Speaking for OSCE about women’s empowerment and the digital transformation

Today I had the great pleasure of speaking for OSCE https://www.osce.org/ at a conference in Vienna/Zoom, where I was one of the speakers invited to talk about women’s empowerment and the digital transformation. It was a short talk for many distinguished speakers, ambassadors, and representatives from the OSCE member states, some of which responded and asked questions.

Below you can read my talk for the OSCE on 5 July 2021, at the High-Level Conference Promoting Economic and Environmental Co-operation, Security, and Growth in the OSCE Region: Marking 30 years of the 1990 Bonn Document. In this version I have added references to show the connections to our research.

(And I have finally a new profile photo, as it is many years now since my hair was short and had other colour(s) :D)


Your excellences, ladies, and gentlemen, I am honored to be with you today to talk about the digital transformation and women’s economic empowerment. Women’s participation in information technology and the digitalized working life has been my main field of research for more than two decades, mainly focusing on Norway, but also in international settings.

Digitalization has a major impact on the labour market in many ways. I will talk about the expert side of this, as 80% of IT experts in EU and in Norway, are men.[1] This puts women at risk of being excluded from opportunities, and society is missing out on important resources.

Many of the barriers for women’s inclusion in IT have been known for decades and the biggest challenge today is still cultural stereotypes associating IT with boys and men. This makes girls question whether they belong in this field.[2] But more importantly, the same stereotypes also make parents, teachers, schools,[3] even IT employers,[4] assume that girls are not interested in IT, and therefore failing to put gender equality on the agenda.

The many barriers experienced by women suggest that an interesting question might not be why there are so few women in IT but rather how women, despite all the barriers, still find their way into fields of IT and digitalization within this highly gendered landscape.[5]

Considering men and women’s participation in the core fields of digitialisation, there are two important aspects, according to the report about Digitalisation and the future of work by the European Institute for Gender Equality. One aspect is the gender make-up of people with technology skills. The other is the gender composition of the research and development sector.[6]

I will touch on to both these aspects in the examples I will give from two of my recent research projects from Norway: one identifying what makes women decide to enter higher IT education to achieve the relevant skills.[7] The second project studied how women end up working in R&D in core fields of digitalization, where we found many women with different types of backgrounds working with designing, programming, and implementing new technology.[8]

Starting with entry points to IT education, the first and most obvious route to IT is that of being interested in IT or wanting a career in IT, and then to follow a “direct route” from high school to university education in IT. We can call this the conventional route and this is the route we normally refer to when we talk about recruiting women to IT.

But: less than 50% of the women we have interviewed across our research projects followed this route. Instead, they described a number of alternative routes:

  • First, a large group describe a delayed entry into IT education. Many of them had been on a “penalty round”: because they did not have enough knowledge about IT, they had chosen a different subject. But, at a later point they learnt about IT and became interested, and many of them had changed direction, even going back to university, for a second degree in IT.
  • The second route is represented by a surprisingly large group of women who told us that studying IT was a total coincidence because they knew little about IT and initially had no interest in IT. Various coincidences sends them into an IT degree course, and once they were there, they realized that they liked it and decided to stay.
  • A third route to IT includes other subjects and disciplines where the women already have competence, like mathematics, social science or even arts – subjects that are not equally male dominated, and the women use this as a safe platform where they had a feeling of mastery when they entered the less familiar field of IT.
  • The fourth route reflects women who had chosen IT because it was considered suitable for women. But they were not from Norway. They had grown up in countries much further south in Europe, and they help us to see the cultural construction of IT as a gendered field in Norway.

Moving from the choice of IT education to women working in digitalization, we found some of the same patterns, but also another two:

  • Many women in traditional non-technological fields experience that digitalization is changing their work – for instance health care turns into e-health. We found that many women in such situations went back to university or in other ways developed their IT competence to be able to work with digitalization within their original non-technological field of work.
  • Yet another group of women with a background in a non-technological profession such as law, found new opportunities to work with digitalization because their non-technological professions are needed in the very core operations of digitalization.

The 6 alternative routes are interesting because they are symptoms of the gendering of IT as still largely associated with boys and men in Norway, as in many other European countries. Girls need support to choose a masculine field: it doesn’t just happen, it happens after they have received some kind of input, insight, or practice.[9] Our research shows that schools on all levels largely fail to give this insight, and therefore women have to do a penalty round to find this insight other places, or they identify other and less masculine subjects as a safe platform for entering IT.

These patterns reflect persisting inequalities and exclusion in a digitalized economy.[10] They illustrate that women have to navigate a gendered landscape to find alternative routes to IT and digitalization. We can learn from these routes, not only looking at the barriers, but also by looking at the solutions suggested by the women.

The differences between European countries underline the cultural construction of the gendering of IT, which also means that it can be changed. However, it will not happen by itself: it will require action and it will require all of us to contribute.

Thank you.


[1] Barbieri et al., 2020; Simonsen & Corneliussen, 2020

[2] Corneliussen, 2020a, 2020b

[3] Corneliussen & Prøitz, 2016; Corneliussen et al., 2021

[4] Corneliussen & Seddighi, 2019, 2020a; Corneliussen & Seddighi, 2020b

[5] Corneliussen, 2021b

[6] Barbieri et al., 2020

[7] Corneliussen, 2020a, 2021a, 2021b (routes 1 – 4)

[8] Cajander et al., 2020; Corneliussen & Seddighi, (forthcoming) (routes 5 – 6)

[9] Corneliussen, 2020a, 2020b, 2021a; Corneliussen et al., 2021

[10] Barbieri et al., 2020


Barbieri, D., Caisl, J., Karu, M., Lanfredi, G., Mollard, B., Peciukonis, V., . . . Salanauskaitė, L. (2020). Gender Equality Index 2020: Digitalisation and the future of work. Luxembourg: EIGE: European Institute for Gender Equality.

Cajander, Å., Corneliussen, H. G., Myreteg, G., & Dyb, K. (2020). What Brings Women into eHealth? Women’s Career Trajectories in Digital Transformations in Healthcare. In M. Macedo (Ed.), Proceedings of the International Conference e-Health 2020 (71-77). IADIS: IADIS Press.

Corneliussen, H. G. (2020a). “Dette har jeg aldri gjort før, så dette er jeg sikkert skikkelig flink på” – Rapport om kvinner i IKT og IKT-sikkerhet. Sogndal: VF-rapport 8/2020.

Corneliussen, H. G. (2020b). Ikke et paradoks at få jenter velger IKT-utdanning. Nationen, Faglig Snakka (Kronikk)(22.04.2020).

Corneliussen, H. G. (2021a). A Random Choice, Late Discovery, and Penalty Rounds: Mapping women’s pathways to information technology education. In P. Kommers & P. Isaias (Eds.), Proceedings for the International Conference ICT, Society, and Human Beings 2021: IADIS Press.

Corneliussen, H. G. (2021b). Women empowering themselves to fit in ICT. In E. Lechman (Ed.), Technology and Women’s Empowerment. London: Routledge.

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), 95-110. doi:https://doi.org/10.1080/1369118X.2015.1093529

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. (2020a). The Challenge of Implementing the National Gender Equality Norm in IT Organizations. IADIS International Journal on Computer Science and Information Systems, 15(2), 1-14.

Corneliussen, H. G., & Seddighi, G. (2020b). 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). IADIS: IADIS Press.

Corneliussen, H. G., & Seddighi, G. ((forthcoming)). Unconventional routes into ICT work: Learning from women’s own solutions for working around gendered barriers. In G. Griffin (Ed.), Gender Inequalities in Tech-Driven Research and innovation: Living the Contradiction Bristol: The Bristol University Press.

Corneliussen, H. G., Seddighi, G., Simonsen, M., & Urbaniak-Brekke, A. M. (2021). Evaluering av Jenter og teknologi: VF-rapport 3/2021.

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 D. Kreps, T. Komukai, T. V. Gopal, & K. Ishii (Eds.), Human-Centric Computing in a Data-Driven Society (379-397). Cham: Springer International Publishing.


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