A class of their own

Updated: 2013-09-01 08:08

By Zhang Yue(China Daily)

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 A class of their own

Students from Fuzhou Secondary Vocational School of Jiangxi province attend a computer science competition. There are far more men than women studying IT in Chinese universities. He Jianghua / for China Daily

The IT industry's gender gap starts with China's education system. Zhang Yue studies the trend.

The informational technology industry's glass ceiling clearly starts at school in China.

The Yao Class - a computer science program affiliated with Tsinghua University's Institute for Interdisciplinary Information Science - is a microcosm of China's IT gender imbalance. More than 30 men and five women are enrolled.

Junior Li Qingyi (not her real name) says she felt overwhelming pressure in her first semester.

"I had a very limited idea about options after the College Entrance Exam," she says.

"My score was high enough, and Tsinghua's teachers introduced computer science as one of the university's best majors."

But she initially found it hard to keep up.

"Most of my classmates took the major because they performed well in high school computer science competitions, especially the boys," she says. "Many women studying computer science - even outside the Yao Class - further their study in different majors, such as finance and economics, after graduation.

"These fields are comparatively easy to enter, bring less pressure and aren't as boring."

About 35 percent of the 31,400 employees at Beijing's Zhongguancun Software Plaza - "China's Silicon Valley" - were women in 2011, the China Software Industry Association reports.

Wan Ming finished seven years of software engineering studies in Beijing this summer. The 25-year-old says there were at least twice as many males as females in her classes.

She says that while Chinese women tend to be more obedient and harder working in school, computer majors are the exception. Wan struggled with programming in particular.

"The sexes both perform well in studying texts, but men have a greater programming aptitude," she believes.

"Whenever we had a group assignment, the women wanted to work with men because they're more efficient and we can learn from them."

Wan completed her undergraduate software engineering degree in Xiamen University in Fujian province and finished her master's at Tsinghua.

She works as a Microsoft program manager. The job requires extensive software knowledge, but she doesn't have to do certain programming tasks.

"Many of my women undergrad classmates went into other fields immediately after graduation," she says.

"Some studied finance and some became civil servants. Many completed double majors because we believe software engineering requires too much pressure and is too exhausting for women," she says over the phone after finishing her shift at 10:30 pm.

China Software Industry Association secretary Qiu Qinlun says job security is another concern.

"Software engineering requires constant learning," he says. "Otherwise, you'll fall behind."

He believes this is challenging for women, who have other obligations as wives and mothers.

"It's difficult for them to take sabbaticals - even maternity leave."

Employers often share that outlook.

When Wan and her classmates applied for jobs earlier this year, the women didn't even get to the interview stage, she says.

"Nobody says it's because we're women," she says. "But I think it's somewhat related."

Contact the writer at zhangyue@chinadaily.com.cn.

(China Daily 09/01/2013 page3)