26 April 2005

High-tech Women & Immigrants

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A European research team has been exploring the relationship between technological innovation and resulting socio-economic transformations, particularly in the employment and integration of women and immigrant workers

A European research team has been exploring the relationship between technological innovation and resulting socio-economic transformations, particularly in the employment and integration of women and immigrant workers.

Conducted in England, Italy and Sweden, the research discusses both the barriers to social integration of the above groups, and suggests how to overcome them. Stockholm’s high-tech companies are located in a small town called Kista.

All the best known brands in Europe, if not the world, can be found here which employ thousands of European white-collar workers. In contrast the surrounding towns are run-down immigrant areas - a far cry from the high technology of its neighbours.

Two separate worlds run alongside each other. The existence of two mutually isolated areas has drawn the attention of a European team of researchers, financially supported by the EU. For three years, from 2001 to 2004, the RISESI team (The Regional Impact of the Information Society on Employment and Integration) has been comparing the socio-economic conditions of immigrant workers, women, displaced industrial workers and potentially marginalized groups.

In order to bridge the gap between these two realities, the Swedish local and national authorities have decided to take action; action that targets children in their school years. Kista’s companies are also active in providing both financial and educational support. Their engineers, for example, visit schools to promote the benefits of scientific careers to teenagers.
A lot is at stake for these companies as the high-tech world is very competitive, and they need the best talent, without discrimination of sex and culture.

In addition, the current scientific population is ageing. The figures are dramatic; in ten years, 100,000 engineers will have retired, whereas only 10,000 students are currently in scientific studies in Sweden. The RISESI programme has incited schools in the immigrant area around Kista, such as Rinkeby, to start networking with a total of 60 universities and 300 companies.

In the Upper Secondary School near Kisna most of the students have are foreign. This represents a potential pool of excellence as most of these boys and girls are bilingual, often speaking a language which is not commonly taught in Europe such as Persian, Hindi or Arabic.

These schools are supported both public and private institutions. That is why they can afford to provide every student with a wireless laptop to familiarize them with technology at an early age. By doing this, they hope to become a centre of Excellence to spur more students on to engineering studies. Both teenage boys and girls are being called to be part of the challenge. Some companies are changing their policy for recruitment and promotion so that more equality exists, and to encourage talent to be recognised in teenagers.

Women Wanted “When I studied, there were a lot of other females that were studying. But once you move into a professional environment and pursue a career their numbers decline. It’s hard for them to have a career because at a certain point they may choose to have children. The whole computer industry is competitive and if you want to make a career you have to be there continually to be able to create a career.

”This cruel scenario, depicted by Tom Stenström, an ICT engineer at Oracle, is unfortunately true. To combat this problem, Oracle Sweden’s management team has introduced a mentor programme for groups of 20 women that lasts 18 months. The second of these is currently running.

Erik Tegnér, Human relations Director at Oracle explains its goals - “… we encourage them to really understand their own aspirations and talents".

There are also similar programmes for immigrant workers. As Erik Tegnér says: “It’s so easy when you have a very homogeneous group that we all draw the same conclusions, which may not be the best solution. The more influence we have from several cultures, the more ideas that we have and the more we can challenge one another".

Universities too are responding to these new needs. For example, the famous KTH University has set up offices in Kisna to attract more young people and provide them with opportunities for study.

The less skilled are being offered one year of extra classes. Still only half of them succeed however. Hans-Göran IVARSSON, Teacher at the KTH University, confirms that: “Those who passed the bridging courses are very successful. They have learnt to study in an intense environment during this year so they are skillful".

On the whole, the Swedish government appears to be the most concerned about the involvement of the immigrant workforce. This is a key issue as foreigners represent almost 10% of population in Sweden - mostly teenagers. The question remains about how much the levels of integration of women and immigrants into this workforce are to change.

As Manijeh Taheri, ICT consultant, Oracle, of Iraqi origins, tells: “It was a great handicap to be a woman from a Muslim country. I used to make a joke that -I hope that my papers are not going to be in the trash as soon as you have seen my foreign name- And I knew it was exactly the case".

Research like that undertaken by the RISESI team aims to provide a methodology for national comparisons and further regional studies focusing on the organisation of labour markets in the information society. But above all, it aims to highlight the need for new recruits in the Science world, and to stress that one key solution lies in the integration of immigrant workers into this world.

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