Working on research in equity, inclusion, and diversity in technology development has brought us many interesting reflections on the kinds of research we do, what we include, and what we exclude – and on the kind of institutions we are part of, were part of earlier, and will take an active part in creating in the future.

Misunderstanding FemTech

In re-reading reviews of early manuscripts for FemTech research, we see that we have often been misunderstood. Reviewers would expect and understand our work as developing new learning methods for STEM education, and we have often been asked to revise our research papers accordingly and advised to submit to conferences in education rather than computer science. For example, we might get statements such as: “related work that is missing from other fields such as learning science, CSE, and STEM education” in the reviews of our work (anonymized review). Demonstrating and arguing that our work is not about developing the field of learning science, computer science engineering, or STEM education – but instead about subverting norms and introducing institutional change in computer science as a community – has been a difficult task. Our work is directed at changing material and symbolic representations of computer science, as well as narratives about computing – and at opening the field through design activities, materials, and interactions based on the FemTech.dk design principles. Although it took us time to find ways to get our agenda understood, we have since received many invitations and much interest in our work both in Denmark and internationally, including invitations to present keynote talks at large conferences in Europe and North America as well as presentations at tech companies such as SAP, Microsoft, and Google. Further, some of these invitations have allowed us to publish in alternative and experimental venues such as Madeline Balaam and Lone Koefoed Hansen’s collection Wilful Technologies (Balaam and Hansen 2019), where a version of GRACE is presented (Fig. 9.1).

Fig. 9.1
figure 1

Wilful technologies: race & resilience zine

These interactions with the international computer science community though invited talks and alternative publication venues have developed our knowledge, arguments, and design principles by allowing “outsiders” to engage with us around our alternative narratives developed inside the computer science department where they were created. This work of engaging with researchers and practitioners has also supported our agenda of changing the narrative, since by engaging with our work, we seek others to join our efforts. Our point here is that the impact of our work might not be visible via the ‘ordinary’ measures of academic production but instead has garnered much greater visibility outside ‘ordinary’ academic productions that might be more important when assessing the quality of research that includes advocacy and interventions. We conduct our research with the aim of long-term change – and if we evaluate the bare numbers of women students, they have increased; thus, from this perspective, we are succeeding. However, we would argue that our success cannot be reduced to the mere “numbers of women students”, since the most important measure should be the change in institutions – the long-term change in the international computer science community. There is an increased focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion in computer science education and the profession worldwide, many people are doing work in this regard, and we are proud to add our small contribution to this endeavor.

Internal events and activities (such as workshops we organized for our faculty to reflect on how to use micro-controllers in teaching) were all important parts of the transformation process of the institution; however, such activities require effort and resources to plan and execute, and when they do not directly add to ordinary measures of academic success, they easily end up as cultural taxation. The time and effort spent on departmental citizenship is crucial to transforming an organization towards equity and inclusion, but it also takes time away from research. Given that academic currency in terms of papers, grants, and citations is what makes or breaks an academic career, it also means that time not spent in these areas risks jeopardizing academic promotions and careers. Thus, throughout our FemTech research, we have also kept ‘alternative’ research streams alive, which then have served as the ‘bread and butter’ of our academic CVs. While we put in effort to align the different research streams we engaged with – for example, we researched makerspaces and open design (Menendez-Blanco and Bjørn 2019) – engaging in the important FemTech organizational work took time otherwise spent on academic merits.

Saying No to Window Dressing

Being aware of the risk of cultural taxation, we carefully discussed and reflected, each time we were asked to plan, join, or otherwise engage with people outside and inside the organization, whether a particular event would benefit the larger research agenda or just take time away for our already very occupied workdays. Saying ‘no’ is difficult in academia, but it is important to remember that each time you say no to something, you say yes to yourself, and the sparsest resource for a researcher is time. This meant that when someone asked us to join a podcast, a radio program, a talk, et cetera, we would consider whether the event was genuinely addressing the diversity and inclusion agenda through actions or was just ‘window dressing’ for events such as International Women’s Day or Ada Lovelace Day. We did not want to use our sparse time if an event did not add to the existing agenda, and if organizations – such as companies or unions – did not take the agenda seriously. Finding ways to interrogate potential external invitations for events to determine whether we shared common ground is an important learning when doing equity work.

Mentoring and Bias Training Alone Will Not Foster Change

Transforming an organization towards equity and inclusion is many things and requires work by everyone. Liza Reisel, deputy project manager of the Nordic Centre of Excellence on Gender Equality in Research and Innovation, classifies the equity initiatives into four main categories: (1) network and mentor programs, (2) awareness-raising, (3) organizational change, and (4) affirmative action. Reisel and her colleagues found that while initiatives 1 and 2 often are the main ones implemented as strategies for transforming organizations, they do not foster long-term change in the Nordic countries. The problems here are not linked to a general prejudice against women, and networking and mentor programs are fine but not really doing the fundamental work required. Instead, Reisel cited by Højsgaard (2022) argues that having long-term effects on diversity requires effort and resources spent on organizational change anchored in high management at the institutions. In academia this would be at the vice-chancellor, dean, and department-head levels. Without attention and focus from decision-makers ensuring that equity, diversity, and inclusion are ‘mainstreamed’ into all parts and aspects of an organization, institutions and organizations will not be able to change. What does this really mean in practice?

Equity Is About Real Opportunity and Building CVs

In academia, as we have already mentioned, building a CV to ensure academic promotion requires papers, grants, and citations. However, as we also mentioned in the beginning of this book, the fundamental conditions for successful academic currency that serve this agenda of CV-building are based on researchers’ privilege in supervising PhD students, which again is based on researchers’ luck in winning external funding and grants. Academics can be viewed as entrepreneurial actors, situating themselves and navigating multiple interlinked opportunities and barriers, finding ways to win grants, allowing them to move towards their academic ambition. In this navigation work, opportunities such as awards, recognized prestige roles, and invitations play subtle yet crucial roles in building the academic CV. Winning a small grant or an award early in an academic career is a stepping stone to the next award and grant. What happened in an academic’s past matters for the present state of the academic’s CV and determines the potential of their future academic career. This means that management of academic institutions must take seriously their role as decision-makers with respect to diversity and equity when nominating, promoting, proposing, et cetera, researchers at all levels to ensure career development for the individual through building their CV.

In academic management, some of the leadership opportunities that need to be distributed in the organization support people’s CVs, whereas others do not. For example, participating in an equity committee does not count in the same way that participating in a research committee does. Receiving an award for equity work is not as prestigious as receiving an award for research. Moreover, awards for equity work are often tokens, like a cup, whereas awards for research entail money.

Giving the estimated value of the work matters, and while we here provide examples from academia, there are similar incentives in industry and the public sector for what is viewed as valued, and how. Studying the organizational behaviors of mixed gender work organizations Linda Babcock, Maria Recalde, and Lise Vesterlund found that women disproportionally are expected to volunteer and accept to volunteer (Babcock et al. 2018) – for what has recently been labeled as “non-promotable tasks” (Babcock et al. 2022). Non-promotable tasks are tasks which are important for the organization but does not add to a person’s CV. Equity work takes effort and time, and to do it right, management must carefully consider how to share leadership opportunities that count and how to acknowledge and value the leadership opportunities that do not really count but are important for the organization. Equity work cannot be a non-promotable task, if organizations truly want to change. Organizations must find ways to make essential equity work matter not just as extra work but as core to the organization and thus as adding value for promotion. Further, as part of the organization equity activities, it is essential that managers make sure to propose a diverse set of people for awards, allow them opportunities to sit on core prestige committees, and in general ensure that they can take advantage of leadership opportunities. If participating in a committee will benefit a person’s CV, organizations must find ways to ensure that people who historically have not held leadership positions are proposed for such opportunities.

The Myth of Meritocracy

Besides considering how to share with equity new opportunities for career advancement between people in an organization, management also needs to consider current evaluation schemes or protocols for evaluating contributions. Special attention should be given to how to evaluate contributions that do not fit current evaluation schemes or protocols. Such initiatives need to take different forms depending on the organization and their work; however, to explain what we mean, we will use academia as an example.

In academia, evaluation schemes and protocols include measures often referred to as academic meritocracy. Academic meritocracy is based on the idea that if you do excellent research and work hard, you will succeed. Referring to the qualitative analysis of academic recruitment practices in the Netherlands by Van den Brink (2010), Mathias Nielsen (2016) explains how academic recruitment and selection processes are practices which ‘mobilize masculinities’ without academic decision-makers being fully aware of these practices:

[The] theoretical concept ‘mobilizing masculinities’ [is] a starting point for exploring how male (and female) academics practice networking in recruitment and selection processes. The study illustrates a multiplicity of gender practices affecting who is invited to apply for research positions, whose reputations are built, and whose visibility is promoted through the recommendations of eminent (male) colleagues. While the authors note that such practices are clearly acknowledged by the recruiters as being intrinsic to the academic promotion game, their gendered consequences do not arise from conscious choices. (Nielsen 2016, p. 388)

Formal and inform network ties appear to be critical to academic recruitment and hiring but matter differently for women and men. Promotions, awards, and grants in academia often involve recommendations of academic referees; thus, the need for sponsorship is a crucial part of using the network (Bagilhole and Goode 2001). Bagilhole and Goode argue that success in academia is a socialization process involving reliance on colleagues for collaboration, friendship, and co-authorship. Further, they show that success in academia requires self-promotion and that men scientists are often good at promoting not only themselves and also other men – but occasionally also other women (ibid.). Marianne Ferber studied academic citation practices and found that women tend to cite other women researchers more than men cite women, which, again, they argue, creates a larger citation gap between researchers of different genders (Ferber 1988). Both women and men cite the work of men, but only women cite the work of women. Ferber suggests that the problem of lack of recognition (lack of citations) is more severe when ‘out-of-group’ numbers are low – and that if these numbers increase, out-of-group participants will increasingly find it easier to gain acceptance (ibid.). Ferber’s research indicates that citation numbers are not about research quality but are instead linked to the fact that the majority in most academic fields are men, and that they tend to quote other men. The closed successful sponsor network is thus not only about collaboration and co-authorship but also about mutual promotion practices as well as citation sharing.

From Gender to Intersectionality

We extend the analytical focus from a sole focus on gender to include other social identities and intersectionality. When women are cited less, non-White people are cited less, and people from the Global South are cited less, then women of color conducting research at a university in Africa are marginalized and rendered virtually invisible (Kumar and Karusala 2020). Affirmative actions within the international research communities such as citational justice, increasing the diversity in awards committees and paper selection committees, and decreasing costs and financial support for attending large conferences are required to make a change.

The streamlining of research – whereby a few highly cited researchers with a history of winning grants, supervising PhD students and post-docs, and being the last authors of an increasing number of publications that also cite prior publications, thus resulting in a steadily growing number of citations – risks only allowing for uniform and singular research following a certain template, reducing the plurality and multiplicity of the potential research questions that society needs to address. As expressed by Alon Zivony:

Inequality inevitably leads to homogeneity of viewpoints and experiences, which limits our ability to ask new worthwhile questions and raises the risk of scientific stagnation. A fair evaluation system is therefore crucial not only from a social justice perspective, but also from a scientific standpoint. (Zivony 2019)

When we streamline our evaluation schemes and measuring protocols, we risk losing diverse perspectives and the ability to surprise each other with counter-narratives and productive debates. So what will it take to change this in academia?

We suggest that a place to begin this transformation is openness to the idea that the measuring of quality needs to consider how to evaluate and acknowledge different types of contributions to research, including how to consider merit. We should consider not analyzing people’s CVs as objective measures but instead investigating the quality a person has achieved given the available resources. Graduating PhD students with many publications and citations from high-prestige institutions with high-prestige supervisors having many resources is less impressive than graduating PhD students who managed to do impressive work with few resources. However, even at high-prestige institutions that graduate PhD students from diverse backgrounds, these students will have had different conditions of success and failure based on their backgrounds and privileges.

Beyond Celebration of ‘Women in Tech’ Events

While we talk here about academia as the organizational unit, we suggest that similar structures, based on different metrics, are also at work in the tech industry. If we want to move beyond celebrating the need for “women in tech” at events in March each year, management in the tech industry and academia needs to take the problems seriously. It is management’s responsibility to ensure the best possible conditions for all people having an interest in shaping the digital society of the future through engaging with computer science research and practice to succeed despite various intersectional diversity dimensions. This means that management must address and consider the distribution of promotional opportunities through the lens of equity, not equality. As long as people in computer science education or the tech industry, in the Nordic countries, lack equal conditions for access and success, it is management’s responsibility to insist on the agenda in all organizational processes – and potentially consider how affirmative actions might be appropriate in specific situations to change the dynamics. Networking, mentoring, and learning about bias are not enough. We need equity mainstreaming in all areas of organizations, which requires critical analysis, creativity, cooperation, and management accountability.

Measurable Goals and Key Performance Indicators

This leads to the final reflection we would like to share based on our work: the reflection on numbers, goals, and measurement for success. If tech organizations and computer science education departments embark on a journey to transform their organizations to increased diversity, it is important that we develop measurable goals and markers that can help us navigate the challenging road and determine whether we are on the right path or need to take new initiatives.

The bare number of women versus men in an organization is not a good marker because it depends on the types of jobs these different groups of people fill. If we have an organization where all the women hold the administrative positions while the men hold the technical and leadership positions, we do not have a balanced workplace. Therefore, each organization must analyze and determine which measurable points allow management to pay attention and strategically shape a plan for diversity. In academia, one potential measure is increasing diverse faculty in the applicant pool for permanent faculty positions aiming at hiring 50% underrepresented groups in all new positions – and concrete activities could include specific faculty search protocols, new ways to post faculty positions, and protocols for inviting potential faculty to campus. Other potential measurements could be decreasing the gender gap for permanent high positions (full professors) considering a promotion path for existing underrepresented associate professors as well as including such initiatives as part of the hiring strategy. Ensuring that diverse faculty groups have access to PhD funding could be a concrete action, and here activities could include, besides fundraising from an institutional perspective, considerations of balanced co-financing and team PhD supervision. Such efforts could also include strategic use of awards and other CV-building activities, increasingly supporting diverse faculty in building their CVs.

Managerial monitoring of the ways that the distribution of academic citizenship and tasks are divided across faculty is important. Goals for this include defining a balance between responsibility for committee work critical for the institution and the people who do these tasks. In this work, knowledge of people’s personal goals and strategies is important, to see whether there is any way the organization can support them. Last, more attention has to be directed to specific barriers experienced in academia by underrepresented groups, such as harassment and prejudice (Else 2021).

Diversity and equity efforts take work and resources. To succeed, organizations must develop organizational strategies where equity work is prioritized financially. We join others in stating that such efforts are crucial for computer science and the tech industry – since in the absence of diverse participation in the tech industry and academia, we risk jeopardizing democratic values and constrain certain populations in our digital technologies of tomorrow, intentionally or not. One could argue that, readers of this book occupying positions of power, now know about the risks, and inaction could be seen as an intentional neglect to act.

Equity, diversity, and inclusion are not a transformation process driven by the few members of marginalized groups. To succeed, we need collective action, which includes having people with decision power and responsibility lead the way.