Designing action research in ICT work across sectors in rural Norway

As we continue our research in Nordwit, we are increasingly focusing on conducting action research, for which we have been in contact with ICT companies and organizations across sectors in rural areas in Norway. Action research is applied as a method for improving organizations’ practices of ensuring gender equality and increasing women’s participation in ICT work and technology-driven innovation. As the method implies, several circles of inquiry need to be developed, through which organizations will be involved in the process of identifying a problem and implementing the presumed solution. I am using this blogpost to think out loud about some challenges in designing action research in ICT work across sectors in rural Norway.

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The ICT organizations with which we have been in contact differ greatly in the type of work they do. Some might have a technological focus, such as programming or designing IT systems, or they might be involved in designing IT solutions and services in the new contexts of digitalization. Despite these differences, we are able to identify some patterns in how they perceive the work in terms of promoting gender equality and overcoming barriers to gender balance in the organisations. One of the characteristics of many ICT organizations located in rural areas on the west coast of Norway is their small size, in that they often have under 50 employees. According to the Norwegian Equality and Anti-Discrimination Act, all employers, regardless of size, have a general duty to be active in promoting gender equality. For all employers in the public sector, and for private employers with more than 50 employees, there is a set of requirements for investigating the possible existence of discrimination or other barriers to equality, and concerning how the statutory duty is to be carried out.

We meet many small companies that are often willing to listen to us and be challenged by us, but they do not have resources allocated for investigating barriers to gender equality. As Sara Ahmed (2012, p. 94) observed of diversity work, gender mainstreaming ‘is messy, even dirty, work,’ referring to the tensions diversity workers face in attempting to enforce changes in the institutions from within. As we conduct action research, we become those who need to do ‘that job’, in order to show people where and how their efforts fall short.  As these resources are usually lacking in the companies in question, there is an urgent need to construct guidelines on how, for instance, to increase women’s participation in ICT work and technology-driven innovation, in ways which are as uncomplicated as possible and are do-able within the context of the organisation. The challenge we face is to formulate guidelines which are workable and relatively straightforward to follow, without losing their power to contribute to change, especially when small companies do not have enough resources to continually do the “dirty work”.

Ahmed, S. (2012). On being included: Racism and diversity in institutional life. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Gilda Seddighi 

From the Nordwit reading group

The Tampere Nordwit team has an on-going reading group on gender in research and innovation. The participants have varied as the work situations and affiliations have changed. However, the group has continuously consisted of 5-6 participants, including the ‘core’ Nordwit members and associates: one doctoral student, one post doc and several senior researchers. The readings have been selected collectively to serve the interests of the participants, and they have covered classics, new texts, texts that have contributed to our conceptual and methodological understanding. Typically, each of the group gatherings discusses two articles that the participants have read beforehand.

In the spring 2020, we read, among others, the article ‘Sheep with five legs’ (Gender practices in the construction of academic excellence, Organization 2011) by Marieke van den Brink and Yvonne Benschop, the latter also a member of the Nordwit International Scientific Advisory Board. The article has been widely acknowledged in the research literature and is one of the ‘classics’ for us. Continue reading “From the Nordwit reading group”

“It is not a paradox that few girls choose ICT education”

From Nationen:

That’s the title of a short popular science piece I have in Nationen today discussing the “Nordic Gender Equality Paradox”: this often recognized “absurd” mismatch between the high degree of gender equality in the Nordic countries combined with a high degree of horizontal gender segregation in education and working life.


The low proportion of girls choosing ICT is not really a paradox, I claim here, but a result of how “those who should have cheered the girls on to fun, exciting and good paying jobs in ICT, failed them”. For more than two decades I’ve interviewed and talked with not only girls and women in ICT, but also a large number of teachers, parents, ICT companies and others who should have been first in line to encourage girls to engage in ICT contexts and education. Among these groups we have found a widespread distrust in the possibility of making girls interested in ICT. How could we expect girls to choose a career path that our culture does not expect girls to be interested in? The paradox is thus not girls not choosing ICT education, but this distrust and the absence of supporters cheering them on!

That was the short version – read the full piece in Norwegian in Nationen  (or with google translate).

Read more (open access):

Companion Pieces: Technologization, Transhumanism and Questions of the Limits of Innovation

Quite by chance (or was it?), I found myself reading Mark O’Connell’s To Be a Machine (London: Granta, 2017) and Jeanette Winterson’s recent novel Frankissstein (London: Penguin, 2019), one after the other. They make interesting companion pieces.

O’Connell investigates the transhumanist movement in its various forms. Here humans are viewed as constituting suboptimal systems, imperfect structures that can be enhanced through life extension projects such as cognitive augmentation with the aim of transcending the biological body and mind. O’Connell references certain procedures (e.g. cryopreservation of whole bodies and/or skulls only) and companies (e.g. Alcor in Arizona) that resurface in Winterson’s novel – it is as if they have been on the same trip but take somewhat different narrative approaches to exploring the same phenomenon: how to defeat death (or not) and live longer, ideally forever.

Winterson interweaves the tale of Mary Shelley’s production of Frankenstein into a contemporary narrative of technology-enhanced sociality (the world of sexbots, cryopreservation – again -, technocapitalism) where the issue of man defeating ‘nature’/biology/death through technology is replayed in a significantly more humorous and hence absurdist fashion than O’Connell manages.

Techno-optimism or techno-pessimism – is that the question? O’Connell’s exploration leads him into a world that is, as he repeatedly puts it, overwhelmingly male – men implanting devices into themselves, running cryofacilities, lecturing, or is that preaching, around the western, mainly anglophone world. Winterson’s world is less male-dominated but the fantasies of transcending human-ness through technology are, on the optimistic side, mostly displayed by males, on the pessimistic side queried by females. Different worlds?

Gabriele Griffin

Doing Nordwit research in exceptional times

Image by congerdesign from Pixabay

The outbreak of the coronavirus and the disease COVID-19 has not only affected our health and safety but the possibilities and ways of work as well. This also pertains to social scientific research that we engage in Nordwit research teams. While in Nordwit we are quite accustomed to regular meetings in virtual surroundings, remote work has increased the use of communication technologies in my local team. Since our university is in lock-down for the most part and we cannot go to our offices, we are on the fast track of adopting tools for meeting and sharing our current material. Some are taking courses; some are learning by doing. Virtual meetings are important in giving rhythm and sense of direction to the work we’re doing but also for care, we get a chance to check up on each other.

Collecting interview data has changed, too. As a researcher used to meeting interviewees face to face, I am now taking the uneasy path of organizing career interviews online. It raises methodological questions, such as: How will interaction dynamics change in conversing online? Will I miss important clues when I am online? Will the sense of confidentiality be adequate enough for sharing important and sometimes hurtful experiences? Sensitivity to emerging ethical issues is also important when interviewees are working from home, often surrounded by kids who might be needing care and attention in the middle of the interview session.

As it should, such an acute crisis gives us pause. Professionally, these exceptional times with their restrictions raise questions about the world of work our research subjects are experiencing now: Has the virus outbreak and restrictions related to it affected the ways women view their careers technology? How is this situation changing their businesses and research environments? A lot of the women I’ve interviewed have kids and families. If they do remote work, how can they arrange it? Do they struggle with very concretely combining childcare and work?

These are only some of the questions that could be raised. We will see a rise in the need of social scientific knowledge to understand the vastness of effects of the virus outbreak on different levels of our societies.

Minna Leinonen

Trondheim Workshop on Gender and Equity in Academia

Image from Pixabay

A couple of weeks ago, just before the expansion of the corona-virus in the Nordic countries, I attended a workshop “Gender and Equity in the Contemporary Academy: Kick-Off Workshop for the GENDIM Project in Trondheim, Norway. The GENDIM project, led by Professor Vivian Lagesen from Norwegian University of Science and Technology, investigates the gender dynamics underlying gender imbalance among university academics. The project takes as its starting point the concept “epistemic living space” (Felt 2009), enabling the investigation of epistemic, spatial, temporal, symbolic and social dimensions of academic work and career building in the current neoliberal environment.

Several presentations discussed the discrepancy between gender balance and meritocracy. It is generally agreed that gender balance is a good thing and work to reach gender balance in academia is an important goal. At the same time, people, both men and women, emphasise the importance of academic merits in university recruitments and career progression. Female academics in particular, tend to assure over and over again that they have attained their positions due to their merits, not because of gender balance measures. The same tension between gender balance and meritocracy is apparent also in our interviews with Finnish female academics.

How to become a professor and have career success was another topic that resonates very well with our Finnish findings, just to name a few issues that were eagerly discussed over the workshop. Based on interview material gathered in Norway, Vivian Lagesen distinguished four narratives of how professors make sense of their career trajectories: 1. Narratives of self-inclusion, emphasising hard work in a meritocratic and competitive system, 2. Narrative of ‘tailwind’ in which the interviewees, often with an academic background, have always taken more or less for granted that they will become professors,  3. Narrative of supported inclusion, characterised by help, encouragement and support from networks, and 4. Narratives of ‘headwind’, involving various hardships in a chilly university climate. Sarah R. Davies, drawing on her interviews, gave four pieces of advice of how to become a professor: Work hard, Know the right people, Be lucky, and Be focused. This logic, she underlined, represents individualisation of responsibility.

As a whole, the workshop raised a wide array of important issues concerning, among other things, gender, career, race, policy, power, and inclusion in the neoliberal university context. Both similarities and differences among the Nordic countries became evident. This will offer valuable background against which our Finnish findings can be mirrored and reflected on.

Felt, U. (2009) Knowing and living in academic research: Convergence and heterogeneities in European research cultures. Prague: Institute of Sociology of the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic.


Oili-Helena Ylijoki

Defining Digital Excellence from a Gender Perspective

NordWit has a new brief spin-off project where the results from our work in the centre gives important input. The Swedish Higher Education Authority (Universitetskanslersämbetet, UKÄ), together with the The Swedish Agency for Economic and Regional Growth (Tillväxtverket), has been commissioned to analyse and propose how the supply of digital excellence can be developed in the short and long term. The assignment includes the development of improved statistics and forecasts of the total need for competence in business and the public sector with the aim of improving the conditions for universities and universities to meet the need for excellence in the short and long term. However, there is no accepted definition of what digital excellence is. The new project hence aims to develop a definition of the concept of digital excellence. The definition should form the basis for UKÄ and the Swedish Growth Agency’s project.

Åsa Cajander will be a part of a team that will work on a definition of Excellent Digital Competence in the spring 2020. The work will be led by Professor Jan Gulliksen and the other members of the team are professor Arnold Pears and Mattias Wiggberg. The team is composed of people with complementary skills to create the best possible working group, and my area of specialty in comparison to the others is the gender perspective.

Digital excellence is likely to include a basic broad knowledge of the basics of digitalisation as well as in-depth expertise in one or more sub-areas, such as programming technology, AI, data security or user experiences, just to name a few. Digital excellence also certainly includes some form of documented practical experience of actively participating in several successful development projects. One can also discuss how digital excellence is connected to ethics, and how gender plays a role. Our studies from NordWit about careers in technology driven areas are of course a great input in this work. My perspective is that it is important that the definition of digital excellence is gender inclusive and opens up for aspects that are traditionally female coded, such as caring for society and people.

The OECD notes that the lack of digital specialists and digital excellence is a bottleneck for innovation and growth in Sweden. The need is expected to increase in the coming years as digitalisation develops and new technologies such as AI will have an impact.

In order to work with this on a political level there is a need for a definition of Excellent Digital Competence, and the team is working with this using several different methods:

  • Literature studies to map the state of knowledge, analyses of identified documents
  • Short interviews to capture the different needs of the target groups, both from industry and academia
  • Continuous reconciliation meetings with clients to clarify the work and give it direction and to iteratively refine and improve the quality of the result
  • Workshop/Focus groups to discuss and anchor proposed definitions, as well as to anchor the work and to get input into problem picture
  • Design thinking methodology for developing creative innovative solutions

Our work will be presented in a report in the spring 2020.

Åsa Cajander

NordWit presenting at Vitalis 2020

Svenska mässan
Svenska Mässan, Gothenburg

Vitalis is a yearly event in Gothenburg, and presents itself as the Nordic region’s leading eHealth meeting. At Vitalis, people from municipalities, regions, authorities, companies and academia meet to discuss the challenges and solutions of the future in healthcare. This year NordWit will be presenting a study on managers and the implementation of patient accessible electronic health records in different regions in Sweden. NordWit’s Åsa Cajander and Hilde Corneliussen has been working with the study together with Gunilla Myreteg and Kari Dyb.  The presentation will be part of a session on health care professional’s perspectives and will take place on Monday the 5th of May 14-14.30. The session is organised in collaboration with INERA who coordinates eHealth in Sweden. 

In the presentation we will present different implementations strategies used in five different regions in Sweden when patient accessible electronic health records were implemented, and discuss how gender is perceived to have played a role in the work. In our study we interviewed fourteen different leaders in the implementation process, and the questions ranged from how they perceived the implementation to how they experience that gender plays a role in their work.

Åsa Cajander


Identified knowledge gaps on women in ICT

Gender imbalance is a key issue in the ICT research of Western Norway Research Institute. In a recent report, two researchers gather all available statistics on the participation of women in the ICT sector, which is expected to see rapid expansion in coming years. – We aim to fill the identified knowledge gaps through qualitative research, says Hilde G. Corneliussen.

By Idun A. Husabø
Researcher and communication advisor at Western Norway Research Institute (Vestlandsforsking)

The statistical report on women in information and communication technology (ICT) in Norway is the result of fruitful, inter-disciplinary collaboration between ICT researcher and historian Hilde G. Corneliussen and Morten Simonsen, statistician at the same institute. The purpose of the research was to build a foundation for further research on the topic of the lasting and worrying gender imbalance in professions related to ICT.

– Western countries all share this gender imbalance in ICT. This also characterizes the Nordic countries, contrary to how they are usually associated with a high degree of gender equity. It is of great importance to establish the exact figures in order to gain closer insight into the issue, says Corneliussen, who has conducted considerable research in this area and is currently part of a Nordic Centre of Excellence on women in technology-driven professions, Nordwit.

A widening gap

Statistics tell a story of underrepresentation of women in ICT, both in Norway as well as in many other countries. Although the balance has been somewhat improved in later years, a satisfactory balance is far ahead, as the digitalization of society is only about to begin.

Soon, a large share of jobs will require formal competence within ICT. The current gender gap is therefore likely to widen, rather than the opposite, unless more women are recruited to ICT educations and careers.

Preparing the ground for comparison

Gaining an overview of the Norwegian statistics and deeper insight into the figures, has been a prerequisite for later comparisons with statistics from other countries.

As an example, the report shows that female employees constitute approximately 20 percent, i.e. one fifth, of the total number of ICT professionals.

– The exact share at which one arrives in each country, is highly dependent on the chosen approach to counting and coding employees. Therefore, it is necessary to study the underlying premises. Having completed this process, we are now ready to start comparing the situation in different countries, says Corneliussen.

Decisions and power

Digitalization is expected to spread across professions previously not considered ‘technical’, including, for example, nursing, which is already facing increasing use of digital technologies in health care services. Thus, soon, people without an ICT background will be required to take important decisions regarding the use of ICT.

ICT experts will also be given many important tasks on the basis of their technical competence.

– Unavoidably, a group of professionals who develop solutions and services for all of society, will hold a certain power. This is why gender balance in ICT is of such great importance, says Corneliussen.

Shedding light on a variety of stories

One might say that the main purpose of the report compiled by Simonsen and Corneliussen is to identify the missing pieces in the larger picture.

As an example, a small group of female employees has caught the attention of the researchers: those who are employed in the ICT sector, but do not receive a salary – in other words, women who are self-employed and freelance workers.

– One of the issues we will be looking more closely at, is what motivated these women to be self-employed, and whether their decisions were related to factors such as working conditions in ICT enterprises, Corneliussen says.

– Figures are important, but we will not find all the answers by looking solely at the statistics. Qualitative research is needed in order to shed light on a variety of stories from women in ICT work. Hopefully, a combination of quantitative and qualitative methods will eventually provide us with a deeper understanding of women’s participation in the ICT sector, says Morten Simonsen.

Read the full report here:

(Produced for by Idun A. Husabø)

Workshop Re-thinking Research and Innovation: How Does Gender Matter?

February 25-27, the workshop Re-thinking Research and Innovation: How Does Gender Matter? was held at the Centre for Gender Research at Uppsala University. Oganized by our Nordwit coordinator Gabriele Griffin and funded by the Swedish Riksbankens Jubileumsfond, it gathered together researchers from the Nordwit centre, the Innovation network in South of Sweden and also researchers outside Scandinavia. The 11 presentations and lively discussions mapped out the breath of the scattered field of gender in research and innovation and elaborated the concepts and some of the key themes both at the academic and the entrepreneurial end of the field.

Gabriele Griffin, Felizitas Sagebiel, and Marja Vehviläinen examined the gendered practices at the academic end of research and innovation. Griffin and Vehviläinen discussed the relatively new, multidisciplinary research fields digital humanities and health technologies which often exist in atypical formations such as centres rather than disciplines in academia. Sagebiel analysed the gendering effects of current peer reviewing practices. Clem Herman’s talk took us to the gendered practices of UK academe as exemplified by the Open University, and in particular to the educational innovations that they have developed to educate the next generation of innovators with competences in diversity and gendered innovations as part of the curriculum. Liisa Husu’s talk on the practices of Funding Agencies, and specifically the study of the Riksbankens Jubileumsfond, illuminated how gender equality is understood in funding institutions and how those aim to pursue gender equality in Sweden and more broadly in Europe.

Then, Susanne Andersson and Karin Berglund, in collaboration with Katarina Petterson, took us to the entrepreneur and private enterprise end of innovations and both gave brilliant case studies of embodied and located innovations. Susanne Anderson introduced the notion of ‘alternative/unexpected users’ that she has used in her norm-critical user analysis with private company innovations. Zehra Sayed further opened up innovation work within the complexity of the intersecting relations of gender, class and caste. These revealed in particular the separation of bodily and cognitive aspects of innovation work in India.

Hilde Corneliussen and Magdalena Petersson McIntyre focused on gender and feminist understandings in innovation, Corneliussen by opening the notion of the gender paradox through a study on women who work in ICT in Norway, and Petersson McIntyre by analysing gender consultants. Minna Leinonen presented action research on gender equality with regional stakeholders in research and innovation. Both gender consultants and regional stakeholders aim for a change in gender relations. The ‘business case’ of gender equality, discussed in these two papers, was discussed vividly: it is integrated with gender consultants’ work in the form of market feminisms, and both gender consultants and regional stakeholders aim to have gains (what’s in it for me?) through gender and gender equality. Our workshop challenged the notion of profit-only gains and argued for different ways of thinking about ‘profit’ such as social justice and sustainability – both of which ultimately also impact on profit.

Gendered and gendering innovation was discussed in many presentations. Griffin concluded that the properties ascribed to innovation are the same as the properties ascribed to women/the feminine. They both are about difference, about change and disruption. This provides opportunities for feminist work on innovation. Berglund and Petterson continued the conceptual analysis by linking innovation with the dangerous. They discussed doing and thinking about innovation differently at micro and individual levels, as evolving practices, embodied, located to place, experimental, playing with the rules of the game, contemplative, caring, ethical, and following Levinas, embracing passivity as a way of providing space for the other.

Marja Vehviläinen