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.
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.