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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About our bloggers

Liz Bolshaw

Liz Bolshaw is a business journalist and editor. She has been a successful book publisher, online editor, magazine editor and publisher.

She was launch editor of the Europe-wide online community Entrepreneur Country, has published magazines for PwC, 3i, dunhill and Bafta, and launched The Sharp Edge, a magazine for and about entrepreneurs, with Duncan Bannatyne. She is a regular contributor to Thomson Reuters’ Venture Capital Journal.

Her last project for the Financial Times was as editor of the paper’s Business Education magazine.

Rebecca Knight

Rebecca Knight is a freelance journalist based in Boston. She writes regularly for the FT on business education, entrepreneurship, and management.

Andrew Hill

Andrew Hill is an associate editor and the management editor of the FT. He was City editor of the FT and editor of the daily Lombard column on British business and finance from September 2006 to December 2010.

He was the FT’s financial editor from June 2005 to September 2006, with overall responsibility for coverage of companies and markets. Before becoming financial editor, he was the FT’s comment & analysis editor, in charge of the paper’s opinion and features pages.

From 1999 to 2003, he was the FT’s New York bureau chief. He joined the FT in 1988 and has also worked as foreign news editor, UK companies reporter and correspondent in Brussels and Milan.

Pino Bethencourt

Pino Bethencourt is a professor and leadership expert at IE Business School in Madrid. She is also an author and executive coach.

Lynda Gratton

Lynda Gratton is professor of management practice at London Business School.

Linda Tarr-Whelan

Linda Tarr-Whelan, former ambassador to the UN commission on the status of women, is a Demos distinguished senior fellow.