency and are victims in their own workplaces. Therefore choosing to deny that there are gendered structures and inequalities becomes the only viable option for continuing their work in their chosen field. Not to mention that being one of the few women in a male-dominated setting and talking about gender equality is not a likely recipe for popularity among colleagues.
I am just an assistant and have not seen the entirety of the data, but in our discussion, my colleagues seemed to agree that this is a reoccurring theme in the interviews. They pointed out, however, that problem that then arises for them as researchers is how to address this phenomenon in their research and various publications. The goal, of course, is to treat the women who were kind enough to take the time to share their professional lives for the benefit of Nordwit’s research with utmost respect. Is it, therefore, ethical, let alone respectful, to call the interviewees’ experiences into question in such a way? And are we calling their experiences into question by pointing out the contradictions between the experiences they describe and how they explain them, or are we simply analysing the way they contextualise their experiences and through what kind of discourse they recount them? Do we have a right to do that, either?
Clearly, this is a significant problem, because it is fairly obvious that there are practices and structures in academia, particularly in male-dominated STEM fields, which produce gendered inequalities and injustice, and there is no other way to address and dismantle systemic injustice other than to first acknowledge that there is systemic injustice at play. Pointing out in research that there is a pattern of discrimination, despite the individuals’ claims that there is not, is essential in calling attention to the problems that must be addressed. But is it a disservice to our interviewees to contextualize their experiences in ways they don’t agree with? Are we sacrificing them to the cause of understanding gender inequality in academia? And if we are, can we justify it?
A bit of good news during the November gloom: in the past week we had the offer of a contract from Policy Press (UK) for a book entitled Gender Inequalities in Tech-Driven Research and Innovation: Living the Contradiction which will deal with much of the research and many of the findings of our work in Nordwit. The book is likely to be published in the spring of 2022, so just when or immediately after our 5 years of Nordwit have finished. Writing it will keep us occupied during the next few months.
Among the issues that will be discussed in this volume is the question of how women arrive in tech-driven professions. Clearly at present we live in an age of workplace transformation as a function of the increasing technologization of workplaces. We have all found this during covid-19 when the need to work online – for those who can – has become paramount. For some this means that in the foreseeable future they will not return to an office; indeed, they may never. Simultaneously in many countries the acceleration of online retail etc. has changed both producer and consumer behaviour significantly. As I write this, one of the largest retail chains in the UK, Arcadia, is about to call in the receivers, with a potential loss of some 13,000 jobs. One reason for this business collapse is the massive move from offline to online shopping. For the 13,000 people whose job is at risk the immediate question is, where will they find new work? And what sort of skills will they need to make it in the new technologized/-ing workplaces? As we (still) struggle with zoom, even after months of self-taught adaptation to the new work situation, we note that many of us now inhabit technologized work places that were analogue in the past. This also means that our adaptation to our technologized work places has occurred in a context where we were not specifically trained for this.
Some of the studies in Nordwit have shown that women in particular arrive in technologized work places and work in tech-driven careers without necessarily having been educated or trained for this. They therefore do not make the education statistics (e.g. OECD) that detail the gendered structures of education. This also means that these statistics do not necessarily predict accurately what happens subsequently in people’s working lives. And: many jobs that are highly technologized are not necessarily labelled as such: the work of a university lecturer now is significantly different from what it was even a year ago. Covid-19 has certainly changed the world of work.
12-13 November, along with a number of Nordwit colleagues, I participated in the Gender Studies Conference 2020, organised virtually by Tampere University and the Association for Gender Studies in Finland. The theme of the conference was Reclaiming Futures, and Nordwit coordinated, in collaboration with Maria Pietilä from NORDICORE, a four-part series of panels, titled Gendering research in and outside academia. In this blog post, I’ll reflect on what I heard at and learned from the conference, focusing on some of the challenges that scientific research and specifically feminist research currently faces.Continue reading “Struggling to reclaim futures in the neoliberal university”
Last week Nordwit had its annual Centre meeting including its very own Scientific Advisory Board: Thorgerdur Einarsdóttir, Hilda Rømer Christensen, Julia Nentwich, and Yvonne Benschop (who sadly couldn’t be there as she was involved in an assessment). Like many other events, this meeting over three days was held on Zoom, a facility to which we have all had to become used rather rapidly under covid conditions.
Zoom, Google Hangouts and Microsoft Teams have all become indispensable tools in our everyday interactional repertoire. They emblematize what N. Katherine Hayles calls ‘cognitive assemblages’ – the intra-action (in Karen Barad’s terms) of human and technology/machine which creates new forms of disciplinization. The somatic clues we use in face-to-face interactions to read what is going on in its broadest sense are greatly reduced when we use zoom. Peering at postage stamp views of each other, our interactions are slowed down – we can have discussions but they are not ‘lively’ in the conventional sense as zoomic disciplinization requires us to operate in sequential fashion. Simultaneously our bodies are coerced into a particular position vis-à-vis our computers, more restricted by the need to be available to that machine’s camera so as to be present to others. This also means that meetings need to be shorter to allow for respite from this bodily demeanor. Much has changed. We have adapted to this – but to what extent are we dealing with innovations here? We know relatively little as yet regarding how our meeting culture has changed or is changing as a function of covid – or whether/how long-term any such changes will be. There has certainly been much uptake of online meeting facilities – but will we desert them at the nearest opportunity? The joy of meeting in person when it happens remains intense. So the jury remains out.
Oili-Helena Ylijoki recently pondered in her recent Nordwit blog post what we are actually doing when we eagerly participate in funding competitions and continuously prepare research applications, thus putting our planned future achievements up for a critical evaluation. Are we simply crazy? Is it our moral responsibility as decent academics? Or are we good people, trying to offer employment opportunities for those whose precarious job contracts are about to end? There are also more painful questions, such as are we co-producing and maintaining the academic system, which may cause frustration, anger and burn-out, as well as hierarchies between the successful and those whose applications are not evaluated as ”outstanding”.
Whether academics are ”like accomplices in crime” is a crucial question. Certainly involvement in the research funding game means some kind of support and acceptance of the system. However, involvement in the system can, at its best, result in fruitful research communities, which provide a lot of energy to concentrate on interesting matters. It is wise that we recognize what it means to simultaneously hold two positions which appear to be fully contradictory. And as Oili-Helena asks, ”what could be done otherwise”? I do not have good answers.
I prepared research applications for a very long time before I retired, and often failed to receive funding, but not every time. Although I’m not eager to confess this, I perhaps have exercised symbolic violence, as Lambros Roumbanis (2019) suggests, when I have convinced and pushed people to apply for funding. Receiving funding is a truly happy occasion, but sometimes success can even lead to guilt, as there are always other, brilliant applications, which did not receive funding. Still, working in a research community, in which various interests meet and contradict in a safe atmosphere, is always a wonderful experience. Within the funding game they provide empowering bubbles, where one can feel safe to present non-conventional ideas and reflections. Last week, for example, the Tampere team of Nordwit had an extremely fruitful discussion on what gender means to our interviewed women. What are we to think, when the interviewed women clearly state that gender makes no difference, while we, based on the same interviews, find as researchers that they talk about discriminative gendered practices in academic institutions. How do we do gender through not doing it and through downplaying gender? What kind of gender game do we then participate in?
Roumbanis, L. 2019. “Symbolic violence in academic life: A study on how junior scholars are educated in the art of getting funded”, Minerva 57:2, 197-218.
We have just started a small project called FixIT digital that further develops our earlier action plan FixIT, in which we aimed to increase women’s participation in technology-related innovation. FixIT builds on the existing knowledge gathered and research conducted through Nordwit, particularly through interviewing women working across the ICT sector and employers in ICT organizations. In FixIT we developed a “package” of gender balance competence, introducing ten themes that would guide actors in the field of innovation to work for a better gender balance. FixIT digital aims to overcome some of the difficulties we faced in our action plan FixIT. It is important to highlight the difficulties we faced, since they tell us about gender equality issues in the field of technology-related innovation.
As I wrote in a previous blog post about challenges in doing action research in ICT work across sectors in rural Norway, we have found out that many companies are small and they do not allocate enough resources for promoting gender equality. Thus, our gender balance competence package was developed as an accessible tool for both individuals and companies with limited knowledge on gender and gender equality. In addition, we identified some concerns that gender equality work might be costly. Our package introduces a step-by-step application of gender equality principles that foregrounds the necessity of seeing and recognizing the imbalances that exist in the field.
Which brings us to FixIT digital. This new project engages with two key challenges that we faced in implementing FixIT: the difficulty of reaching out to the innovation actors that belong to a varied group 1) with different meeting points; 2) when gender equality is the theme of the discussion. In order to meet these challenges, FixIT digital aims to;
- convert the earlier gender balance competence ‘package’ into an online format which would be designed to be interactive – whether as a quiz or a discussion forum.
- Include a group of innovation actors from public and private sectors as well as civil society to act as reference groups that can provide feedback on the digital version of the package, but also be used as a channel to reach diverse innovation actors.
- mobilize innovation actors across sectors to attend a webinar where the online package will be introduced.
In late September we held an intensive PhD school in hybrid form (offline and online) on ‘Technologies Are Us: Feminist Perspectives of Posthuman Futures’ in collaboration with Bergen University. Under covid conditions technologies have rapidly become us in ways that we had not dreamt of even a year ago. Everybody zooms now – a year ago we did so very rarely. But technologies are us not just in terms of what we do, but also in terms of how we relate to them: the emotions they conjure up as we grapple with their (and our) in/sufficiencies. The shiny AI world of much related advertising bears little relation to the actual experience of technology and technologized events. These require much forethought, pre-planning and inter-relation in contexts of uneven playing fields. An Australian participant, for example, had to be present during her night to listen to some of our sessions. And the west coast of the US was just waking up as we were beginning to call it a day. Bodies and spaces were thus not always in sync. Global reach does not equal global synchronicity.
The real joy of the event were the wonderful and highly diverse PhD projects the students presented, often modified by covid’s inexorable reach. One participant, working on technology and sport, had had his heart set on the Olympics – not now happening as planned – as his fieldsite, and had to re-think. Another was working, artistically, on the concept of the interface. Interface as a space of translation between different media, different energies, different materials. She was producing complicated conceptual artefacts, speaking to the notion of the interface. But when will the next exhibition be? Yet another PhD student was working on sexbots which all seemed rather similar in her material, though a documentary shown on BBC3 in 2018, Sexbots and Us, reveals how in ‘niche’ markets of different kinds are already being created. For all PhDs the question of ‘relation’ – a key concept in feminist theory – was central: how do we relate to technology, how does technology relate to us? How are we disciplined by algorithmic structures – bodily, cognitively, psychologically? Jennifer Robertson’s (2018) Robo sapiens japanicus: Robots, Gender, Family, and the Japanese Nation remains a useful corrective to some of our wilder fantasies. I thoroughly recommend it.