Gender in knowledge-based entrepreneurship: Comparing Finland and Turkey

My doctoral research is about how gender affects research and knowledge-based entrepreneurship in Finland and Turkey. I aim to analyze the inequalities that women entrepreneurs face because of gender ideologies and their strategies to overcome inequalities in the research and innovation sector. My general aim is to bring out the women entrepreneurs’ experiences related to structural and interactional constraints and analyze their experiences in terms of similarities and differences. Throughout the conferences and doctoral courses I’ve attended, the main question asked about my research is “why I compare Finland and Turkey since they have very different cultural routes in terms of gender equality debates.” As Ahl (2006) argues, a comparison between countries with different socio-cultural backgrounds gives more global perspectives to understand better common features and crucial differences of women entrepreneurs among countries. For example, Finland is often regarded as already achieved gender equality, but according to the European Commission Statistics on research and innovation, only 17.3% of private-sector researchers are women. Despite being influenced by the intensive religio-conservative gender climate for the last few decades (Günes-Ayata and Doğangün 2017), the proportion of women researchers in the private sector is 24.4% in Turkey.  As the statistics show, regardless of country, women researchers are significantly under-represented in the research and innovation sectors, leading to a gender gap in technology-based firm creation. 

For this study, I interviewed 29 women entrepreneurs (16 from Turkey and 13 from Finland). There are surprising similarities between Finnish and Turkish participants’ experiences in the highly gendered sector. In my next blog post, I would like to discuss my findings.

Demet Demirez,
PhD Student at Tampere University, associated with Nordwit

Ahl, H. (2006). Why Research on Women Entrepreneurs Needs New Directions. Entrepreneurship Theory and Practice, 30(5), 595-621.

Güneş-Ayata, A.,Doğangün, G. (2017). Gender Politics of the AKP: Restoration of a Religio-Conservative Gender Climate. Journal of Balkan and Near Eastern Studies, 19(6), 610-627.

Zoom spreading

One of the amazing effects of being locked down during the current pandemic, which has just passed its first anniversary, has been the rapidity with which everybody – or in any event many people working from home – have adapted, and had to adapt, to working pretty much entirely online. In many ways, however, this is not work as usual. For one thing, self-isolation and being largely tethered to one’s home has created the expectation that one is always available – unless one is in another zoom meeting. The effect of this is what I would describe as ‘zoom spreading’ whereby online meetings, whatever platform they occur on, have now infiltrated every working day, and to a much greater extent in terms of numbers of meetings, than before the pandemic. Many meetings require ‘tech check’ pre-meetings, as well as pre-meeting meetings to discuss the process of the meetings to be had etc. It’s rather reminiscent of the workings of Charles Dickens’ Circumlocution Office where metadiscursivity takes up as much, ney sometimes more, space than discursivity – so to speak. But this new normal of having several online meetings every day, of the assumption that you are never off, also brings with it new distortions of one’s working life, with little time for tasks that are not or do not involve meetings. Time to research, read and write is at a new and unprecedented premium, an effect of zoom spreading. I am as guilty as the next person in respect of this but: we need to learn to guard against this.

Gabriele Griffin  

Advancing gender equality through collaboration between researchers and regional agencies

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”

Gender Budgeting – a tool to increase the sustainability of gender equality plans?

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.

Gilda Seddighi

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

Why do gender equality measures not work as expected?

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!

Gabriele Griffin

An interesting question of research ethics

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?

Liekki Valaskivi

Gender Inequalities in Tech-Driven Research and Innovation: Living the Contradiction

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.

Gabriele Griffin

Struggling to reclaim futures in the neoliberal university

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”

Meeting innovation – business as usual?

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.

Gabriele Griffin

Continuing complicity in crime?

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? 

Päivi Korvajärvi

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.