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.

“Technologies are us” – PhD course by Nordwit and UiB

18 PhD candidates and a handful of professors and researchers came together last week for the PhD Course “Technologies are Us: Feminist Perspectives on Posthuman Futures”.

This was Nordwit’s second PhD course, organized as a joint event between Nordwit and Centre for Women’s and Gender Research at University of Bergen (UiB). Half the group met at UiB, while the other half participated online through Zoom, since Covid-19 still makes it challenging to travel.

The three keynote speakers for the course are all involved in research that in various ways raise questions about what current technological development means for feminist thinking about equality, freedom and change. Are algorithms gendered, and does it matter? What does sex and subjectivity mean in the age of neuro-technologies and AI? Are we at all still “human”? Is there a specific ethics of the posthuman?

Jill Walker Rettberg, Professor at Digital Culture at UiB, talked about “The Biased Face of Technology: Algorithmic Inequality and Algorithmic Persuasion”, and she presented a new framework for “situated data analysis”.

N. Katherine Hayles, Distinguished Research Professor of English at University of California, Los Angeles talked about “Ethics and the Posthuman: A Feminist Perspective” and her concept of “cognitive assemblages” suggesting a way of understanding how algorithms, AI and humans make decisions together.

Kari Jegerstedt, Associate Professor at Centre for Women’s and Gender Research, talked about “Bodies and Brains: Sex and Subjectivity in the Age of Neuro-Technologies”, exploring the challenging relations between biology and AI.

For all of us this was the first time hosting an event in an online-offline parallel stream, making the title “technologies are us” even more relevant than we had imagined when planning this a year ago. The zoom participants missed part of the social experience of meeting people, but overall, the course was a success with international participants from Norway, Europe and as far away as Australia and the USA.

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

pexels-digital-buggu-171198
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.

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The Failure of the National Gender Equality Regime?

In my last post I shared some of the findings in our new article: “Employers’ Mixed Signals to Women in IT: Uncovering how Gender Equality Ideals are Challenged by Organizational Context”, where we have identified various ways in which IT organizations renegotiate the call for gender equality in IT. Based on the findings we have suggested a model that visualises how the “national gender equality regime” fails to implement gender equality as an active goal in the organizations.

We explain the model this way:

“[T]he national gender equality regime creates expectations to employers’ active work to improve the gender imbalance in IT, reflected in rules and regulations. However, gender balance in IT is not a specific requirement and there are few and vague guidelines for the organizations for engaging in gender equality work in general. The organizations’ representatives see the request for gender equality in the context of their organization, introducing internal and external factors that contribute to modifying the understanding of women’s underrepresentation and whether or not it is worth changing. This process introduces doubt and alternative ways of perceiving the situation, resulting in limited space for organizations to find motivation to engage in gender equality actions.”
(Corneliussen & Seddighi 2020, p. 46)

The most problematic finding is that the “draining” of gender equality as a goal is happening within the framework of the national gender equality regime rather than challenging the regime itself.

How can we approach the challenge of gender equality not being perceived as a relevant goal within fields of IT?

Read the full paper:
Corneliussen, H. G., & Seddighi, G. (2020). Employers’ Mixed Signals to Women in IT: Uncovering how Gender Equality Ideals are Challenged by Organizational Context. In P. Kommers & G. C. Peng (Eds.), Proceedings for the International Conference ICT, Society, and Human Beings 2020 (41-48): ADIS Press.

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

Why is it so difficult to achieve gender balance in IT work?

New publication: 

Corneliussen, H. G., & Seddighi, G. (2020). Employers’ Mixed Signals to Women in IT: Uncovering how Gender Equality Ideals are Challenged by Organizational Context. In P. Kommers & G. C. Peng (Eds.), Proceedings for the International Conference ICT, Society, and Human Beings 2020 (41-48): ADIS Press.

male and female signage on wall
Photo by Tim Mossholder on Pexels.com

Why is it so difficult to achieve gender balance in IT work? Our study of attitudes towards women’s under-representation in IT and how IT employers and organizations deal with this imbalance, give some of the answers. These are some of the attitudes that work as barriers to recruit more women to IT work:

Continue reading “Why is it so difficult to achieve gender balance in IT work?”

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”