More opportunities will allow women to benefit IT industry

Updated: 2018-11-28 07:17

(HK Edition)

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The University of California, Berkeley, was named the best public university by Forbes, the financial magazine. Janet Napolitano, president of the University of California, recently wrote an article on female education. She pointed out that although more women have obtained college degrees in recent years, their incomes only match that of male associate degree graduates, even though the United States had legislation such as the Equal Pay Act as early as 1963. The gender pay gap has only narrowed, on average, by less than half a cent per year over the past 55 years. From these we can infer that equal pay for equal work between the two genders could only be realized by 2059!

Having said that, with a global push to promote a new economy, information technology practitioners have become particularly in demand. Therefore, the gender pay gap in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) industry is "only" 14 percent which is significantly smaller than in other professions with a pay gap of over 20 percent in general. The US Department of Commerce also pointed out that women in the STEM industry are 33 percent more likely to be better paid than women in other industries. Therefore, from the perspective of personal development, girls have brighter prospects by joining the IT field.

More opportunities will allow women to benefit IT industry

In addition, from the corporation's perspective, women's participation, especially in management, has proved to be beneficial to companies as confirmed by two different studies.

According to a survey of over 1,000 companies in 12 countries by McKinsey, a consulting firm, this year, and according to Dow Jones analysis based on information of the past 15 years, companies and startups with females in leadership roles have higher short-term and long-term profits.

I believe this is because a successful corporation needs not just hard power, but also soft skills for which women's detailed minds, good communication skills and empathy are important elements.

The question, though, is whether the society can provide enough training, encouragement and opportunities to let women exhibit their strengths in IT industry. I think the programming design marathon, also known as a "hackathon", which is popular in recent years, is a good opportunity.

Hackathon refers to competition between groups of people with different expertise collaborating to write a program within a short period of time (mostly 24 hours). The groups usually comprise computer software engineers with different skills, such as program design, graphic design, and user interface design. Competitions may also recruit people from other disciplines, such as sales and marketing, architectural design, urban planning, etc. Women have a chance to demonstrate their abilities in such an open environment.

For example, in October, a local telecommunication operator organized a competition on the theme of Smart Property. I was one of the judges at the event. Participants had to develop program on either Smart Living or Smart Property Management. The competition brought together more than 100 programmers and participants from Hong Kong, and other cities of the Greater Bay Area, Southeast Asia, the Middle East, Europe and the United States.

The champion team targeted pet owners. They used Internet of Things technology and designed a bluetooth strap for dogs, so pet owners could locate a bluetooth dog toilet on the street via mobile phones, to help facilitate walking dogs. The whole process is environmentally friendly as the device uses solar power, and the waste bag is made of decomposable materials. What's more, a graphical dashboard is used together with a map to provide major information, such as location of dog parks and the remaining capacity of dog toilets, which is very handy for the users.

It is gratifying to witness the intelligence of young people. However, about one-third of participants in the competition were girls, and even this participation rate is already higher than the percentage of women in the IT industry in Hong Kong (17 percent). I cannot help wondering if the above winning ideas were created from a female perspective. If so, it would even be more attractive.

This year's Policy Address also proposed a City I&T Grand Challenge, with a five-year target of granting HK$500 million. The scale of science and technology competition is unprecedented. I wonder if the government can set up a women's group to encourage girls to participate in the activity as well.

I have been encouraging girls to learn programming and work in STEM- related professions. I hope their numbers will grow and add value to themselves, thus, increasing the talent resources of smart citizens in Hong Kong. If more empathetic people can make good use of, manage, and develop innovative technologies, we can construct our smart city in a more expeditious manner!

(HK Edition 11/28/2018 page7)