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.

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:

  • When many women hold other (non-IT) positions in an organization, recruiting women to IT work does not necessarily appear as important because the organization at large does not experience a gender imbalance.
  • Recruiting women is often seen as a question of work environment rather than who holds IT positions.
  • Gender equality is interpreted as “treating everybody the same”, and since women are welcome (even when they don’t apply to IT jobs), their under-representation is not considered a gender equality challenge.
  • Focus on gender equality in IT has to yield for other types of marginalization in the organization, for instance for immigrants or people with disabilities.
  • Stereotypical ideas about who the best and most interested IT workers are, are still strong in Norway, making employers doubt that it will be possible to recruit women; or, even questioning whether women do have the “right” competence.
  • Gender imbalance in IT is seen as a temporary challenge that will eventually fix itself.

While the many alternative approaches takes the energy out of gender equality work, the national gender equality regime – gender equality as something good and something we all want – is not questioned.

Based on this analysis we have proposed a model that contributes to explaining the Nordic Gender Equality Paradox, illustrating how the gender equality norm can co-exist with the very attitudes that undermine the norm.

Read the full paper

Our paper also received the Outstanding Paper Award at the ICT, Society, and Human Beings 2020 Conference!

“You don’t see it before you believe it” – FixIT in collaboration with Nordwit

Last week we ended a project that has been working in close collaboration with Nordwit in Norway: FixIT – a project that has developed and organised activities to increase women’s participation in innovation projects. We developed a “gender balance competence package” for increasing awareness of and knowledge about gendered structures in research and innovation, with a brochure with guidance and tools for organizations to work towards gender balance. A balance competence course offered to innovation actors from private and public sector.

This of course, required knowledge, and this is what Nordwit provided: research-based knowledge about women’s experiences in the field of tech-driven R&I as well as organizations’ and employers’ attitudes and strategies for increasing women’s participation in this field.

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

From Nationen: https://www.nationen.no/motkultur/faglig-snakka/ikke-et-paradoks-at-fa-jenter-velger-ikt-utdanning/

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):

  • Corneliussen, H. G., & Seddighi, G. (2019). “Må vi egentlig ha flere kvinner i IKT?” Diskursive forhandlinger om likestilling i IKT-arbeid. Tidsskrift for kjønnsforskning, 43(4), 273-287.
  • Corneliussen, H. G., Seddighi, G., & Dralega, C. A. (2019). Women’s Experience of Role Models in IT: Landmark women, substitutes, and supporters. In Ø. Helgesen, E. Nesset, G. Mustafa, P. Rice, & R. Glavee-Geo (Eds.), Modeller: Fjordantologien 2019: Universitetsforlaget.
  • Corneliussen, H. G., & Tveranger, F. (2018). Programming in Secondary Schools in Norway – a Wasted Opportunity for Inclusion Proceedings of Gender&IT’18, Heilbronn, Germany, May 2018 (Gender&IT’18) (172-182). New York, NY, USA: ACM.
  • Corneliussen, H. G., & Prøitz, L. (2016). Kids Code in a rural village in Norway: could code clubs be a new arena for increasing girls’ digital interest and competence? Information, Communication & Society, 19(1 (Special Issue: Understanding Global Digital Cultures)). doi: https://doi.org/10.1080/1369118X.2015.1093529 

Can statistics tell stories about women in ICT – new report

Idun A. Husabø has written about our new report here: https://www.vestforsk.no/en/2020/identified-knowledge-gaps-women-ict

Pohto: © European Union 2013 – European Parliament

The report by Morten Simonsen and myself has collected statistics aiming to give an overview of women’s participation in ICT work and education in Norway, comparing it with the European situation, particularly with Sweden and Finland, as this is part of the Nordwit Nordic Centre of Excellence where we collaborate with researchers from University of Uppsala and University of Tampere.

Read the full report here: https://www.vestforsk.no/en/publication/can-statistics-tell-stories-about-women-ict

Technologies are Us: Feminist Perspectives on Posthuman Futures

All interested PhD candidates are welcome to apply for the three days intensive PhD course on feminist thinking about technological development

  • Place: University of Bergen
  • Course dates: September 23-25 2020
  • Registration deadline: 28.02.2020 – 14.00
Read more about the course here: PhD Course information

Photo: Colorbox/Nina B. Dahl

The PhD course invites to feminist thinking about technological development

What are the consequences of current technological development 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?

These are some of the questions that will be scrutinized during the three-days course in September 2020. The themes of the course are divided into the following topics:

  • The Biased Face of Technology
  • Ethics and the Posthuman
  • Bodies and Brains

If you are working with these or related questions, or are simply interested to learn more, join us for a PhD course in Bergen.

The course is arranged by Nordic Centre of Excellence on Women in Technology Driven Careers (NORDWIT) and Centre for Women’s and Gender Research at University of Bergen.

Contact organizers:

“Do we really need more women in ICT?”

photo of woman using her laptop

Photo by bruce mars on Pexels.com

This question – “Do we really need more women in ICT?” – appears in a recent article by Gilda Seddighi and myself. In this article we analyze how the ICT industry and ICT workplaces in Norway deal with challenges of recruiting women to ICT work. The question is not ours, but from one of the ICT experts that we interviewed for this case study, and it appeared in a discussion about whether women were really interested in ICT. This discussion and the quote illustrate how gendered stereotypes suggesting that men are more interested in ICT are still active in shaping attitudes towards and engagement in activities to recruit women. Only about one in four working as ICT experts in Norway are women, and this feeds the discourse of ICT as a male field. Reflecting this, the ICT workplaces we talked with produced a series of alternative ways of seeing the need to recruit women, all of which contributed to reducing the importance of active recruitment initiatives.

You can read the article for free (in Norwegian) here: https://www.idunn.no/tfk/2019/04/maa_vi_egentlig_ha_flere_kvinner_i_ikt

Title: “Do we really need more women in ICT?” Discursive negotiations about gender equality in ICT


ICT is one of the most gender-divided fields in Norway and illustrates the “Nordic Gender Paradox”, referring to a mismatch between a high level of participation by women in working life in parallel with a strong gendering of disciplines and professions. A higher proportion of women in ICT professions is a goal that is particularly relevant due to increasing digitalization. This article builds on qualitative empirical material and analyzes meetings with 12 organizations that were invited to discuss gender equality in ICT work. The analysis explores how the discourse of gender equality in ICT is perceived in the organizations and how this affects attitudes to practical gender equality work. Ten alternative approaches to gender equality in ICT are identified. These can be analyzed as discursive practices that articulate “resistance” as alternative meanings that challenge the discourse of gender equality in ICT, as they renegotiate, redefine and, in some cases, reject the discourse. Recruitment of women to ICT work is a task left to the individual organizations. The authors claim that there are still gendered perceptions of who is appropriate for ICT work, and these perceptions do not motivate the organizations to engage in gender equality work.

How to quote: Corneliussen, H. G., & Seddighi, G. (2019). “Må vi egentlig ha flere kvinner i IKT?” Diskursive forhandlinger om likestilling i IKT-arbeid. Tidsskrift for kjønnsforskning, 43(4), 273-287.

CFP on gender and work in rural regions: Rural Frontiers In-between Tradition and Change

Are you doing research in the field of gender and work in rural regions?

We call for contributions to a stream on gender and work in rural regions for the Gender Work and Organization conference, 24-26 June 2020 in University of Kent, Canterbury, UK.

While much of the research on gender, work, organization and entrepreneurship is conducted in urban settings, we are interested in contributions that analyse the impact of a rural context on gendered working conditions and relationships. More discussion is needed on how rural and sparsely populated regions experience the current societal changes and their impact on working lives. Intersections of gender with age, race, ethnicity, class, caste and sexuality in relation to daily life around work need to be discussed with rurality in focus.

Abstracts of approximately 500 words are invited by Friday 1st November 2019, emailed to Hilde G. Corneliussen: hgc@vestforsk.no.

Read the full CFP including required format here.

We hope to see your contribution to the stream “Rural Frontiers In-between Tradition and Change: gender, work and organization in rural contexts” (stream 8).

Stream convenors: Hilde G. Corneliussen, Radhika Gajjala, Minna Salminen-Karlsson

Follow the GWO2020 conference on Facebook: www.facebook.com/GWO2020/

Few women find role models in IT

Our article on “Women’s Experience of Role Models in IT” is now published.

Relevant role models are individuals that we can identify with. Our study among women in IT in Norway shows that:

Most women identify relevant role models among other women, rather than among men.

Few women identify role models in in fields of information technology.

Many women missed having female role models in IT.

And many found “substitute” role models from other fields, national politics or among networks of female friends.

Female role models are, as one of the women we interviewed said,

“important as a door opener. […] I think that makes things easier. It is not necessary, but it makes things easier.”

You can read the full paper (open access) here, where we present a model of responses reflecting a lack of female role models in IT:  https://www.idunn.no/modeller/18_womens_experience_of_role_models_in_it_landmark_women

Corneliussen, H. G., Seddighi, G., & Dralega, C. A. (2019). Women’s Experience of Role Models in IT: Landmark women, substitutes, and supporters. In Ø. Helgesen, E. Nesset, G. Mustafa, P. Rice, & R. Glavee-Geo (Eds.), Modeller: Universitetsforlaget. DOI: 10.18261/9788215034393-2019-18.

First and second education – routes to IT competence for women

two women smiling to each other

Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

In our study of women working in technology-driven careers, primarily with IT and digitalization, we have interviewed almost 40 women in Norway. One of our findings show that many women come to work with IT and digitalization via a detour: many of them started with a “gender traditional” education, in humanities, social sciences or healthcare, but then at a later stage changed to IT, or added IT courses to their education. Our findings suggest that this “detour” is related to how girls’ choices and the advices that the young women get from parents, teachers etc., are still to a certain degree guided by gendered stereotypes and seeing IT as a male dominated field. However, when women at a later stage have to relate to IT in working life, also in traditional female dominated fields like health care, they change their view upon IT and what IT represent.

To draw some conclusions from this, first, it is important that girls are introduced early to the wide and varied meanings of IT and digitalization in current working life. Perhaps more girls will choose IT education and find IT related work attractive when it appears in pair with other fields, like ehealth, like we see among the women we have interviewed.

Our study also suggests that continuing education can be an important contribution in providing women with a competence that they to a lesser degree than men acquire through their first educational choices, as women are still a minority among IT students in Norway.

Negotiating about video games in the family – new article published

Fjordantologien 2019Our article “From helicopter parenting to co-piloting: Models for regulating video gaming among immigrant youth in Norway” is out. Thanks to the editors of the book “Modellar” (Models): Øyvind Helgesen , Richard Glavee-Geo , Ghulam Mustafa , Erik Nesset & Paula Rice! Thanks also to the publisher, Universitetsforlaget, for agreeing to make this an open access publication. And thanks to my co-authors: Carol A. DralegaGilda Seddighi, and Lin Prøitz!

The research project that this chapter reports from included interviews with immigrant families; children and parents, exploring how they dealt with the everyday challenges of balancing video games with family activities and responsibilities. Thanks to all the youth and parents who made this study possible!


How do immigrant youth with non-western backgrounds in Norway and their families approach and negotiate video game regulation? This is the central question this chapter explores with the aim to establish sources of conflict and models for conflict resolution from a family perspective. The data collected through qualitative methods and analyzed through “discourse theory”, indicate that the most harmonious models are those that engender dialogue, trust and the participation of both parties.

Read the full chapter here

Check out the rest of the book: https://www.idunn.no/modeller

Do women need female role models in the field of IT?

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This is one of the questions we ask in Nordwit in our rural study in Norway.

Previous research is ambivalent about whether women need female role models or not in a male dominated field.

“The act of categorization does not involve a positive test”, West and Zimmerman explain, but rather an “if-can” test: ‘if people can be seen as members of relevant categories, then categorize them that way’” (1987).

Our study of women in IT work in Norway has documented that having female role models from IT had not been important for their career in IT, like one of them say: “There haven’t been anyone before us” in this field.

In a forthcoming chapter we present our findings as a model reflecting the informants’ responses in relation to the lack of female role models in IT. They rather point to an empty space where the female role models should have been: a “void” (like above, or feeling alone), or towards substitute female role models (for instance a female prime minister), or they suggest alternative supporters of both genders (for instance partners and mentors).

One of our reviewers for this chapter was eager to point out that women might not want or need female role models. Which is indeed true. But what does that really mean? That female role models are irrelevant? According to our study: no. It rather means that women in the male dominated field of IT are in danger of failing the “if-can” test – like Åsa Cajander’s post also indicates. The answer is, we suggest, not to assume that women don’t want or need female role models, but rather that when facing a professional field that is so tightly connected to the presence of men and masculine symbols, there is a “doing gender” going on in parallel with “doing IT” – and therefore it is difficult to identify female role models that reflect this profession, as women risk failing the (masculine) “doing gender” part of IT.

Which narratives do you tell on the International Women’s Day?

Happy International Women’s Day, to women all over the world!

Heading from New York Times, Febr. 13 2019: The Secret History of Women in Coding, The beatuiful image has the caption: “Mary Allen Wilkes with a LINC at M.I.T., where she was a programmer. Credit Joseph C. Towler, Jr.” https://www.nytimes.com/2019/02/13/magazine/women-coding-computer-programming.html

There are many reasons why we still need a Women’s Day and many highly important issues to solve before we get a gender equal society – also in Norway! For instance, more women than men have a higher education in Norway, but women earn in average 86% compared to men. Girls choose maths at high school as often as boys, but only 24% applying to higher IT education are women. In OECD countries, only 2% of girls, against 20% of boys, imagine themselves in a future IT career. Even though IT used to be a field where many women found interesting jobs and where they felt “at home”, this is not part of the dominating cultural discourse in 2019. Instead, women’s early participation in IT is still referred to as a “secret history”, like a recent article in New York Times illustrates (see image). I recommend this article if you are not familiar with women’s part of computing history!

One of the things we emphasise in our work to improve women’s situation in technology-driven R&I (Nordwit, FixIT), is that we tend to shape narratives by including certain things, while excluding others. In the narrative about IT and computing history, women’s contributions is not part of the mainstream story, so many aspects of the women-in-computing-part of this narrative are indeed still “secret”.

I am very proud and happy that I was asked to talk about this “secret story” today, at the local Women’s Day event.
Come, listen and discuss, if you are near Sogndal!

“I don’t mind the Gnomes, but I’m always worried about tripping over one”

This is an Elvish joke from World of Warcraft, one that “I as Another”, a Night Elf, could have told, while walking around in Azeroth doing research for our book on World of Warcraft, Digital Culture, Play, and Identity, many years ago.

… on becoming an elf in World of Warcraft, a game universe, where you first become by choosing character. I chose night elf because she looked nice and the night elves’ natureculture seemed friendly … Then you become by being told what your role is in the gameworld – to defend the home of the night elves, the children of the stars, against further corruption of evil forces, and by walking around in the elven landscape you realize that you are in fact an elf among others who greet you in elven ways with a warm “Elune-adore” and hail you into being an elf. … The world has a role for you; you walk like it and talk like it, and the character has a mission of her own, ignorant to my human self’s workload, appointments or restless dogs.

I was reminded about this when looking for some old stuff, and found this short piece. I was invited to write this in 2010 for CIAC’s Electronic Magazine, from the perspective of “I as Another” in relation to a video game avatar. And of course I did add a feminist perspective – comparing feminism and video games.

This world is not ridden by the dilemma of feminism, of women being one group or several groups. And neither is it ridden by messy identities or blurred boundaries. Instead, this is a neatly ordered world.

It wasn’t online at CIAC’s site anymore, but you can read it here

Women’s low participation in tech innovation: Can we FixIT?

After one and a half years with researching women’s tech related careers in Nordwit, we are starting to see results. In Pillar 1 we have submitted one article to review, and we have two more in production that we will submit before end of this year. One of the most exciting results we see in Norway at the moment is however that our Nordwit research has built a solid and highly valuable foundation for a new project that has been developed from our collaboration under Nordwit: the FixIT project!

FixIT is not a research project, but rather an action plan, a project to make change, more specifically, to increase women’s participation in research-based innovation. In this phase, we are targeting the innovation projects that recently received funding from the Norwegian Research Council (NRC). These projects have not reached the goal of having at least 40% women participating, and we responded to a call to increase women’s participation.

FixIT starts already in December 2018 and will go on for 14 months. Building on our Nordwit knowledge, the aim is to develop a “package” of gender balance competence that will increase the knowledge about how to work for a better gender balance in innovation projects. We are not alone in this project, but work together with actors from public and private sector as well as three networks for women in tech. (More in Norwegian here)

So yes, we are ambitious and hopeful as we aim to fix the gender balance with FixIT!