Work in progress: gender equality

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Code for equality

Mismatched gender ratio in technology can be corrected to achieve gender equality amidst business digitisation.

PUBLISHED : Monday, 22 May, 2017, 5:00pm
UPDATED : Monday, 22 May, 2017, 5:00pm

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In today’s increasingly technology-driven world, companies have no choice but to embrace digital transformation. Telstra’s Asian Digital Transformation Index, part of a research series investigating global digital transformation, explores the factors for success in this digitally disrupted world and highlights the regions and industries that are best creating an environment for change.

Among APAC markets, Hong Kong enterprises are found to actively engage in developing, recruiting and retaining talents amidst this business digitisation trend. Hong Kong ranks third in the human capital category of the Index, with 53% of surveyed companies indicating it is relatively easy to find employees with the requisite digital skills.

The business digitisation trend and its demand for talents also mean coding will become one of the most important skills of the future. However, the stereotype that girls don’t code and the gender gap in tech leadership need to be addressed for society to become truly inclusive while taking full advantage of our human capital.

First Code Academy is an education technology startup founded by a woman and a man. Their experience and insights shed light on gender stereotypes and the mismatched ratio in technology, something they work to shatter by teaching children how to code.

Coding is often seen as a boys’ activity but there is really nothing innate about boys being better at it. Young girls are equally interested in computers and gadgets. Therefore it should follow that both genders be represented more or less equally in the creation of technology-related products. However, this is not the case. A research released by Accenture last October predicted that the share of women in computing jobs in the US would even decline from 24% to 22% over the next decade.

Hong Kong native and Silicon Valley returnee Michelle Sun, co-founder of First Code Academy, said that while coding classes for the age group 5 to 11 have a very healthy ratio between boys and girls, once they reach age 12, the female ratio starts to decline drastically. Social conditioning seems to be the root of the issue.

While living in San Francisco, Sun went to a coding academy for women only. During her Silicon Valley years, she also saw a lot of attention given to teaching coding to young girls. This eventually led her to set up First Code Academy in Hong Kong to provide coding workshops for girls but classes are now open to both genders.

She said: “Teenage girls are conditioned to do more girly things but I feel very strongly that coding has no gender. Therefore, we have introduced Elle Lab, Asia’s first coding camp for female student, which creates an environment where girls are encouraged to bring friends and learn together.”

By encouraging young girls to become immersed in technology, First Code Academy is helping to shape a more equal and inclusive society. “I’m glad to see that gender diversity is now not just a topic for forward thinking people but has entered into mainstream discussion.”

“I was once told by a father of three girls that he took interest in the issue of gender diversity in the boardroom because he wanted his daughters to have a level playing field when they are in the workforce.”

This is why gender diversity is not a women’s issue, but a universal ideal that everyone should strive towards. Kevon Cheung, the other co-founder of First Code Academy, believes that women’s contribution is instrumental to the success of any venture.

“Women can offer different perspectives and add chemistry to any collaboration, just like we need a balance of introverts and extroverts, as well as creative and execution types in any team. I work with female leaders with great vision, courage and motivation daily. I have learned so much from them myself but it is also important that they are seen as role models by our students,” he said.

Cheung is no stranger to strong women as he calls his mother his personal legend. Widowed when Cheung was only 10, Mrs. Cheung transformed herself into a businesswoman while bringing up three children. She successfully put all of them through universities in the US and Switzerland, all the while discovering different investment opportunities..

Coding can bring about a better and more equal world. “There are many stories of kids in developing countries making best-selling apps. Technology opens a lot of doors and allow people to take advantage of opportunities regardless of their location,” Cheung added.

Coding is a creative and potentially lucrative exercise. With half of the world’s population being female, it is only natural that females should be designing as many tech products as men, especially products targeting women. This is why developing female coding talent is essential.

As a female entrepreneur in technology, Sun is excited to see that Telstra Business Woman in Asia Award, which celebrates the achievements of outstanding female executives, has expanded to include entrepreneurs this year.

“It is encouraging to see large corporations like Telstra has taken the initiative to promote gender equality. To build a startup means you have to take care of every aspect of the business, with many challenges but also opportunities. You need role models and mentors which I’m looking forward to finding more about in this year’s Telstra Business Woman in Asia Award.”