FixIT digital: Action plans for gender balance in technology related innovation

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;

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3.  mobilize innovation actors across sectors to attend a webinar where the online package will be introduced.

Gilda Seddighi

Celebrating diversity – the opportunities that new technologies offer for research

Photo by ThisIsEngineering from Pexels

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.

Gabriele Griffin

Playing the research funding game – complicity in crime?

Foto av George Becker från Pexels

The last days of September are hectic times in Finnish universities since the application deadline of the most important funding agency, the Academy of Finland, takes place then. A couple of days ago I participated in a zoom meeting. After two hours of intense discussion most of us were tired but busy to hurry to finalize application writing. One said, “Why must we always make these applications, this is crazy.” Another replied, “But nobody is actually forcing us, it is more a cultural thing that we somehow feel obliged to make applications. We could say no, not this year.” Then the third one commented, “Yes, but we do this because of junior researchers. We want to get funding in order to be able to employ them, to protect them from unemployment. We do this for others and for a good reason.”

This small conversation reminded me of one article that I had just read for a book chapter that I am writing with my colleague Lea Henriksson on polarization of early career building in academia. Lambros Roumbanis has attended university lectures in which established professors give advices to juniors on how to write successful research funding applications. Roumbanis argues that in doing this, the professors are exercising symbolic violence. Although their intentions may be benevolent aimed to help juniors to get ahead in their career trajectories, in fact they are complicit in sustaining and reinforcing the present funding regimes. They exercise subtle form of power by socializing early career academics into the practices of the competitive academic work ethos. This power is invisible both to themselves and to its victims since it is embedded in taken-for-granted assumptions of what it means to be a successful academic.

In a rather similar tone, Carole Leathwood and Barbara Read argued already some time ago that established academics are like accomplices in crime. Although many of them are highly critical of the current managerial and neo-liberal transformations, their views remain at the level of ideological critique. In practice, they comply with the research imperatives. According to them, this reveals senior academics’ own privileged and secure position and their complicity in the strengthening of the audit culture.

I just wonder how guilty we are of producing and maintaining the current research funding game and the resulting precarious workforce of project researchers, mostly women? What could be done otherwise?

Oili-Helena Ylijoki

References:
Leathwood, C. & Read, B. 2013. “Research policy and academic performativity: compliance, contestation and complicity”, Studies in higher education 38:8, 1162-1174.

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.

Blows to our narcissism? Our PhD course on ‘Technologies are Us: Feminist Perspectives on Posthuman Futures’

Friday 18 Sept 2020 the news were full of a 20-year old Tesla car driver in Canada lying on his front seat asleep whilst his car drove along on autopilot at 150 km/h. What does this suggest? A naïve faith in (almost) autonomous cars, a ludic approach to life (and death?), plain stupidity, over-reacher syndrome, or…? Technologies are us – in so many ways…

Photo: Colourbox / Nina Bergheim Dahl

Week 39 of 2020 is the time of Nordwit’s second PhD course, entitled ‘Technologies are Us: Feminist Perspectives on Posthuman Futures’. In developing the course we were interested in how instantly questions of gender and technology led to questions of ethics. As Catherine Malabou in Morphing Intelligence (2019) suggests, ‘for the first time in a very long time, our society [is] expressing a deep and urgent need for philosophy.’ Malabou regards contemporary affective responses to artificial intelligence such as fear as misplaced – machines, even so-called self-learning ones, will not become our masters since they themselves are constructed by humans. What troubles her, and should trouble us, is their governance. This, for all the counterclaims made by GAFA (Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon) company owners and directors, i.e. the question of governance, which relates to democracy, community, trust, is the key concern from Malabou’s perspective. Systematic consultation with cybercitizens to build an AI future which supports community is what Malabou advocates, and it is how we should meet the inevitability that technologies are us in the world of AI.

Gabriele Griffin

Workshop on gender equality in regional research and innovation

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Photo by Digital Buggu from Pexels

Nordwit, in collaboration with the Tampere regional council, the Tampere Centre for Economic Development, Transport and the Environment, the Tampere University Gender Equality group, the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment, and the EU project Marie, arranged a zoom workshop focusing on the regional stakeholders’ opportunities to turn gender equality into a resource in research and innovation (R&I) on 27 August 2020.

The regional council which delivers EU structural and regional development funding, together with the ministries that guide its work, wanted to develop their own practices to promote gender equality at the level of concrete project planning and applications. Nordwit shared its research findings in the workshop and its planning.

Continue reading “Workshop on gender equality in regional research and innovation”

New Publication: What brings women into ehealth?: Women’s career trajectories in digital transformations in health care

Digital transformation of health care services is addressed world-wide in order to more efficiently meet the patients’ information and health care needs. However, little is known about the people working with this transformation, where two traditionally gendered fields meet; health care and IT. While work with digitalization generally is dominated by men, digitalization of health care services involves a large number of women. In a recent case study published at the 12th International Conference on eHealth we explore the career trajectories of women working with the digital transformation of eHealth services. The paper is written in a collaboration between Åsa Cajander, Hilde Corneliussen, Gunilla Myreteg and Kari Dyb.

The question we ask is: Who are the women in this eHealth project, and how did they come to working with this digital transformation?

The analysis shows that different types of trajectories brought the women into eHealth transformations: The first illustrating women who were pushed into working with eHealth by their job descriptions, the second showing women using eHealth as an escape route from something else, and the last trajectory showing how women stumbled across eHealth and decided to stay on. This has implications for the educational system, and points to the need for being able to study computer science later in life. It also calls for a better understanding of what drives women in transformation processes.

You find the publication available here:
https://www.vestforsk.no/nn/publication/what-brings-women-ehealth-womens-career-trajectories-digital-transformations-healthcare

Åsa Cajander

Inspirations from the EASST4S virPrague conference 2020

Nordwit (members) attended the EASST/4S virPrague conference Locating and Timing Matters: Significance and agency of STS in emerging worlds 18-21.8.2020, https://www.easst4s2020prague.org

The conference had nearly 600 panels, including the one of ours Old Academies and Emerging Worlds: Feminist Encounters in Changing STS Contexts (chair: Gabriele Griffin). Although we missed the informal meetings and connections between colleagues and friends in the magnificent Prague, the virPrague conference worked well and provided numerous interesting presentations and discussions, utmostly timely such as subplenaries STS Enters the Transnational Covidscape: The Political Ecologies and Inequalities of COVID-19 and Sustainable Academia, and the subplenaries on the main themes of the conference: The temporal fabric of technoscientific worlds, and Locating matters, all important both conceptually and politically.

Many of the panels were extremely inspiring for the study field of gendering research and innovation. One cannot give credit to all panels worth mentioning, as it was not possible to follow them all, and I pick up here just two of them.

EASST4S Prague

Continue reading “Inspirations from the EASST4S virPrague conference 2020”

Doubts around what gender equality means in practice hamper working for an inclusive work environment in ICT

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Interviewing women working in ICT and listening to their professional life stories confirmed for one more time that women working as minorities in male-dominated workplaces experience harassments, exclusionary attitudes and routines that treat them as those being in the “wrong place”. In one extreme case, a woman who was the only woman among the employees in her workplace told us that she had experienced a work meeting being held at a sauna. These routines do not only prevent women making a sense of belonging to the field, but also exclude them from informal networks that are actually organized to have supportive function for career development. Continue reading “Doubts around what gender equality means in practice hamper working for an inclusive work environment in ICT”

Innovation ecosystems and industry-research relationships

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Photo by Clint Adair on Unsplash

When writing this, my very first Triple Helix Conference has been going on online for a couple of days. To me in some shared sessions there was a bit of an all-male panel vibe (with the mandatory woman here and there) but in fact some of the most interesting speeches in the conference have been by women. One such a speech was Joanna Chatway’s keynote on transformative innovation agendas and the need for new direction for Triple Helix, to which I will come back later in another blog post.

At least two prominent speakers thus far, the former prime minister of Finland Esko Aho and Martti Hetemäki, Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Finance of Finland, have stressed the importance of the ecosystem related to innovation. Aho put the rise and fall of Nokia in context by stating that the Nokia success story was first and foremost an ecosystem success story and the loss in the end was an ecosystem loss. Hetemäki saw ecosystems as key to successful policies. He compared EU ecosystems to the Bay area (e.g. Silicon Valley) and raised the question, whether they could produce similar results than in the Bay area.

In the panel session on Innovation Expectations of 2020, the crisis relating to the corona virus pandemic was hoped to create stronger possibilities to utilize digitalization in Europe. This would, however, require such a speed that some of the industry representatives saw this as difficult, since political decision-making processes are slow. Time seems to be of essence of Triple Helix relationships between different stakeholders: while researchers have a longer perspective to the future, in business there are expectations of a relatively brief and clear view to making business out of discoveries. On the other hand, over time, findings from basic research can be quite important in innovations. Another issue important to industry–academic research relationships was transparency. Contrary to what one might expect, none of the panelists really saw lack of a common language as a problem in the relationships.

I’m on my third day of the conference, and hopefully the theme of innovation culture scheduled for today will prove to be interesting.

Minna Leinonen

Another sorry tale? Why career women end up staying at home…

One of the notorious issues working women face is the dreaded work-life balance. In the Nordic countries where portfolio careers with multiple employments (in various projects, to varying degrees, over diverse timespans) is a norm among academics and researchers during the early and middle years of their careers, it is, indeed, often not only the work-life balance that is at issue but also the work-work balance, i.e. the question of how to do justice to the range of demands of your various projects, not least when they are in different geographical locations and in different organizations.

Once women have children or other care responsibilities their room for manoeuvre becomes increasingly curtailed as they are – even in the Nordic countries – largely left to pick up the domestic pieces. Our research has shown that women in tech-driven careers are more likely to sustain such careers, indeed embark on them, if they have a partner with regular predictable hours who can work from home and effectively take up both house and care work. Where this is not the case, women struggle and can end up leaving academe (if they have worked as researchers there) for a less onerous role in the private sector where they undertake research but are not required also to publish, apply for funding etc.

Shani Orgad’s (2019) Heading Home: Motherhood, Work, and the Failed Promise of Equality (Columbia UP) explores why women in high-powered careers in London end up staying at home to look after their children and what the effects of this are. Orgad interviewed 35 highly educated career women who decided to become stay-at-home mothers, and 5 men. Challenging ‘preference’ and choice feminist views of women supposedly choosing to stay at home, this volume tells a story of impossible work demands (the idea of ‘balance’ is plainly laughable), partners who are largely absent due to their own impossible work demands, and relentless pressures to be everything: high-flying career woman and super-mom. Men are not confronted with any such demands; for them the work-life imbalance in favour of work remains largely unquestioned.

One man Orgad interviewed maintained that ‘the tech industry, particularly the social media end, has so many more female execs because their working model is much more family friendly, intrinsically is much more life friendly, they don’t have work-life separation, they have a kind of ménage and that works much better.’ (Orgad, 2019: 160) This is not, however, how the women Orgad interviewed saw it. Indeed, the covid-19 pandemic may be teaching some people that working from home – on the edges around keeping children entertained and partners from getting depressed – is often not very easy. Both female and male colleagues of mine have told me that they have got nothing done in the past 10 weeks because of being locked down at home. Those who have been productive have often been people living on their own for whom nothing much had changed in terms of their daily work routine as a function of covid.

Covid is certainly shifting the employment paradigm – work from home if you can – but it is also highlighting what the limitations of that imperative are. It may, in time, lead to a thorough review of the work cultures that many take for granted and that urgently need a serious overhaul to re-balance work and life.

Gabriele Griffin