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ICT in the feminine

Researchers from the seven countries in the European WWW-ICT project wanted to understand why so few women are interested in information and communication technologies (ICT) in Europe, and what arguments could be used to ‘seduce’ them. They examined the situation of these professions in the field, interviewed 107 women and 33 men, tested working conditions, the way the profession was presented to the very young, etc. In 2004 they published three awareness-raising documents (EN and FR) aimed at the business and education worlds and at women’s organisations (associations, trade unions, etc). One of the arguments put forth was to show the diversity of professions and disciplines (human sciences, biotechnologies, publishing, medicine) in which ICT plays a role. These documents also presented ‘cross-disciplinary training programmes’ that open the way to professional reorientation.

A certain management style

Two reports entitled Women Matter, published in 2007 and 2008 by consultants McKinsey analysed the relationship between gender mix and performance in business enterprises. The first study clearly showed the positive impact of women in managing bodies. The second analysed why. For this, McKinsey took as its starting point a ‘house’ list of nine leadership behaviours which strengthen organisational performance) The study showed that women more frequently practice attitudes labelled as ‘development of others’, ‘ expectations and recognition’, ‘setting an example’, ‘inspiration’ and ‘participative decision-making’. Men tend more towards the ‘control and corrective action’ approach. Beyond the question of egalitarian practice, McKinsey insists in particular on the competitive advantage that gender mix offers at a high level, going as far as seeing it as a ‘survival’ factor and a strategy for enabling a company to outpace its challengers. On this basis, companies should soon be fighting among themselves for women leaders…

Elsewhere, a study of feminine representation in the upper echelons of the world’s top 300 listed companies carried out by other consultants shows that women make up under 10 % of members of the control and executive bodies of these ‘major’ companies. This absence gave the evaluators the idea, in partnership with the Women’s Forum for the Economy and Society, to create The Diversion Trophy, to be awarded to companies increasing their feminine representation, both at the top and in their teams.

Is language sexist?

Yes, and how! In 1985, the Canadian Federal Administration published a list of feminised professional titles. In 1995, the Committee on Equality of Opportunity at University College Cork (Ireland) published Non-Sexist Language – A Guide. Unesco for its part regularly fine-tunes its Guidelines on Gender-Neutral Language. The authors point in particular to the persistent use of the dominant masculine form (‘men’ in the meaning of ‘human beings’, for example, could be replaced by ‘persons’) or outdated stereotypes like the French terms ‘panier de la menagerie’ (literally‘housewife’s shopping basket’) or ‘homme de l’art’ (literally ‘man of the arts’ for an expert or doctor).

The feminisation of functional titles is also reviewed. The book also untangles concepts introduced into French by the English language, like ‘genre’ (gender), which apart from its original grammatical meaning, now designates socio-cultural traits considered to be specificto men and to women, or like mainstreaming or gender mainstreaming, that is the systematic analysing of situations by gender. In turn the Equality Observatory of the Autonomous University of Barcelona (UAB) proposed in 2008 a New Guide to the Use of Non-Sexist Language at the UAB. This work enables the reader to find the ‘right word’ in Catalan, Spanish and English. Its authors have a double objective: increasing women’s visibility in every field and situation, and avoiding the generic use of the masculine whenever possible.

Pour l’égalité des sexes dans le langage and Guidelines on Gender-Neutral Language, Unesco, 3rd ed., 1999. Document downloadable from:
New Guide at the UAB