What’s it like to be a woman in tech in China?

March 8th is International Women’s Day, a day when people worldwide celebrate the achievements of women in all the spheres of life and equal rights for everyone.

This year, AllChinaTech’s team invited some inspiring women working in the tech industry to share their feelings as insiders. What is it like for women in tech in China?

Benita Huan: It’s hard to find a female role model

Benita at Google NY
Benita at Google NY

Benita worked as an engineer in the Hong Kong office of an American investment bank and will soon start work as a product manager at a leading e-commerce platform in Shanghai. As a junior-level engineer, Benita sees the lack of women role models as a problem at work.

Based on my observations, the situation of gender disparity has improved at the junior level in tech companies. Many companies now have campaigns like #WomenInTech and emphasize more diversity in recruitment. The gender ratio of places I’ve been working at is 3:1 between men and women.

Region-wise, I think the situation in Shanghai and Beijing is slightly better than in Hong Kong. I think American companies focus more on diversity. I think, on the one hand, they have more regulations in this area. On the other hand, the public does realize the potential women have to contribute in the technology industry.

But the situation has only really changed at the junior level. What I see at tech companies or fintech-related areas in investment banking is that female leaders are still in the minority, which is in sharp contrast with sectors like marketing and human resources.

In my daily work, I don’t think it matters that much whether or not the gender ratio is equal. But it does bother me when I’m trying to figure out my future position at work, because almost all my bosses are men. They are a less qualified reference for thinking about my future work-life balance.

An example from my daily life is that most of my male bosses tend to work until really late at night. I’d like to work for longer hours and learn more in the office, but what if I want to have children in the future? I don’t really know how other female engineers deal with having children, because there aren’t many cases around me that I can use as a reference.

So I think more women role models in our daily lives can be good for us in the long term.

Ma Jing: Don’t pretend to be a man, try to be a real CEO

Jing with her team
Jing with her team

Jing is an entrepreneur based in Beijing. She manages a startup named Teenker, which connects freelance talent with customers who want unique and high-quality services. It successfully made its way into the top 10 apps at Baidu’s mobile market.

I joined an AI company as a founding member before I founded Teenker, and for a very long time, I was the only female on the team. I was also always the only female in meetings when we met our clients. When I founded Teenker, I was still the only woman on the core team at the early stage. I just thought: “I’ll always be the only one”.

When I visited Silicon Valley, I saw a lot of companies that had all female founders. This is still rare in China.

I think the situation is like this possibly because startups often have higher requirements for physical strength. At the same time, you have to take more risk. Relatively speaking, women tend to pursue a more steady career such as working at a big company.

I used to discuss entrepreneurship with my family. It would often end in misunderstanding. I thought if a woman wanted to succeed as an entrepreneur, she should “pretend to be a man”. But my dad convinced me. He said, if a woman wanted to be a successful entrepreneur, she shouldn’t “pretend to be a man”, she should “try to be a real CEO”. It’s all about your own perspective.

Teenker’s target users are primarily women who pursue a high-quality life. As a female founder, I do have an advantage in understanding our users better because we have shared experiences. But you have to go beyond the experiences and get some insights out of it, which isn’t something you achieve simply because you’re a woman.

We should start thinking less from the angle of gender and instead think more about being constructive, such as how to build a better company.

Liz Li: Make use of both the pros and cons of being a female entrepreneur

Liz with her team and investor
Liz with her team and investor

Liz attained her bachelor’s degree in China and proceeded to get a master’s at UIUC. After she finished her master’s program, she spent a year in Silicon Valley for her first startup. She returned to Beijing to run her cross-border fashion e-commerce site Pair last year. The site received several millions of USD in funding led by ZhenFund in 2015.

When I first engaged in entrepreneurship, people constantly asked me both in the U.S. and in China, what it’s like to be a female entrepreneur. At the beginning, I thought, “Seriously? Still gender bias now?”

Then when I got into Plug and Play, an incubator in Silicon Valley, I turned out to be the only female founder there among more than 20 teams — only one or two teams there had female co-founders. So I realised, wow, in Silicon Valley, in technology, it’s still a male-dominated world.

And sure there will be pressure. Sometimes you would worry that you couldn’t blend in. It was quite obvious that on all those gatherings, guys hung out together with other guys, and we three women sat aside together.

When I got back from the U.S., I could tell things are the same here. People pay more attention to your identity as a young millennial female entrepreneur. Sometimes people try to ignore the fact that you’re a female entrepreneur, but it is still there subconsciously, which has both pros and cons.

The good thing is it’s easier for you to get media attention. The bad thing is, some investors may subconsciously underestimate you simply because you’re a female entrepreneur. More than one investor has chatted with me about how it’s rare for female entrepreneurs to be successful, how there are so many limitations for female entrepreneurs to succeed, and how it’s hard for female entrepreneurs to build a great business.

But I still have a feeling that our numbers are on the rise here in China. And some of my friends are also organising salons and events to help female entrepreneurs, which is a positive trend.

What’s your experience like in the tech world? Tell us what you think in the comments below!

(Featured image from the official site of International Women’s Day)

AllTechAsia Staff

AllTechAsia is a startup media platform dedicated to providing the hottest news, data service and analysis on the tech and startup scene of Asian markets in English.

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