China leads the way to get women into technology

Rebecca Knight has written for this blog about a US study that proved what we all knew to be the case: despite the fact that jobs in science, technology, engineering and mathematics attract up to 33 per cent higher salaries than those in other industries, women still are not choosing them.

The rot, says Leslie Sobon, corporate vice-president of product marketing at AMD, the microchip maker, sets in early.

“It begins with women in their 20s or before [when] they exclude themselves from the talent pool,” she says. “We know that girls are just as good as, if not better than, boys in maths and sciences in lower grades of school until … their mid- to late teens when, for whatever reason, they decide to drop those subjects.”

Some will say it is the image of gender inequality created by technology companies themselves and perpetuated by movies such as The Social Network in which the only female characters are little more than sex toys for the boys.

“We in high tech can make the subject areas in which we work extremely esoteric where, frankly, it doesn’t look interesting, it doesn’t look dynamic,” says Sobon. “When I go out and talk to young women, I say, ‘Look at all the things you can do within a high-tech area – there are so many different ways you can contribute. You don’t have to be a design engineer sitting in a cubicle coding all day.’”

How many really high-profile women in tech can you name? It is relatively difficult to go beyond a handful that includes:

  • Marissa Mayer (vice-president of location and local services at Google);
  • Sheryl Sandberg (chief operating officer at Facebook);
  • Carol Bartz (chief executive of Yahoo until earlier this week);
  • Gini Rometty (senior vice-president and group executive in sales, marketing and strategy at IBM);
  • Diane Bryant (chief information officer at Intel);
  • Ann Livermore (executive vice-president of enterprise business at Hewlett-Packard);
  • Padmasree Warrior (chief technology officer at Cisco systems); and
  • Safra Catz (president of Oracle).

But this is a peculiarly western picture: in Asia and China, girls are studying science, technology, engineering and mathematics at first and second degree level and using that expertise in the workplace.

There is a slew of young female technology entrepreneurs in China building significant companies, such as:

  • Peggy Yu Yu (co-founder and co-president of Dangdang, China’s largest online bookseller);
  • Haiyan Gong (founder of, China’s version of dating website;
  • Liu Wei (founder of, an online learning website); and
  • role models in large international companies such as Xiaowei Chen, chief executive of Telstra China, the telecommunications company.

Sobon agrees: “In China, when I do customer or channel visits with our partners, there are lots of women in the room at lots of different levels. You so rarely see that in other parts of the world. Many times I am the only woman in the room, or perhaps there might be one other. You have technical women developing in China, and it’s really noticeable.”



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