FemTech.dk is situated in the Department of Computer Science at University of Copenhagen Denmark and has been an ongoing inquiry into the specific circumstances within computer science that produce gender imbalance and includes activities dedicated to making a change through design interventions.

FemTech’s Initial Focus on Bachelor’s and Master’s Students

FemTech.dk was created in 2016 to engage with research within gender and diversity and to explore the role of gender equity as part of digital technology design and development. FemTech.dk considers how and why computer science as a field and profession in Denmark has such a distinct unbalanced gender representation in the twenty-first century. The focus was initially on the student base of the bachelor’s program in computer science, which from the 1980s until 2016 was remarkably smaller than for other science programs at the University of Copenhagen (Table 2.1).

Table 2.1 University of Copenhagen, Educational services for data and systems

In terms of numbers, only 15 women students entered the bachelor’s degree program in 2012 and 2013, and only 12 women students entered the program in 2014. In each of these 3 years, more than 160 students entered the program in total. Reviewing the 15-year period 2000–2014, the share of women students in the program was 7% to 9%, the lowest percentage of women in a study program across all of the University of Copenhagen. To compare, in 2016 the share of women students in the Math program was 30%, and in Physics was 25%. Further, these percentages match those at other universities in Denmark.

Why do so few women choose to pursue a computer science degree in Denmark? More puzzling is that Denmark is known to score high on the gender-equality scale for the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) (DataHub 2019), and that in Denmark all (theoretically) have equal access to free education. Danish university students do not pay tuition fees and receive economic support for living costs while enrolled in education from the government. Moreover, Denmark has paid parental leave (also for students) and a childcare infrastructure that allows students to return to their studies or to work as parents. All these factors would otherwise be considered obstacles to attending university and choosing a well-paid career in technology development. Also, across all university programs, women students represent more than 50% of the student population. Still, there is a huge discrepancy between the availability of and access to pursue a degree in computer science and the number of women who choose to apply.

FemTech.dk Is About Research, Not Recruiting

While these numbers describe an important context for the FemTech.dk research initiative, we acknowledge that a sole focus on “numbers” risks addressing the gender imbalance as a communication or marketing concern, which will limit the research results and long-term impact. FemTech.dk does not have a communication and marketing agenda. Instead, it is a research initiative, where we treat our concerns about a real-life phenomenon as a research concern. Our research concern takes its starting point in experienced practice, but the fundamental research interest guiding our work is to explore and unpack the situated fundamental assumptions, values, norms, and background knowledge that serve as the infrastructural sociotechnical foundation shaping the current contextual situations of gender imbalance.

As computer science researchers, we draw on technology design research methods – specifically what we label makerspace methodologies. Briefly, makerspace methodologies combines analog and digital means to design, create, and implement interventionist critical design artefacts as a vehicle for change. Our primary aim is not to attract women to computer science but to figure out how we can open computer science to allow people from different backgrounds and with different interests to engage with computer science as a field and profession where they can succeed. We do not want to change women to make them fit in; instead, we want to change the field to make it more inclusive. As Shaowen Bardzell and Jeffrey Bardzell so elegantly phrase it:

if we want more women in computing, the feminist approach would suggest that rather than transforming women in primary and secondary education to better prepare them for undergraduate CS, we might also consider transforming undergraduate CS so that it more clearly relates to undergraduate women’s own intellectual agendas. (Bardzell and Bardzell 2011, p. 679)

Inspired by feminist Human–Computer Interaction (Bardzell 2010; Rode 2011), the FemTech.dk research foundation is intended to extend the field of computer science and promote agendas that allow women (and other under-represented groups) to pursue their own agendas within the field. In all activities and interventions, FemTech.dk is about extending and embracing the field of computer science, allowing for people with diverse backgrounds and interests to see themselves as successful within the field.

Computer science is the foundation for how new information technologies are designed, developed, and introduced into peoples’ lives. Digital technologies shape society, life, and work in important ways globally and locally, influencing how people think and act with technology in all aspects of life. Focusing on Europe, and specifically Denmark, we use digital technologies when we work, when we interact with governments and other institutions, when we engage with friends and family – and when our children engage with other children. We use technology in transportation, in manufacturing, in healthcare, and in unemployment services (Boulus-Rødje 2018; Nielsen and Møller 2020; Boulus-Rødje and Bjørn 2021). We use technology to track illness, energy, or politics (Boulus-Rødje and Bjørn 2015; Møller et al. 2021a, b). Digital technologies are pervasive and ubiquitous. This means that the people who create them influence our lives in important ways. Computer scientists have the power to invent, design, and create the digital technologies that shape our society. “With great power – comes great responsibility” (quoting the popular adage, which is also included in the DIKU student songbook, department song: Tomorrow the world is ours).

A large responsibility of computer scientists is thus to ensure that digital technologies that are developed enable the potentials of all individuals, communities, and societies; and to notice when important aspects of human interaction are neglected, constrained, or simply missing representation in technology design. To embrace this responsibility, societies would benefit from a situation where computer scientists with diverse backgrounds, perspectives, and ideas are available and can participate in the important task of shaping society though technology.

FemTech as Long-Term Endeavor

Making fundamental long-term change is evidently not a short-term endeavor. Thus, FemTech.dk is more than a project – it is a long-term initiative, and a sociotechnical infrastructure that collects and interlinks several projects and activities supporting the long-term change agenda for gender equity in computer science. FemTech.dk reaches beyond the individual projects, and new projects exist beyond this book. At the end of the book, we briefly touch on these other activities and initiatives, but it is important to state that meaningful and authentic change happens slowly and can only truly manifest itself as stable mainstream approaches shaping overall practices if we think 10–30 years into the future.

However, the importance of focusing on the long term does not mean that we simply act blind-folded and cannot determine short-term changes. Throughout the years of FemTech.dk, we reflectively chose to take certain actions and leave other actions behind. Over the years we have developed a set of principles and guidelines which help us make decisions about where to continue and where to step aside. In this book we give insights into these principles and guidelines and hope that others can be inspired in their endeavors for long-term change.

We hope to inspire other researchers, institutions, computer science teachers, university management, and so forth in designing their own interventionist design artefacts and taking actions to unpack and represent different agendas in computer science and digital technology design. The concrete manifestation of artefacts and interventions we have done, and which we describe in this book, are fundamentally based on the Internet-of-Things, micro-controller programming, and makerspace methodologies. However, future artefacts and interventions can take many different forms, since FemTech.dk interventions are highly interlinked with the new digital technologies and opportunities – and these change rapidly and continuously (Schaller 1997). While the digital opportunities will change, we hope the FemTech.dk design principles will be applicable over the long term.