Sex Roles

pp 1–14 | Cite as

Mobile Phones as Interactive Technologies Mediating Gendered Work-Life Conflict: A Qualitative Study on Women in STEM

  • Debalina DuttaEmail author
Original Article


The dominant literature on interactivity of mobile phones treats it as a feature of the device that is neutral and value-free. Mostly quantitative studies of interactivity consider it as a stable construct, devoid of the contexts that constitute it. Of particular interest is the nature of interactivity in women’s lives within patriarchal home and work spaces. Drawing on in-depth interviews with 35 women in STEM careers in Singapore, I depict the gendered nature of mobile phone use, situated amid patriarchal structures, familial roles, and cultural norms. Specifically I examine the ways in which the meanings of interactivity are constituted amid gendered familial, sociocultural, and organizational spaces. The participants offer a conceptual framework of interactivity that challenges the techno-deterministic literature positioning new technologies as emancipatory solutions. The interactive features on mobile phones reproduce and magnify the gendered challenges experienced by the participants, adding new forms of reproductive labour. Gendered expectations of housework extend to interactions with the mobile device, with the device shaping the frequency, duration, and immediacy of interactions. Moreover, these interactive features afford specific forms of male interactions such as informal work chat groups that exclude women and simultaneously serve as spaces of decision-making. Features such as video chats and text messages further magnify the erasure of women in STEM amid patriarchal STEM cultures. Similarly, social media constitute structures that shape gendered performances although positive interactions on social media are seen as coping resources.


Women in STEM Mediated technologies Work life negotiations Mobile phone Interactivity Global south 


Funding Information

Funding for the present study was provided by the Department of Communication and New Media, National University of Singapore.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

I, Debalina Dutta, declare that there was no potential conflict of interest in this research.

Research Involving Human Participants and/or Animals

The research study was approved by Institutional Review Board, National University of Singapore. The reference number of the application is A-13-406.

Informed Consent

Signed informed consent was obtained from the participants prior to the study in compliance IRB National University of Singapore guidelines

Supplementary material

11199_2019_1088_MOESM1_ESM.docx (14 kb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 14 kb)


  1. Adkins, C. L., & Premeaux, S. A. (2014). The use of communication technology to manage work-home boundaries. Journal of Behavioral and Applied Management, 15, 82–100.Google Scholar
  2. Anderson, J. F., Beard, F. K., & Walther, J. B. (2007). Turn-taking and the local management of conversation in a highly simultaneous computer-mediated communication system. Language@ Internet, 7(7). Retrieved from
  3. Aryee, S. (1992). Antecedents and outcomes of work-family conflict among married professional women: Evidence from Singapore. Human Relations, 45, 813–837. Scholar
  4. Blair-Loy, M., & Cech, E. A. (2017). Demands and devotion: Cultural meanings of work and overload among women researchers and professionals in science and technology industries. Sociological Forum, 32(1), 5–27. Scholar
  5. Blickenstaff, J. C. (2005). Women and science careers: Leaky pipeline or gender filter? Gender and Education, 17, 369–386. Scholar
  6. Bowen, G. A. (2009). Supporting a grounded theory with an audit trail: An illustration. International Journal of Social Research Methodology, 12, 305–316. Scholar
  7. Brooks, A. (2006). Gendered work in Asian cities: The new economy and changing labour markets. Burlington: Ashgate Publishing.Google Scholar
  8. Bucy, E. P. (2004). Interactivity in society: Locating an elusive concept. The Information Society, 20, 373–383. Scholar
  9. Burgoon, J. K., Ramirez, A., Dunbar, N. E., Kam, K., & Fischer, J. (2002). Testing the interactivity principle: Effects of mediation, propinquity, and verbal and nonverbal modalities in interpersonal interaction. Journal of Communication, 52, 657–677. Scholar
  10. Buzzanell, P. M., & Liu, M. (2005). Struggling with maternity leave policies and practices: A poststructuralist feminist analysis of gendered organizing. Journal of Applied Communication Research, 33, 1–25. Scholar
  11. Cannady, M. A., Greenwald, E., & Harris, K. N. (2014). Problematizing the STEM pipeline metaphor: Is the STEM pipeline metaphor serving our students and the STEM workforce? Science Education, 98, 443–460. Scholar
  12. Chesley, N. (2005). Blurring boundaries? Linking technology use, spillover, individual distress, and family satisfaction. Journal of Marriage and Family, 67, 1237–1248. Scholar
  13. Chung, D. S. (2007). Profits and perils: Online news producers’ perceptions of interactivity and uses of interactive features. Convergence, 13, 43–61. Scholar
  14. Chung, H., & Zhao, X. (2004). Effects of perceived interactivity on web site preference and memory: Role of personal motivation. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 10.
  15. Collinson, D. L. (1988). Engineering humour: Masculinity, joking and conflict in shop floor relations. Organization Studies, 9, 181–199. Scholar
  16. Corbin, J., & Strauss, A. (2015). Basics of qualitative research: Techniques and procedures for developing grounded theory. Thousand Oaks: Sage.Google Scholar
  17. Currie, J., & Eveline, J. (2011). E-technology and work/life balance for academics with young children. Higher Education, 62, 533–550. Scholar
  18. Dijkman, R. M., Sprenkels, B., Peeters, T., & Janssen, A. (2015). Business models for the internet of things. International Journal of Information Management, 35, 672–678. Scholar
  19. Dutta, D. (2016). Negotiations of cultural identities by Indian women engineering students in US engineering programmes. Journal of Intercultural Communication Research, 45, 177–195. Scholar
  20. Dutta, D. (2017). Cultural barriers and familial resources for negotiation of engineering careers among young women: Relational dialectics theory in an Asian perspective. Journal of Family Communication, 17, 338–355. Scholar
  21. Dutta, D. (2018). Women’s discourses of leadership in STEM Organizations in Singapore: Negotiating sociocultural and organizational norms. Management Communication Quarterly, 32, 233–249. Scholar
  22. Duxbury, L., & Smart, R. (2011). The “myth of separate worlds”: An exploration of how mobile technology has redefined work-life balance. In S. Kaiser, M. J. Ringlstetter, D. R. Eikhof, & M. P. E. Cunha (Eds.), Creating balance? (pp. 269–284). Heidelberg: Springer, Berlin.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Eccles, J. S. (2005). Studying gender and ethnic differences in participation in math, physical science, and information technology. New Directions for Child and Adolescent Development, 110, 7–14. Scholar
  24. Edley, P. P. (2001). Technology, employed mothers, and corporate colonization of the lifeworld: A gendered paradox of work and family balance. Women and Language, 24, 28–35. Retrieved from Scholar
  25. Fallman, D. (2008). The interaction design research triangle of design practice, design studies, and design exploration. Design Issues, 24, 4–18. Retrieved from Scholar
  26. Faulkner, W. (2009). Doing gender in engineering workplace cultures. II. Gender in/authenticity and the in/visibility paradox. Engineering Studies, 1, 169–189. Scholar
  27. Golden, A., & Geisler, C. (2007). Work-life boundary management and the personal digital assistant. Human Relations, 60, 519–551. Scholar
  28. Ha, L., & James, E. L. (1998). Interactivity reexamined: A baseline analysis of early business web sites. Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, 42, 457–474. Scholar
  29. Herring, S. C. (2004). Slouching toward the ordinary: Current trends in computer-mediated communication. New Media & Society, 6, 26–36. Scholar
  30. Horst, H. A. (2013). The infrastructures of mobile media: Towards a future research agenda. Mobile Media & Communication, 1, 147–152.10.1177/2050157912464490.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Jenkins, H. (2006). Convergence culture: Where old and new media collide. New York: NYU Press.Google Scholar
  32. Katz, J. E. (2008). Handbook of mobile communication. Boston: MIT Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Kiousis, S. (2002). Interactivity: A concept explication. New Media & Society, 4, 355–383. Scholar
  34. Kirby, E. L., & Buzzanell, P. M. (2014). Communicating work life issues. In L. L. Putnam & D. K. Mumby (Eds.), The Sage handbook of organizational communication: Advances in theory, research and methods (pp. 351–373). Thousand Oaks: Sage.Google Scholar
  35. Kirby, E. L., Golden, A. G., Medved, C. E., Jorgenson, J., & Buzzanell, P. M. (2003). An organizational communication challenge to the discourse of work and family research: From problematics to empowerment. Annals of the International Communication Association, 27, 1–43. Scholar
  36. Kisselburgh, L. G., Berkelaar, B. L., & Buzzanell, P. M. (2009). Discourse, gender, and the meaning of work: Rearticulating science, technology, and engineering careers through communicative lenses. In C. S. Beck (Ed.), Communication yearbook 33 (pp. 384–408). New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  37. Lee, J. S. K., & Seow, C. L. (2001). Work-family conflict of women entrepreneurs in Singapore. Women in Management Review, 16, 204–221. Scholar
  38. Ling, R., & Horst, H. A. (2011). Mobile communication in the global south. New Media & Society, 13, 363–374. Scholar
  39. Low, P. K. C. (2006). Father leadership: The Singapore case study. Management Decision, 44, 89–104. Scholar
  40. Lucas, K., Liu, M., & Buzzanell, P. M. (2006). No limits careers: A critical examination of career discourse in the U.S. and China. In M. Orbe, B. J. Allen, & L. A. Flores (Eds.), The same and different: Acknowledging diversity within and between cultural groups. International and intercultural communication annual 28 (pp. 217–242). Thousand Oaks: Sage.Google Scholar
  41. Mazmanian, M., Orlikowski, W. J., & Yates, J. (2013). The autonomy paradox: The implications of mobile email devices for knowledge professionals. Organization Science, 24, 1337–1357. Scholar
  42. McMillan, S. J. (2000). Interactivity is in the eye of the beholder: Function, perception, involvement, and attitude toward web sites. In M. A. Shaver (Ed.), Proceedings of the 2000 conference of the American Academy of advertising (pp. 71–78). East Lansing, MI: Michigan State University.Google Scholar
  43. McMillan, S. J., & Hwang, J. S. (2002). Measures of perceived interactivity: An exploration of the role of direction of communication, user control, and time in shaping perceptions of interactivity. Journal of Advertising, 31, 41–54. Scholar
  44. Moratti, S. (2018). What’s in a word? On the use of metaphors to describe the careers of women academics. Gender and Education. Advance online publication.
  45. Mukhopadhaya, P. (2014). Income inequality in Singapore. London: Routledge.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Nam, T. (2014). Technology use and work-life balance. Applied Research in Quality of Life, 9, 1017–1040. Scholar
  47. Patton, M. Q. (2002). Qualitative research & evaluation methods. Thousand Oaks: Sage.Google Scholar
  48. Porter, C. E. (2004). A typology of virtual communities: A multi-disciplinary foundation for future research. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 10. Retrieved from https://academic-oup-com/jcmc/article/10/1/JCMC1011/4614445.Google Scholar
  49. Quiring, O. (2009). What do users associate with “interactivity”? A qualitative study on user schemata. New Media & Society, 11, 899–920. Scholar
  50. Quiring, O., & Schweiger, W. (2008). Interactivity: Are view of the concept and a framework for analysis. Communications: The European Journal of Communication Research, 33, 147–167. Scholar
  51. Rafaeli, S. (1988). Interactivity: From new media to communication. In R. Hawkins, J. Weimann, & S. Pingree (Eds.), Advancing communication science: Merging mass and interpersonal processes (pp. 110–134). Newbury Park: Sage.Google Scholar
  52. Rafaeli, S., & Ariel, Y. (2007). Assessing interactivity in computer-mediated research. In A. N. Joinson, K. Y. A. McKenna, T. Postmes, & U.-D. Reips (Eds.), The Oxford handbook of Internet psychology (pp. 71–88). Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  53. Rafaeli, S., & Sudweeks, F. (1997). Networked interactivity. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 2. Retrieved from
  54. Rakow, L. F., & Navarro, V. (1993). Remote mothering and the parallel shift: Women meet the cellular telephone. Critical Studies in Mass Communication, 10, 144–157. Scholar
  55. Ribak, R. (2009). Remote control, umbilical cord and beyond: The mobile phone as a transitional object. British Journal of Developmental Psychology, 27, 183–196. Scholar
  56. Rice, R. E. (1984). New media technology: Growth and integration. In R. E. Rice (Ed.), The new media: Communication, research & technology (pp. 33–54). Beverly Hills: Sage.Google Scholar
  57. Sidhu, R., Ho, K. C., & Yeoh, B. S. A. (2014). Singapore: Building a knowledge and education hub. In J. Knight (Ed.), International education hubs: Student, talent, +−knowledge–innovation models (pp. 121–143). Dordrecht: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Smeding, A. (2012). Women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM): An investigation of their implicit gender stereotypes and stereotypes’ connectedness to math performance. Sex Roles, 67, 617–629. Scholar
  59. Stich, J. F., Farley, S., Cooper, C., & Tarafdar, M. (2015). Information and communication technology demands: Outcomes and interventions. Journal of Organizational Effectiveness: People and Performance, 2, 327–345. Scholar
  60. Sundar, S. (2007). Social psychology of interactivity in human-website interaction. In A. Joinson, K. McKenna, T. Postmes, & U. Reips (Eds.), The Oxford handbook of internet psychology (pp. 89–102). New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  61. Sundar, S. S., Bellur, S., Oh, J., Jia, H., & Kim, H. S. (2016). Theoretical importance of contingency in human-computer interaction: Effects of message interactivity on user engagement. Communication Research, 43, 595–625. Scholar
  62. Tonso, K. (2014). Engineering identity. In A. Johri & B. Olds (Eds.), Cambridge handbook of engineering education research (pp. 267–282). New York: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  63. Tracy, S. (2013). Qualitative research methods: Collecting evidence, crafting analysis, communicating impact. West Sussex: Wiley- Blackwell.Google Scholar
  64. Wajcman, J. (2008). Life in the fast lane? Towards a sociology of technology and time. The British Journal of Sociology, 59, 59–77. Scholar
  65. Wajcman, J., Bittman, M., & Brown, J. (2009). Intimate connections: The impact of mobile phone on work/life boundaries. In G. Goggin & L. Hjorth (Eds.), Mobile technologies: From telecommunications to media (pp. 9–22). New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  66. Wang, M. T., Eccles, J. S., & Kenny, S. (2013). Not lack of ability but more choice: Individual and gender differences in choice of careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Psychological Science, 24, 770–775. Scholar
  67. Williams, F., Rice, R. E., & Rogers, E. M. (1988). Research methods and the new media. New York: Free Press.Google Scholar
  68. Yang, F., & Shen, F. (2018). Effects of web interactivity: A meta-analysis. Communication Research, 45, 635–658. Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Communication, Journalism & MarketingMassey UniversityPalmerston NorthNew Zealand

Personalised recommendations