This was the question I tried to answer at the European Interdisciplinary Cybersecurity Conference two weeks ago. Summing up a case study where we compare women in cybersecurity with women in other IT disciplines, I talked about which similarities and differences we found between the two groups. The study is based on 24 in-depth interviews with women studying or holding PhD, Postdoc or early research recruitment positions in academia, 12 in cybersecurity and 12 in other IT disciplines in STEM faculties.
Women are a minority in cybersecurity as well as IT in general, however, there has been some overall improvement in women’s participation, but not in cybersecurity. The graphs below visualize the massive male dominance in these disciplines.
Women in Cybersecurity and women in other IT disciplines share some features, like a notable lack of knowledge about IT disciplines when they are in transition between upper secondary/high school and university. The unfortunate result is that stereotypical ideas of IT, with images of male «geeks» and «hooded gamers» who had started programming early, dominate women’s expectations of ICT at university, and they don’t see themselves fit within this image: «I had never programmed before in my life“. The interviews document that there is still a strong association of IT with masculine stereotypes, and more, such ideas about IT becomes a barrier for women to choose any IT disciplines, including cybersecurity.
There are also differences between women in cybersecurity and other IT fields, for instance that cybersecurity was described as open for a more varied set of competences. The women could recognize their own strengths and expertise from otherdisciplines, like arts and social sciences, as relevant in cybersecurity, and this became an important door opener for many of them. We also found that it was easier for women to understand and associate themselves with the goals of cybersecurity rather than with the goals of other IT disciplines. They saw cybersecurity as a field concerning «everybody» and everyday life, thus not only relevant for women but also in need of women.
You can hopefully read more when the paper is published by ACM as: Corneliussen, H. G. (2020). What Brings Women to Cybersecurity? A Qualitative Study of Women’s Pathways to Cybersecurity in Norway, European Interdisciplinary Cybersecurity Conference (EICC 2020).
This is the question we ask in our recent article “What Can Statistics Tell About the Gender Gap in ICT? Tracing Men and Women’s Participation in the ICT Sector Through Numbers“. I have written this together with my colleague Morten Simonsen. The aim of the article was to identify how the gender structure in ICT education and work was represented through statistics. We often associate statistics with “facts” – the pure numbers that can show how things really are. And statistics are indeed important to monitor fields, but statistics are also representations of someone’s choices of which stories to tell.
Abstract Which narratives can statistics tell about men and women’s participation in ICT? The question is relevant across the western world showing a pattern of more men than women in ICT work. This chapter presents an analysis of available statistics that contribute to an image of women’s participation in ICT work and education. The scope of the study is European countries with an emphasis on Norway, however, we also present statistics from OECD. The statistics confirm that the gender imbalance in ICT work is significant, suggesting that monitoring this field is important. The analysis also reveals challenges and gaps in the material, for instance the challenge of finding comparable numbers, a reduced use of gender as a variable in later years, difficulties in identifying the gendered structures of ICT due to a mixture of occupational fields for some of the relevant numbers, while other issues found to be relevant in qualitative studies are not represented in the available statistics. The monitoring of gendered structures of ICT work can be improved by developing statistics that better can capture inequalities and hierarchies. The findings also suggest that qualitative research is an important complement and correction to statistical overviews, in particular for identifying factors that alone and together contribute to gender inequalities in ICT.
Cite the article as: Simonsen M., Corneliussen H.G. (2020) What Can Statistics Tell About the Gender Gap in ICT? Tracing Men and Women’s Participation in the ICT Sector Through Numbers. In: Kreps D., Komukai T., Gopal T.V., Ishii K. (eds) Human-Centric Computing in a Data-Driven Society. HCC 2020. IFIP Advances in Information and Communication Technology, vol 590. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-62803-1_30
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.
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.
I was interviewed by Kilden Genderresearch.no – the national centre for gender research in Norway. It follows up the “kronikk” I published last month, where I claim that it is not a paradox that girls do not chose to study ICT, but rather an effect of how central actors around girls take for granted that girls don’t want to study ICT.
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!
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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.