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

fixitended
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.
    http://kjonnsforskning.no/nb/ma-vi-egentlig-ha-flere-kvinner-i-ikt
  • 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.
    https://www.idunn.no/modeller/18_womens_experience_of_role_models_in_it_landmark_women
  • 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.
    https://dl.acm.org/doi/10.1145/3196839.3196867
  • 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

Abstract

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.

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.

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

Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

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!

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!

Google staff protesting the company’s treatment of women

I had the great pleasure of listening to Karen Holtzblatt at a conference earlier this year, where she challenged the audience to consider what the actual goal is, when we talk about getting more women into ICT. While the first wave feminists, she said, fought for the right to vote, and the second wave fought for the right to work – what are we fighting for or against when talking about women in ICT? It’s easy to know whether you have the right to vote or not, whether you have access to certain positions in working life or not. What exactly is it that we want for women in ICT? That people behave nice?, she asked.

The “me too” campaign and the following waves of reactions seem to have put something like that on the agenda. This week, Google employees in many countries walked out to protest at the company’s treatment of women.

BBC NEWS: Google staff walk out over women’s treatment
TWITTER/GOOGLEWALKOUT

New publication on video gaming and immigrant youth in Norway

This year has been good for publications! We have a new chapter on immigrant youth and video gaming out today, published with Emerald in Volume 16 – Media and Power in International Contexts: Perspectives on Agency and Identity, edited by: Apryl A. Williams, Ruth Tsuria, Laura Robinson, Aneka Khilnani

Chapter 7 – Manifestations and Contestations of Hegemony in Video Gaming by Immigrant Youth in Norway

by Carol Azungi Dralega and Hilde G. Corneliussen

Abstract
This chapter reports from a qualitative study on how identity categories, including gender and ethnicity, are experienced and constructed through video gaming among immigrant youth in Norway. The aim here is to explore the manifestations and contestations of gendered power and hegemonic practices among the young immigrant girls and boys. This chapter builds on research about everyday media use especially video games, and our analysis is based on theories of hegemony, power, gender, and ethnicity. Three key findings are observed from the study: (a) video games acting as a bridge between ethnic minority boys (not so much with the girls) and ethnic Norwegians, (b) hegemonic gendered practices, emphasizing the “otherness,” in particular for girls adhering to the category of gamer, and finally, to a lesser degree, (c) marginalization within video games on the basis of being a non-Western youth in a Western context. As such the study simultaneously not only confirms but also challenges dominant discourses on video games by suggesting that, although some positive strides have been made, the claims of a post-gender neutral online world, or celebrations of an inclusive and democratic online media culture, especially video gaming, are still premature.

A big thank you to Carol for her effort and for a great team!

Grappling with Paradoxes

Digitalization 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 Digital12 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!