Gender & ICT

The ICT Ecosystem from a Gender Perspective in Barcelona

Nowadays, ICTs are rapidly changing the economy (Castells, 1996) as well as various social fields and production processes, such as education, commerce, distribution or logistics. These areas are not only being reconfigured in terms of automation and digitization of processes, due to the incorporation of new communication tools and technological development, but are undergoing an accelerated process of socio-technological transformation. This implies multiple changes encompassing new mechanisms of access to educational services or emerging models of labour relations. A particularly important issue in this context is the gender balance in the different fields of application and development of ICT from vocational training to the world of work.

The digital gender gap

From the academic field, and especially from feminist research, the existence of the so-called digital gender gap has been demonstrated (Navarro Beltrá, 2009; Gil-Juárez, et. al., 2012; González-Palencia Jiménez, 2016). Initially, the term referred only to differences in women’s access to technologies; however, as research and technological processes matured, the concept also extended to the study of inequalities in use, appropriation and the possibilities of participation in technological design and development. The scientific literature, based on a long tradition of empirical studies on the subject, has reached a consensus on a multidimensional definition of the term, which includes the following types – or dimensions – of the gender digital divide:

This first dimension refers to the action of approaching or having the ICT infrastructures. In particular infrastructure, equipment, devices or the Internet.

Refers to the unequal participation of women and men in the shaping and development of the entire ICT network (hardware creation, software design, network management, IT consulting, etc.). This second gap is therefore related to the knowledge gap and, more specifically, with the “digital skills” needed to live and work in societies characterised by the growing importance of information and knowledge; what is called digital literacy. This term was coined to define people’s ability to adapt to new ICTs (Gilster, 1997) and especially to the Internet. Since then it has been used to define the set of technical, cognitive and social skills necessary to perform tasks in digital and technological environments.

This is a gap related to the use of the most advanced ICT services or applications (chats, listening to radio, watching television, posting content on a website, accessing certain services, etc.). In other words, this gap refers to differences in the overall benefits that ICTs provide to men and women to meet a need or to perform certain activities in the field of communication or leisure.

In the Spanish context, data show that more and more women are enrolling in the country’s universities, but there is no uniformity in the different areas of study, so the increase in women does not translate into compensation for those areas with traditional gender imbalances (Gil-Juárez, Feliu y Vitores; 2012). In particular, the percentage of women is clearly lower in the technical sector. We are facing a phenomenon linked to the under-representation of women in the strategic sectors of education, research and employment related to engineering and ICT in general (Booth et al., 2010; Castaño, 2008) and therefore linked to a kind of male dominance in these sectors. The studies developed on this subject coincide in pointing out as one of the causes of this under-representation of women, the hegemonic social and cultural representation of technologies as competences proper to the male gender (Hayes, 2008). 

BARCELONA: TRANSITION TOWARDS TECHNOLOGICAL SOVEREIGNTY

In Barcelona, the promotion and use of ICTs is a cross-cutting issue in practically all economic, political and social spheres. Como señala el plan del Ayuntamiento Mesura de govern: transició cap a la Sobiranía Tecnológica [Government measures: transition to technological sovereignty] of the Commissioner for Technology and Digital Innovation, in recent years technological transformation has been a key element as part of a more general agenda aimed at developing better social policies, such as social housing, poverty reduction or job creation in the future.

The study La brecha digital en la ciudad de Barcelona, carried out in 2016 at the initiative of Mobile World Capital Barcelona examined the phenomenon of the digital divide in the city and approached, in particular, the gender digital divide. Different types of digital exclusion have been defined which, as the literature has shown, correlate with factors such as age, ethnicity, socio-professional category or place or country of residence. The convergence of these factors contributes to the parallel deepening of digital exclusion (Vergés, Cruells y Hache, 2009). Moreover, the digital divide is not only between subjects of different cultures or different ages, but also affects men and women differently (Arenas, 2011), differences that constitute the object of analysis of this study. A major difference occurs in the uses that each group makes of them: men carry out more commercial activities and maintenance of websites and blogs while women focus mainly on activities related to health and care.

This implies that any strategy that uses technology as a tool for social promotion (e.g., reduction of inequalities), economic promotion (e.g., innovation and knowledge) and political promotion (e.g., democratic regeneration) should be preceded by a rigorous study of the possible inequalities that technological processes reproduce. This strategy must also consider the different social contexts that give rise to unequal technological developments, depending on factors such as the needs identified or promoted by marketing strategies in each of them. The exclusion of women in this field, if not taken into account and not adequately addressed, can represent a failure for those projects or discourses that emancipate and transgress through technology, since the technological systems themselves, designed and implemented in contexts crossed by inequality between men and women, entail a gender bias that reproduces, or even increases, the existing inequality.

GENDER AND ICTs PROJECT

The study is based on the problems presented and aims to establish a preliminary diagnosis to adequately address gender policies in the field of ICT. Thus, it seeks to analyze quantitatively and qualitatively the ecosystem of information and communication technologies in Barcelona from a gender perspective, attending to four areas: (1) education, research and knowledge; (2) associative and community; (3) labor and (4) public policies and actions. From a qualitative approach, the methodology establishes a differential approach for each of these areas in order to collect the relevant information in each case in a viable, efficient and scientifically valid manner. On the other hand, although this work has been oriented to analyze each area studied in its relative autonomy, the methodological strategy takes into account the need to define the correlations between each of these areas studied and the causal relationships that give rise to and perpetuate the digital gender gap in the city. 

 

In this context, the participatory mixed flexible methodological strategies that have been selected combine both reactive and non-reactive data collection methods (Berg, 2007) and include the following information collection techniques: 

Obtained from secondary sources. These, as determined by the proposal, are limited to the 2016-2017 period. To analyze the evolution of the figures, it has been useful to compare them with those of previous years.

In order to make a comprehensive review of all relevant literature, programs, action plans related to technology and gender in the city of Barcelona.

In each of the areas of analysis, they were selected after an initial choice of profiles and consultation of these with the bidding entity. In cases where these women could not (or decided not to) participate, another similar profile was sought. In this sense, some of the final interviewees were recognized through the “snowball” effect.

Located in Barcelona or with a headquarters in the city to obtain accurate and not publicly available data on the management of gender issues therein; that is, if they apply measures to attract female talent, positive actions or some type of practice that improves women’s conditions or helps to reduce the gender gap in this field.

To various projects, organizations and associations working in the field of information and communication technologies to increase knowledge about them.