Identified knowledge gaps on women in ICT

In Europe, less than 30 percent of employees in information and communication technology are women. In Norway, the share is lower, around 20 percent. The sector faces rapid growth, and with it comes a growth in power and significance. (Photo: © European Union 2013 - European Parliament)

Gender imbalance is a key issue in the ICT research of Western Norway Research Institute. In a recent report, two researchers gather all available statistics on the participation of women in the ICT sector, which is expected to see rapid expansion in coming years. – We aim to fill the identified knowledge gaps through qualitative research, says Hilde G. Corneliussen.

The statistical report on women in information and communication technology (ICT) in Norway is the result of fruitful, inter-disciplinary collaboration between ICT researcher and historian Hilde G. Corneliussen and Morten Simonsen, statistician at the same institute. The purpose of the research was to build a foundation for further research on the topic of the lasting and worrying gender imbalance in professions related to ICT.

– Western countries all share this gender imbalance in ICT. This also characterizes the Nordic countries, contrary to how they are usually associated with a high degree of gender equity. It is of great importance to establish the exact figures in order to gain closer insight into the issue, says Corneliussen, who has conducted considerable research in this area and is currently part of a Nordic Centre of Excellence on women in technology-driven professions, Nordwit.

A widening gap

Statistics tell a story of underrepresentation of women in ICT, both in Norway as well as in many other countries. Although the balance has been somewhat improved in later years, a satisfactory balance is far ahead, as the digitalization of society is only about to begin.

Soon, a large share of jobs will require formal competence within ICT. The current gender gap is therefore likely to widen, rather than the opposite, unless more women are recruited to ICT educations and careers.

Preparing the ground for comparison

Gaining an overview of the Norwegian statistics and deeper insight into the figures, has been a prerequisite for later comparisons with statistics from other countries.

As an example, the report shows that female employees constitute approximately 20 percent, i.e. one fifth, of the total number of ICT professionals.

– The exact share at which one arrives in each country, is highly dependent on the chosen approach to counting and coding employees. Therefore, it is necessary to study the underlying premises. Having completed this process, we are now ready to start comparing the situation in different countries, says Corneliussen.

Decisions and power

Digitalization is expected to spread across professions previously not considered ‘technical’, including, for example, nursing, which is already facing increasing use of digital technologies in health care services. Thus, soon, people without an ICT background will be required to take important decisions regarding the use of ICT.

ICT experts will also be given many important tasks on the basis of their technical competence.

– Unavoidably, a group of professionals who develop solutions and services for all of society, will hold a certain power. This is why gender balance in ICT is of such great importance, says Corneliussen.

Shedding light on a variety of stories

One might say that the main purpose of the report compiled by Simonsen and Corneliussen is to identify the missing pieces in the larger picture.

As an example, a small group of female employees has caught the attention of the researchers: those who are employed in the ICT sector, but do not receive a salary – in other words, women who are self-employed and freelance workers.

– One of the issues we will be looking more closely at, is what motivated these women to be self-employed, and whether their decisions were related to factors such as working conditions in ICT enterprises, Corneliussen says.

– Figures are important, but we will not find all the answers by looking solely at the statistics. Qualitative research is needed in order to shed light on a variety of stories from women in ICT work. Hopefully, a combination of quantitative and qualitative methods will eventually provide us with a deeper understanding of women’s participation in the ICT sector, says Morten Simonsen.