Women, Work and Computing

By Woodfield, Ruth; Crow, Barbara | Resources for Feminist Research, January 1, 2003 | Go to article overview

Women, Work and Computing


Woodfield, Ruth, Crow, Barbara, Resources for Feminist Research


Ruth Woodfield

Cambridge, UK/New York: Cambridge University Press, 2000; 209 pp.

Reviewed by Barbara Crow

Communications Studies

York University

Toronto, Ontario

Why haven't we seen more research on computer scientists who are women? Feminist research on computers, computer science and digital technology has focussed either on women's methods of communication and representation and/or on women's working conditions in the global economy. Overall, despite widespread claims that computers, digital technology and its attendant "new economy" will be liberating, in the basic research, much less the feminist research, analyzing its effects on women has been scarce. Thankfully, Ruth Woodfield's book, Women, Work and Computing, begins to move into this space.

Woodfield's study begins with a review of the various hypotheses surrounding women's participation in the field of computer science. She highlights two of these hypotheses. The first argues that men/masculinity have colonized this field in recognition of its economic benefits and accompanying powers. The second concerns "the symbolic returns computers offer when taken up as signifiers of certain crucial aspects of modern masculinity. High-tech culture...operates in the self-same way that other areas of science and technology have served masculinities"(p. 25). Despite these hypotheses, Woodfield argues for another set of expectations regarding women's increased participation in computer science: that the culture surrounding the development of computing and its attendant culture needs skills that have been traditionally defined as "feminine," and that the industry needs a "hybrid worker" (p. 35). A "hybrid worker" is ideally someone who can integrate both computer literacy and communication skills. In order to assess this hypothesis, Woodfield selects a unique research and development unit of a high-tech workplace to examine women's and men's paid work relations as software and hardware developers in a progressive UK computing firm, Softech.

Softech is located outside London and employs 126 individuals in the Research and Development unit. Woodfield spent 18 months there, and had unprecedented access to the staff and company materials. This particular company has been very successful in not following standard business practices and prides itself for thinking "outside of the box." Softech's corporate goals and conduct range from "attract[ing] and retain[ing] high-quality staff," "progress and business innovation are achieved through respect for the individual," and "the company fosters a climate in which the initiative[s] and talents of the staff can flourish" (p. …

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