Breaking through the glass ceiling with perseverance

Updated: 2017-05-05 06:39

By Evelyn Yu in Hong Kong(HK Edition)

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Winnie Tang, chief executive officer of GIS provider Esri China (Hong Kong) Ltd, has all the hallmarks of an entrepreneur. She's viewed as an "atypical" leader in the information-technology field, in which she has sunk her roots in the past two decades.

Tang's interest in the geographic information system dates back to her childhood.

"I'm not tall. Whenever I go to the library, I can only manage to pull out the books from the lower shelves - many of them just maps and geographic books," she recalls, having collected more than 10,000 maps to date.

Tang had attained her bachelor's degree in geography from the University of Hong Kong (HKU). Convinced of the power of the GIS, she was startled seeing how Hong Kong lagged behind in the utilization of cutting edge technology.

In 1997, she quit her job as associate professor at HKU and started the city's first GIS company - renting a 20-odd-square-meter office in Sheung Wan. She single-handedly ran the show, thrusting herself into every single job - from painting the wall, boiling water and writing checks to getting clients.

It was a time she felt the "hostile" environment against female entrepreneurs had never been greater - a problem that still persists today.

In those days, she tells China Daily, she would be dismissed as merely a "sales person" every time she knocked on the doors of government bureaus, property developers and small-and-medium sized enterprises - a stark contrast when she was a reverent professor at college. Her first order did not come along until the eleventh month.

"The biggest challenge to a female entrepreneur in this field is being able to convince others that women can do an IT job as well. It's still a world dominated by men and, hopefully, more girls can pick computer science."

In Hong Kong, women account for just 17 percent of the IT workforce, compared with 25 percent in the United States and 30 percent in Singapore, according to Tang.

Currently helming an office manned by some 100 employees, Tang says more than 40 percent of her staff are female.

She mentors them meticulously while giving them maximum exposure to frontline activities with rigorous training in the field and overseas trips.

But, despite her rich experience in the field, Tang feels she's still an alien in the IT business, and looks forward to seeing more women taking the plunge here.

"Definitely, they can make a difference in this sector," she says.

(HK Edition 05/05/2017 page9)