Grappling with Paradoxes

fileDigitalization and new digital technology – it is not about the future, but about here and now. Almost daily we can hear in the news about how digitalization changes working life, requiring new competences of employees and new strategies for industry. ICT is not neutral, but in many cases rather operates as a new instance responsible for social, cultural, juridical or economical choices. In our new chapter, we point at the importance of questioning how digitalization is made and who are involved (read the chapter or have a look at the presentation).

The report Digital21 was recently published – written on behalf of the Norwegian Ministry of Trade, Industry and Fisheries to explore how Norway can deal with the increasing digitalization, referred to as an “industrial revolution” that affects not only trade and industry, but also society.

The report, which explains how digital innovation will lead Norway into a prosperous digitized future, is absolutely void for reflections around the question of who it is that is involved in digitalization. Words like inclusion, diversity, gender, men/women, girls/boys do not exist in this document. As if we did not know that only about one in four are women in IT education and IT industry in Norway, and that we are below the EU average if we expand the picture to look at sciences and engineering (She Figures, see Figure 6.2); and due to slow improvement, in periods even negative change, of women’s participation, researchers have suggested that it will take several decades before we are even close to gender parity in this field in Norway (Vabø et al. 2012).

Change is dependent on politics. We have already argued that the low number of girls in programming classes in Norway is not a paradox, but a result of a policy that is gender blind! Change is also dependent on the ability to imagine that women have a place in the world of IT and digitalisation.

We certainly need stories about women in computing, a task that Sue Black has taken seriously. She is also indeed visible herself, so enjoy this video where she tells you How to find the superhero within you!

Good luck with grant hunting!

harishan-kobalasingam-512738-unsplash-2At this time of the year, academic life in Finland is particularly hectic. The end of September is the deadline for grant applications to the Academy of Finland, the most important research funding agency of our country. It seems that almost everybody is engaged in the application process, either writing research proposals or commenting on others’ plans. This creates a special atmosphere with a mixture of collective support and individual competition. All are participating in a shared endeavour and exertion, yet only very few will have success.

Last summer, I and Sandra Acker (University of Toronto) prepared a presentation for the ISA World Congress of Sociology on what we called ‘grant hunting’. As part of this, we looked at studies on gendered differences in research funding. The findings were ambiguous. Following the general gendered pattern in academia, the common trend seems to be that the number of applications from women is smaller than that of men and accordingly, women receive less research funding than men (e.g. Leberman et al. 2017). However, the studies do not reveal any systematic and clear-cut gender bias in success rates. Furthermore, there are differences between disciplines and national contexts. For instance, a bias in favour of male applicants was found in funding health research in Canada (Tamblyn et al. 2018) but not in the social sciences in the UK (Boyle et al. 2015). According to Tamblyn et al., one reason for the male bias in Canadian health sciences was that funders prioritize basic research and peer reviewers gave lower scores for applied science applications, which acted against female applicants who tended to be interested in more applied topics.

From the gender perspective, it was especially delightful to look at the statistics from the year 2017 on the Academy of Finland funding for social sciences and humanities. In project funding, the overall success rate was 14.9%. Altogether 60 applicants received funding and from these successful applicants 34 were female and 26 were male. In postdoctoral researcher funding, the success rate was 13% and the share of women of the successful applicants was 73%. In academy research fellow funding, the success rate was 11.5%, and the share of women of the successful applicants was 50%.

This is encouraging for female academics writing their applications at the moment. The competition is hard and there are so many things to worry about in the process, but perhaps and hopefully not gender bias.

Oili-Helena Ylijoki 


Boyle, P., Smith, L.K., Cooper, N.J., Williams, K.S., & O’Connor, H. (2015, Sept 9) Women are funded more fairly in social science. Nature, 525: 181–183.

Leberman, S., Eames, B. & Barnett, S. (2016). ‘Unless you are collaborating with a big name successful professor, you are unlikely to receive funding’. Gender and Education, 28(5), 644–661.

Tamblyn, R., Girard, N., Qian, C., & Hanley, J. (2018). Assessment of potential bias in research grant peer review in Canada. CMAJ, 190(16) E489-E499.

The Joy of Being an Entrepreneur


Have spent the past couple of weeks interviewing female entrepreneurs who use the services of a co-working hub specifically designed for women. Such an interesting experience! These are all women with real drive – full of ideas, projects, visions. . . They love the hub – a life saver for some! Entrepreneurialism can be a lonely business, especially if the business is a company of one as many of those whom I talked with are.

It was also very revealing to see how different ideas about what kind of business one wants are related to life cycle and when in one’s professional life the business was started. Entrepreneurialism has tended to be associated with young people; the images of entrepreneurs are always of smart young men in suits, 30-somethings, working as chefs or in IT. These interviews have been a salutary reminder that it can be women in their 40s and 50s who start up businesses, often as an extension of work they previously did in an employed capacity. That relation between employment and self-employment remains somewhat under-explored – a project for the future!

Gabriele Griffin

Listening as important as making voice

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Some days ago, as I walked through the campus of Western Norway University of Applied Sciences (HVL) in Sogndal, I saw two students trying to communicate verbal and non-verbal with each other while having headsets and listening to something else. Though it seemed as if they were happy whith their way of communication, the incident reminded me of controversies one observes crossing disciplines and working in interdisciplinary research projects.

I am from the Global South and immigrated to Norway as a teenager. This probably made me even more sensitive to the works done for living between and/or with two cultures, including the hard work of communication and translation. The Nordwit project has given me an opportunity to have new reflections on the ways in which Norway has been introduced to me through Norwegian media and public sector in the past years. I can see the dominant position the discourse of gender equality has had in introducing Norway to immigrants, and especially to non-western ones. An important feature in encounters with immigrants, and in international relations. “Norway is a pioneer for gender equality”, is written in the Norwegian Action Plan from Ministry of Foreign Affairs (2016). Since the 1970s, Norway, through the same discourse, has contributed to making women’s issues relevant in development policies in the Global South and show the synergies between investing in women and earning benefits in terms of economic growth.

My encounter with policies on innovation and digitalization through the Nordwit project tells a different story of the discourse of gender equality in Norway. It seems that gender equality is taken for granted in a way that gender seems to often be considered irrelevant in the fields of innovation and digitalization. I see the need to contribute to translation between Norwegian legacy of gender equality and the fields of innovation and digitalization, which are national focus areas for value creation. Like the work of translation, there is a need to listen and understand both sides. So, as I walk through this journey in the Nordwit project, I hope I remember those two students communicating while listening to something else. Listening is as important as making voice of women’s life histories, barriers and driving forces in technology driven works.

Gilda Seddighi


Ministry of Foreign Affairs (2016). Freedom, empowerment and opportunities: Action Plan for Women’s Rights and Gender Equality in Foreign and Development Policy 2016-2020


Falling through the cracks?

The administrator came to her with such an expression of condolences that it seemed like somebody had just died. But no. She was just pregnant. She had asked about changing her work contract, since in a couple of months or so she was about to take maternity leave and there would be some working months left over for later. Could she perhaps get a work contract that would cover both her leave of absence and the left over working months? Looking at her with such sad eyes the administrator sighed indicating that this would be difficult. The implication was that this fixed-term researcher probably posed a risk to the organization: she might return from her parental leave earlier than expected and then the university – and not just the project – would have to pay her salary.  The change from an asset to a liability was so fast that it left her head spinning.

The majority of researchers in the Finnish universities are working on fixed-term contracts or scholarships. This puts them in vulnerable positions in many respects. Our tentative findings from career interviews with women in research indicate that the work–family combination still demands the skills equal to those of a trapeze artist. This seems to hold true even though universities have gender equality plans that usually make claims about supporting the efforts of the employees in reconciling family and work. How this support comes true in practice, is still somewhat vague. Often fixed-term employees may find that they are totally dependent upon the kindness and goodwill of their colleagues to let them join projects they are not actually going to be working in because of parental leave.

Research on researchers in fixed-term employment makes visible how the entrepreneurial university is based on internalized control of its employees. There is never a good time to be a mother in academic work and in order to be researchers [women] should be more like men. Attitudes towards employees’ families may be positive as such, but pratices of academic work do not take into account child care or other care obligations. They are a private matter. (Nikunen 2014, 128, 132)

All in all, work and family issues are but one manifestation of the challenges to promoting equality in universities. If researchers mainly try to adapt to the male worker ideal and accept it as it is, how can we find and realize practices that would be included in the gender equality work of universities?

Minna Leinonen


Nikunen, Minna (2014) The ‘entrepreneurial university’, family and gender: Changes and demands faced by fixed-term workers. Gender and Education, 26:2, 119–134, DOI: 10.1080/09540253.2014.888402.

Something new from the Scandinavian research front in 2018 this far?

resarch update

Back at work, starting a new term, there’s some time for updating my knowledge of current research. Have my colleagues found out something relevant for the Nordwit programme? A quick search in the Web of Science by combining ‘gender’ with keywords like ‘innovation’, ‘academic’, and ‘technology’ concerning the Scandinavian countries during the first six months of the year gives a meagre harvest, but still some bits of knowledge that are worth taking in.

Most of the results we already knew or assumed – but why should only new groundbreaking research be worth attention? So, once again it is shown by quantitative surveys that female and male students as populations have somewhat different orientations in secondary school, in engineering studies and in agricultural sciences: For female students societal and environmental concerns are more important (Engström), while economic concerns are more important for men (Dekhtyar and Matthies, Vainio & D’Amato, both on Finnish material). Of course such large surveys easily hide the fact that these orientations are not purely gendered, but that there are individuals of both genders in both orientations. However, as we also study career developments in this dichotomous way, talking about women’s and men’s careers, it is worth finding out how such differences translate to career patterns. To what extent are women’s and men’s differing career patterns in technical professions due to choices made based on such values? And if the career patterns of women and men differ because of such reasons – what should that implicate for efforts to enable women to have career patterns more resembling those of men? Which values should implicitly be promoted?

We can also learn more about the measurement of an important component in academic careers: “research productivity” measured as publication rates. Nygaard & Bahgat have taken on the task of finding out why different measurements of the gender gap in publication rates give different results: sometimes the gap is said to been wide, with women publishing much less than men, while in some studies there is hardly any gap at all. Elaborating with different components, such as language, staff category, leaves of absence etc. they find out that different bibliometric measures capture different aspects, and none of them gives a universal truth about production rates. So, the gender gap in publication rates is not a given phenomenon, but depends on the spectacles of the viewer – and thus we really don’t know.

Petra Angervall and her co-authors have published two articles which serve to consolidate issues that we’ve known hamper women’s careers in the academic setting. They show that junior male scientists find it much easier to navigate the ambivalences between producing research and answering to the demands of the department or private life. Angervall & co find that male researchers have access to resources and recognition that women do not have, and one of those resources in teaching intensive departments seems to be their female colleagues servicing work. Thus, it is no wonder that Lohela-Karlsson, Nyberg & Jensen, once again, find that female junior academics report more health and work environment problems than their male colleagues.

Finally, on the academic side, Powell, Ah-King & Hussenius build on their experiences of a gender equality project at a Swedish university. They make a very relevant suggestion, in the Swedish context, where working for gender equality is the only right thing to do, and, subsequently, gender equality projects as such are always endorsed but often not leading to any substantial changes. Their strong recommendation is that projects should build on collaboratively agreed concrete aims which are relevant in the specific context, to really affect change.

Gender and innovation is not such a large research area. However, Styhre et al in Sweden report from women developers in gaming companies, and how the increase in female players has given them an entrance into those settings, but how it also hampers their careers: women developers are seen as experts on women players, not experts in game development as such. Styhre et al refer to historical gendered divisions of labour in this relatively new technical work area – something that even other new technological areas can be expected to be contaminated by.

So, in the research harvest of 2018 this far, there is more of adding bits and pieces to the existing knowledge base on Nordwit issues than any radical results. It’s good as it is. Now the new Nordwit term is starting, with our work to add to the knowledge base.

Minna Salminen Karlsson

Articles refereed above:

Angervall, Petra & Dennis Beach (2018) The Exploitation of Academic Work: Women in Teaching at Swedish Universities. Higher Education Policy, 31 (1) 1-17. DOI: 10.1057/s41307-017-0041-0

Angervall, Petra, Peter Erlandson & Jan Gustafsson (2018) Challenges in making an academic career in education sciences. British Journal of Sociology of Education, 39 (4) 451-465. DOI: 10.1080/01425692.2017.1356219

Dekhtyar, S., D. Weber, J.Helgertz & A. Herlitz (2018) Sex differences in academic strengths contribute to gender segregation in education and occupation: A longitudinal examination of 167,776 individuals. Intelligence, 67: 84-92. DOI: 10.1016/j.intell.2017.11.007

Engström, Susanne (2018) Differences and similarities between female students and male students that succeed within higher technical education: profiles emerge through the use of cluster analysis. International Journal of Technology and Design Education, 28 (1) 239-261.

Lohela-Karlsson Malin, Lotta Nybergh & Irene Jensen (2018) Perceived health and work-environment related problems and associated subjective production loss in an academic population. BMC Public Health, 18:257. DOI: 10.1186/s12889-018-5154-x

Matthies, Brent D., Annukka Vainio & Dalia D’Amato (2018) Not so biocentric – Environmental benefits and harm associated with the acceptance of forest management objectives by future environmental professionals. Ecosystem Services, 29 (A): 128-136. DOI: 10.1016/j.ecoser.2017.12.003

Nygaard, Lynn P. & Karim Bahgat (2018) What’s in a number? How (and why) measuring research productivity in different ways changes the gender gap. Journal of English for Academic Purposes, 32: 67-79. DOI: 10.1016/j.jeap.2018.03.009

Powell, Stina, Malin Ah-King & Anita Hussenius (2018) ‘Are we to become a gender university?’ Facets of resistance to a gender equality project. Gender, Work and Organization, 25 (2) 127-143. DOI: 10.1111/gwao.12204

Styhre, Alexander, Björn Remneland-Wikhamn, Anna-Maria Szczepanska & Jan Lundberg (2018) Masculine domination and gender subtexts: The role of female professionals in the renewal of the Swedish video game industry. Culture and Organization, 24 (3) 244-261. DOI: 10.1080/14759551.2015.1131689.

ICT Changes Everything! But Who Changes ICT?

10pctwomenWe know that the proportion of women in IT education has been low for decades, but it was still disconcerting to welcome the students to the brand new Bachelor’s degree in information technology in Sogn and Fjordane last week, and find that there are only 3 women among the new students in a group of close to 30 students.

Clem Herman, Radhika Gajjala (WNRI team), and myself have a chapter in press with the title “ICT Changes Everything! But Who Changes ICT?” Through examples we illustrate the effects of a feminist gaze on ICT, including the importance of questioning who is producing and shaping technology.


Information and communication technology (ICT) has a changing power and digitalization is gradually changing society in all aspects of life. Across the western world, men are in majority in the ICT industry, thus, the computer programs that change “everything” are most often made by men. Unless questioned, this male dominance can be perceived as a “norm” and becomes invisible. Against this background, this paper will provide three examples of how a feminist gaze can contribute to raise important questions and produce an awareness of how exclusion mechanisms have produced a highly homosocial tendency in design of ICT systems in the western world.

The three cases illustrate how a feminist gaze leading to feminist interventions can make a difference in various ways. The first author presents a case study of a pilot for involving programming in public education in secondary schools in Norway, where a complete lack of gender awareness makes this an offer for boys in most schools. Author two presents a case study comparing the situation in the IT business in the UK and India, finding challenges not only to the situation in the western world, but also to white western feminism. Author three discusses alternatives ways of involving women in ICT work, through practices of feminist pedagogy, emphasizing hands-on work.

To be published here in September: