Is technology neutral?

This is the assumption of those who tend to seek the solution to the gender gap exclusively through improving access to new technologies and training, broadening the scope of education programmes for adults. Many are persuaded that gender differences will disappear with time, encouraged by the early introduction of children to new technologies at school. However, research in countries where computer use has been widely introduced at school, at home and at work since the 1980s suggests several different considerations. As the theoretical review indicates:

Technological products are the outcome of specific relationships of production and reflect the specific orientations and interests of those groups that are implicated in the process of their production. These are generally speaking constituted by white, middle-class men in core countries. This means that gender (along with other forms of identification such as class and race) becomes 'inscribed' in technological systems. In other words, technological objects embody specific views of the objects' uses and actions associated with them, of the actors that will be involved in their use and the space within which the actions will take place (Adam 1998). This emphasis on context and social construction challenges the idea of a purely technical domain that can be laid bare by extracting the various layers of social factors.

As far as information technologies are concerned, women's presence in research and production centres is limited and has shown little or no improvement over the last years. On the contrary, as early as the 1980s it was noted that in the United States and Great Britain there was a decline in the number of women taking advanced computer science courses. The consequence of this decline is a projected parallel decrease in the number of women occupying higher positions in education and production.

…it is the appropriation of technology by men that renders them male and less attractive to women.

However, the fact that information technologies are associated with men does not imply that women shun them.

It is important to recognise that different systems of technology have different trajectories and represent different interests. This means that women, for example, may react quite differently in respect of different technologies defined as 'male'. More generally, we cannot automatically assume that women will reject a technological system because it is perceived as male. Instead, women may aspire to acquire certain skills precisely because they are defined as valuable (and male or associated with men) (Adam 1998).

This is certainly the case of women who encounter new information technology at work and those who wish to enter or re-enter the labour market.


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