Working with new information technology in Hong Kong : a gender perspective

by Wu, Ka-kei

Abstract (Summary)
(Uncorrected OCR) Abstract of thesis entitled

Working with New Information Technology in Hong Kong: a gender perspective

Submitted by


for the degree of Master of Philosophy at The University of Hong Kong

in October, 2003

This is a research on the impact of information technology (IT) in the workplace, in particular from a gender perspective. I started this research by asking what happens to the white-collar workplace at a time when the global economy is increasingly integrated by computer-based and networked IT. IT as both the carrier and result of organizational restructuring, characterized by flexible production and lean organization, arouses much concern about how the workplace would be impacted. The fact that women have always been systematically excluded from the technical arena, and disadvantaged by vertical and horizontal segregation, provokes further queries on how men and women differ in their experience of the computerized workplace.

Fourteen women and six men from thirteen organizations were interviewed in-depth.

In many areas, their experiences largely confirmed Braverman's degradation theory. In many cases, positive aspects of IT, such as en skilling, are paralleled by increased workload and pressure. New management practice and IT deployment are mostly erosive of work conditions as a result of the call for lower cost and higher efficiency. 'Flexibility' turns into more insecurity, 'Multi-skilling' is about job enlargement rather than job enrichment. 'Continuous improvement' merely means putting workers under continuous surveillance.

However, as many existing studies have highlighted, no particular result is inevitable; IT

IS a contingent variable subject to political choice made under a set of eXIstmg circumstances. This leads us to go beyond the what question, and come to how IT is implemented at different workplaces; and to why it is deployed and enforced in the way it is. This study aims to go beyond a better-or-worse debate and look into the complicated (gendering) process at which work condition are being kept or changed.

It is found that gender constitutes an integral part in both work and IT process. New IT introduction did not weaken but reinforce a sexual division of labour. Gender bias at both the structural and perceptual levels hinders women from getting important jobs and creates an invisible ceiling for women who want to climb up the IT job ladder. Apart from gender, the political nature of organizations and workers' specific relations with IT constitute two other important factors in conditioning IT implementation. Firstly, workers from public organizations are more sheltered from displacement or staff cut as a result of automation and outsourcing. In contrast, workers from private companies are more harshly impacted by new IT. They saw an increase in workload, work pace, work intensity, pressure and surveillance. Secondly, IT-users are highly subject to machine control and pacing, their work is vulnerable to fragmentation, standardization and routinization. On the contrary, IT-workers who contribute to the design of IT -system are high paid workers who exercised a greater degree of autonomy and control over machines. However, their technical know-how is increasingly subject to systematization by computer-based knowledge management system, which undermines IT-workers' professional status in the long run. All in all, the absence of collective voice mostly put (women) workers under managerial requirement implicated in technological system.

Bibliographical Information:


School:The University of Hong Kong

School Location:China - Hong Kong SAR

Source Type:Master's Thesis

Keywords:information technology china hong kong women effect of technological innovations on in office practice automation


Date of Publication:01/01/2003

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