International Women’s Day is inevitably a time for a gender equality progress review. As the excellent, thoughtful, angry, optimistic, and often witty responses to the question “What if Steve Jobs had been a woman?” show, achieving gender equality in ICT is a very complex project. From the socialisation of kids and the cultural expectations of girls and boys, through to the management cultures of innovators and the employment practices of ICT companies, there are many interlocking reasons why there has to date been no female equivalent of Steve Jobs. This matters enormously: ICT is a site of major employment growth and opportunity in industrialised societies. The people who do this work create the tools which we all carry around, work with, manage our lives with, and perhaps even define who we are.
«When senior politicians and corporate leaders declare women’s role in ICT to be important, women are treated more seriously»
So, if gender equality in computing remains elusive, what is to be done to advance it? Over the past three years in the IN3 Gender and ICT programme, we have analysed a string of initiatives designed to advance and support women in ICT in several countries. Loud and clear from our analysis comes the conclusion that a vital ingredient in the success of these measures is high-level, consistent, sustained, political support with resources to back it up. When senior politicians and corporate leaders declare women’s role in this work to be important, women are treated more seriously. This is not the only factor, but it is a key one.
Unfortunately, in an economic crisis, the ‘trickiness’ of doing gender equality becomes a reason for retreating from it. Decision makers, who remain primarily male, are too inclined to treat gender equality as an option. The retreat from a commitment to equality has been evident, for example, in the resources and priority it is receiving in the framing of the European Union Horizon 2020 programme1. As the strategy for European research, science and technological development for the next seven years, it is a vital mechanism for ensuring that gender equality is fundamental to such activities, indeed to all knowledge creation. It has been remarkably silent on this question.
«Action on gender equality becomes even more urgent during a crisis. How are we going to recover any kind of social or economic capacity, if we do not build new social arrangements?»
If anything, action on gender equality becomes even more urgent during a crisis. How else are we going to recover any kind of social or economic capacity, if we do not build new social arrangements? The existing social ― and gender ― relations have so shamefully destroyed so many lives. But we need political support to help us shift the social and cultural framework within which we all live and work ― to transform the provision of education, to support working women, to hold employing organisations to account on equal pay, training, and career progression. If we cannot achieve these changes, then the ‘hyper-masculine’ domination of the computing world ― indeed, the world as a whole ― will take much longer to undo.
To take this challenge forward on our own patch, the Gender and ICT Programme at the IN3 will soon start work as the leader of a substantial EU project. This project will build a new community of global activists and practitioners working in the field of gender equality in science, technology and innovation ― activities which will be vital for our individual and collective futures. GenPORT, as our project will be known, will allow people to share their knowledge and resources, develop gender equality tools together, learn from one another, and build pressure for change. This blog will give you more news, and when we begin work, we invite you to join us.
1 European Commission 2012, Enhancing and focusing EU international cooperation in research and innovation: a strategic approach (COM 2012) 497.