Chantal Morley, a researcher at Institut Mines-Telecom Business School, works on the social construction of the masculinity of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT). Various empirical studies analyzed using a structurationist framework have allowed her to understand how stereotypes linking gender and technology are maintained or broken down through interactions, often spoken, on a daily basis. The notion of social inclusion led her to propose a framework for considering the inclusion of women in the professional world of IT as a change of culture and practices.
For Chantal Morley, the small number of women in ICT professions is a managerial and societal concern. Women take little part in the design of products and processes linked to ICT, which nevertheless shape the world we live in. These technologies are a major source of innovation and development, but women profit little from the fact. They also offer a potential for growth that is not being explored (European Commission 2013). Businesses that have implemented diversity policies struggle to recruit women in these technical professions (AFMD & CIGREF 2013) despite the fact that girls’ results, both in the scientific Baccalaureate and preparatory classes, demonstrate the existence of a pool of competent young women (French Ministry of Education, Higher Education and Research 2015).
Explaining the phenomenon
Chantal Morley believes that the small proportion of women in the field of ICT is not unrelated to instances of discrimination. A gender stereotype continues to prevail which notably upholds the belief of less talent and/or lower professional value among women in ICT professions compared with men, a form of the “differential valence of the sexes”, according to the expression by Anthropologist Françoise Héritier.
The continued existence of a stereotype that devalues women with regards to technology is a source of discrimination (fewer opportunities to advance professionally, difficulty entering informal networks, low tolerance of leadership behavior etc.). In seeking to understand how this stereotype can continue to exist in spheres which are subject to a gender equality regime (equality of pathways, diplomas, competitive exams etc.), Chantal Morley has shown that it slips subtly into daily interactions, usually without the people involved or those targeted noticing. Although barely noticeable, the inclusion of this behavior in practices helps maintain the idea that technical skills are part of a male identity. Chantal Morley has proposed a typology of gender typification behavior which provides a tool for identifying elements of discourse and micro-actions, often hard to spot, which reinforce or undermine the gender stereotype.
A change of culture is needed
People often think that adjusting the gender balance in digital technology will transform the image of technology, modify cultural practices and remove all obstacles facing women. However, the Researcher has highlighted that the gender stereotype is reinforced by both sexes. This observation, alongside an understanding of gender as a rational concept, led her to reflect on programs to encourage women to enter the field of technology. While they all target women, they all contribute to maintaining gender stereotypes.
Using reflections, research and practices in the social field, which highlighted the changes brought about by a switch from an approach in terms of exclusion to an approach based on the notion of inclusion, Chantal Morley has transposed this approach to analyze how ICT professions could cease to be the strongholds of a culture that maintains the “gendering” of digital technologies, according to the expression by Chabaud-Rychter & Gardey (2002). She has proposed a framework in which the inclusion of women in the professional world of ICT can be considered through the individual and collective capacity to act. This framework was used during a period of study leave at the University of Geneva to establish a diagnosis in several schools specializing in ICT in French-speaking Switzerland, and to establish guidelines for greater gender diversity.
Recognition on a national level
Chantal Morley leads the Gender@Telecom teaching and research group which works on the social construction of gender representations and associated stereotypes. As a result of the group’s work, Télécom SudParis was awarded the Ingénieuses prize by the CDEFI (Conference of Deans of French Schools of Engineering) in 2016. This prize is in recognition of the online course titled “Féminin-masculin dans le monde du numérique : voyages et découvertes” and the educational measures for diversity first implemented in 2009. In November 2016, the course also won the “Coup de Cœur” (judges’ favorite) from the panel of judges for the Responsible Campus trophies.
Supported by Fondation Télécom, Gender@Telecom is looking for patrons in order to turn its SPOC into a MOOC (Massive Online Open Course) to be able to reach a wider audience.
Unveiling the history of women in ICT
To spread this culture of diversity across the Télécom SudParis and IMT BS campuses, Chantal Morley and the Gender@Telecom group have added to the offering of classes on gender and diversity with an online course called “Féminin-Masculin dans le monde du numérique : voyages et découvertes” (see inset). This SPOC (Small Private Online Course), launched at the start of 2016, is composed of three sections: the first sheds light on the little-known place of women in the history of ICT in the USA and Europe; the second section leads to reflections on the gender of a profession through the discovery of parity in ICT professions in countries such as Malaysia; the third section focusses on current stereotypes in the fields of ICT in order to learn how to recognize and break them down (How do they function? What are the effects? How are they developing today?) An in-depth analysis of the course revealed its contribution to the breaking-down of stereotypes and the empowerment of women with regards professions in digital technology.