The challenge of implementing the national gender equality norm in IT organisations

December 2020
International Journal on Computer Science and Information Systems

Although digitalization across sectors drives an increasing demand for IT specialists, women still make up a small part of computing communities, IT education and work – in the US and across Europe. Our project aims to build knowledge about how this situation can be improved in the context of Nordic gender equality regimes. The "gender equality paradox" is a label for women's underrepresentation in STEM disciplines, particularly in IT, that seems to be more extreme in highly gender egalitarian cultures. It has been suggested that the paradox is a result of women's choices in wealthy countries with a high degree of individual freedom. Our project highlights another side to this paradox, as we explore attitudes towards women's underrepresentation among IT employers and organizations. The analysis reveals mixed signals from the organizations: while they recognize the low proportion of women in IT, they simultaneously negotiate the meaning of women's underrepresentation in IT in ways that do not make gender equality in IT a goal, thus it leaves little space for gender equality actions. While this can have major consequences for women's careers in computing and IT work, it also illustrates a central mechanism of the "gender equality paradox" characterized by a widely accepted norm of gender equality existing alongside employers' skepticism to the goal of gender balance in computing. Here we analyze the organizations' approaches towards gender equality ideals through the notion of "discursive resources", which points to how individuals translate these ideals in light of their own organizational context. Furthermore, this highlights the importance of taking the organizations' "discursive resources" into account when suggesting solutions to increased awareness of and engagement for gender equality in the IT sector.