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Gender imbalance in tech industry starts at school

Published on Saturday, 23 Aug 2014
Cat Purvis

Technology may be woven into almost every aspect of daily life, but the information and communications technology (ICT) sector is still struggling to find a gender balance in a male-dominated industry. 

Recent Census and Statistics Department data shows that more than 75 per cent of ICT employees are male. Added to this, a survey of 57 companies in different industry sectors conducted by the Economist Intelligence Unit revealed that half employ less than 10 per cent female IT staff. Worldwide, surveys have found that women hold less than 30 per cent of ICT sector jobs.

There are many theories on why there are not more women working in technology roles. 

Cat Purvis, founder of Exicon, a software management company, has built technology companies and divisions all over the world. She dismisses the notion of women not having the right skills or simply not being interested in a career in ICT, saying that barriers to entry into the sector for women are largely imposed by society from an early age.

“I don’t think it’s even a conscious thing,” she says. “It’s more about teachers and parents believing technology isn’t a good career for women, or old-fashioned views about girls not being as good at science. [But] there is no question about it – women are in the minority in every level of technology companies.

“If women choose to enter the technology field, [they will find] huge opportunities, fascinating work and probably what will be some of the best paid jobs of the future. We just need to find ways to stop channelling our daughters out of this field so early.” 

She says encouraging young women to study science, technology, engineering and maths – commonly known as STEM fields – is one way of boosting the number of women in ICT as a career. 

Once in the field, the gender issues are less severe, Purvis says. “The real inequality in this industry is the shortage of women entering the sector, not the limitations once in it.” 

Being female can have its advantages, especially when applying for a job. “It can be a challenge for a man to get his résumé noticed among a host of other male applicants, or to be remembered as easily after an interview,” Purvis says. “[For women], being in the minority means you get noticed and, hopefully, remembered.” 

Purvis believes there are identifiable areas where women have traditionally been seen as extremely strong. These areas include project management, creativity, social abilities and practicality. “These are all highly beneficial in technology jobs,” she says, adding that clearly defined deliverables and end products such as apps, websites and in-house programmes allow individuals to show their talent. 

However, she says there are no industry shortcuts for females. “There is an old saying about ‘women need to be twice as good to be considered half as good as a man’ and there is definitely some truth in it, so it is important to be well-prepared,” she advises.

In March, The Women’s Foundation and Australian bank ANZ launched new scholarship awards within the Women in Science & Engineering (WISE) scholarship programme at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. Awarded on the basis of academic excellence, the scholarships are offered to first- and second-year female students pursuing degrees in computer engineering, computer science and electronic engineering. 

With similar intentions, Microsoft Hong Kong has also launched an initiative under the GirlSpark banner, designed to inspire and empower talented female students from different disciplines to join the technology sector. “There are many sound reasons for keeping women in these subjects for longer, and for trying to raise awareness of the huge opportunities available for women in technology,” Purvis says.

Using her own company as an example, Purvis says areas such as accounting, HR, marketing systems and social media are now operated using cloud technology. “The staff using these online services are predominantly women,” she says. 

Furthermore, she adds, in homes, everything from washing machines, fridges and wearable devices to lighting and security systems are beginning to have app-linked functions. “It surely makes sense that women need to be well represented in this rapid evolution of connected devices.” 

As in any industry, women need to ensure they have appropriate training and should enlist the help of a mentor. 

They should also not be afraid of drawing attention to their capabilities and successes. “In all industries, women have to stop being afraid of being noticed,” Purvis says. 

Equally important for women to make sure their remuneration is keeping pace with market value. “You can be sure your male colleagues will be doing the same,” Purvis says.


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