Close the gender gap in the technology industry

Parents, schools, companies and the government each have a role to play in changing the imbalance in the numbers of men and women working in technology

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 03 September, 2017, 1:35am
UPDATED : Sunday, 03 September, 2017, 1:35am

There is a major disparity in Hong Kong and elsewhere in the numbers of men and women in the workplace in technology. The gap is equally obvious among students at universities and schools. It is a problem for the industry and tech and science companies, but also the female gender and society. Without a greater balance, talent, opportunities and innovative ideas are being lost.

Men dominate the tech industry from startup founders through investors to those in computing and technical roles. There are no statistics as to the percentage of women in Hong Kong working in technology, but anecdotal evidence correlates with global figures. Women hold only 25 per cent of computer jobs and in Silicon Valley, just 11 per cent of executive positions. At government-subsidised universities in Hong Kong, female representation in engineering and technology courses is 29.5 per cent and in the sciences, 38.4 per cent.

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There are myriad reasons and theories as to why the percentages of girls and women in science, technology, engineering and maths, commonly referred to by the acronym STEM, are so low. A senior Google software engineer was recently dismissed from his job for putting forward one; he claimed that the gender imbalance in the tech industry was due to biological differences, specifically that women had a lower tolerance of stress. Understandably, his views sparked outrage in Silicon Valley, where media attention to the disparity has long caused soul-searching and efforts to correct the imbalance. The idea that men are better at tech is not only antiquated, but dangerous.

Another troubling problem overseas in the male-dominated tech industry has been sexual harassment. In recent months, the charge has led to the resignation of two high-profile American CEOs, Uber’s Travis Kalanick and the founder of startup incubator 500 Startups, Dave McClure.

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But extensive local and overseas research has shown that the reason for male dominance of STEM starts at home with the way children are treated and the stereotypical toys and games they are given and extends through school, with parents and teachers steering girls away from studying optional science subjects. This, in turn, leads to an imbalance at the university level and then, in the workforce. Role models are few and far between.

Gender diversity widens the talent pool, strengthens knowledge and opens an industry to different perspectives. Given the ever-growing importance of technology and the fact that at least half of users of it are women, every effort has to be made to increase female involvement in the industry. In Hong Kong, parents, schools, companies and the government each have a role to play in changing the imbalance.