María Julia Morales González
“The Participation of Women Must Go Beyond Politically Correct Discourse”
Seeking greater involvement of women in regional Information Technology spaces, LACNIC has promoted actions to empower the female role in Internet decision-making throughout Latin America and the Caribbean.
One initiative was the creation of the IT Women list, where more than 250 participants debate and share their ideas and projects for reducing the gender divide in ICTs as well as other relevant topics.
María Julia Morales, researcher at Observa TIC, studied the profile, motivations and concerns of the subscribers of the IT Women list and prepared a document that can serve as input for reflecting and debating on the actual situation of women in the Internet world.
What were your objectives for this research on the profile of participants of the IT Women discussion list?
Our goal was to understand how the list is made up, to identify participants’ profiles, and to find out how they perceive participation spaces that relate women to the STEM fields (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) in which they participate.
This will allow us to think of actions aimed at promoting the participation of women in LACNIC’s institutional life and in the ICT sector in general.
What motivated you to conduct this research?
The fact that I am a woman, the mother of a woman, and a researcher. I suppose that was my first motivation, but I was also motivated by the belief that women have a lot to contribute. The fact is that there is still a long way to go before the field of ICTs to which I am professionally attracted can say that ICTs have been appropriated by women. And I am talking about all the processes in which women are involved, including technical, political, social, and other arenas.
Last but not least, I believe that, in this particular case, LACNIC truly intends to contribute to smooth the way for women who want to participate.
What profiles did you find among the people who responded to your survey?
Half of the women are aged 36 to 50, followed by a very large group aged 21 to 35. Almost all of them have completed tertiary or university education. Engineering and technology are the fields with the highest representation, but there is also an important number of participants working in social areas. The latter is a welcome finding, which confirms the idea that an interdisciplinary approach is needed to understand the processes the ICT sector involves.
Most of the women have stable employment. Just over half of participants work in areas related to telecommunications and, to a lesser extent, in the education sector. The majority hold middle management and/or technical positions, while a small but not insignificant number hold top management positions.
In which spaces do women participate the most and which are the most difficult for them to access?
The number of women who replied they were aware of the participation spaces offered by LACNIC was significantly higher than the number of women who replied they participate actively in such spaces. The spaces in which they participate the most are the LACNOG, Announcements, Governance, and Policies discussion lists. The active participation spaces women mentioned in their replies include events, the Policy Forum, and online courses. Nevertheless, it’s worth noting that women represent a minority in these spaces, as their participation does not exceed 25% except in the case of events.
As for the difficulties identified through the survey, we can first mention the lack of economic resources, which does not apply to many of the participation spaces, as these are usually online. However, other significant disadvantages were mentioned repeatedly, specifically difficulties relating to a lack of information on participation mechanisms, the lack of time, the lack of motivation and support from their working environment, incompatibilities with their work schedule, or a lack of time in general.
What conclusions can you draw from the answers obtained in the survey?
The survey also looked into the motivations for participating in this particular list. This allows us to infer that women have a real interest in participating in these spaces and contributing from their professional and/or personal fields to empower women in the world of ICT, particularly in the Latin American ecosystem.
Why do you think women have less participation than men in the decision-making spaces of Internet-related organizations?
I believe we must first understand that this difficulty is not exclusive to Internet-related organizations, but rather a problem that affects every area. It is a cultural problem with which we have grown up and in which our organizations are immersed, whatever their field of action.
There are barriers that underlie the field of action of certain organizations and that must be understood within the context in which each organization operates. Latin America, one of the regions with the largest gender divide, is diverse in its history, beliefs, economy and culture. The gender divide is present from the different roles assigned to women and men at birth, to their representation in decision-making positions in any institution or organization.
Cultural changes are slow and strongly resisted by power groups. In this sense, Latin America has a long way to go.
What can be done to increase the role of women in these decision-making spaces?
First, it is extremely important to translate the search for increasing women’s participation into actions and to go beyond politically correct discourse. Second, is essential to understand and address the perception that women themselves have about these processes. And third, I firmly believe in positive discrimination as a means to accelerate the breakdown of the status quo that sustains the gender divide.
What can organizations do to reduce the gender divide in ICTs?
Following the logic of the previous answer, first, organizations should raise awareness among decision-makers at Internet-related organizations so they can appropriate the anti-status quo speech and men and women can act together.
Second, organizations should pay more attention to women who have tried to participate and have failed to do so and respond to their demands regarding how to overcome the obstacles they identify.
In this sense, the survey allowed us to identify four specific lines of action: training for participation, access to information and awareness of these spaces, interaction and collaboration among peers in search of participation and, finally, actions that lead to women’s effective participation and empowerment. The latter is directly related to positive discrimination.