Meritocracy and Feminization in Conflict

Computerization in the British Government


In 1992, the Commission of the European Communities tackled the issue of women’s underrepresentation in jobs created by the proliferation of new digital information technologies. The University of Wales researcher who produced the report was especially concerned with the dearth of women in positions of power and responsibility, but not simply because of the negative effect this state of affairs had on women. Her report showed how culturally constructed gender roles in Britain, and European society more broadly, tended to focus only on men’s technical competence. As a result, a powerful popular image—sometimes accurate and sometimes not—of technically incompetent or maladept women workers both fed a cycle of perpetual skill shortage and encouraged low technical achievement for women as a group [1]. In attempting to offer solutions to the problem of skill shortages in information technology fields like business computing management, programming, and systems analysis, the report postulated an important connection between skilled labor shortfalls in the technology sector and the underutilization of female labor in those fields.

By the time this report was commissioned, the field of computing had already acquired a distinctly masculine image within British society. So much so that, as Cynthia Cockburn, an influential labor researcher, noted, “for a woman to aspire to technical competence ...

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