Women Who Code expands in Beijing and Shanghai

Alaina Percival working on her laptop while enjoying some chocolate at VMWare in Beijing. (Photo by Wendy Tang)
Alaina Percival working on her laptop while enjoying some chocolate at VMware in Beijing. (Photo by Wendy Tang)

While China recognizes International Women’s Day every March 8 to celebrate women’s achievements in society, the world’s second largest economy’s rank on the Global Gender Gap Report has dropped for three consecutive years and now sits at 91st in 2015.

A San Francisco-headquartered nonprofit, however, celebrated International Women’s Day in Beijing by training their recently appointed regional directors, who are volunteers, from Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong to carry its vision and mission locally: to inspire women to excel at careers in technology.

The CEO and Board Chair of Women Who Code, Alaina Percival, spoke at the Beijing outpost’s fifth event at Peking University, one of the top two universities in China, on Wednesday. Women Who Code announced the launch of the Beijing and Shanghai arms in January after the Hong Kong one was established a year earlier.

“Our goal is to connect one million women around the world in tech by 2019. We can easily do that in China alone,” said the 35-year-old CEO.

It might sound easy to achieve that in China with its population of 1.39 billion, but China has long faced gender imbalance caused by the now-recently-lifted one-child policy. Unmarried Chinese women are also stigmatized as “sheng nu” or leftover women if they don’t get married in their late 20s.

Careers in technology are even more male dominated. Microsoft, Google and Twitter had less than 20% female employees in technical roles in 2015, according to CNET. These statistics have propelled Women Who Code to expand across the globe since 2011. They are currently in 20 countries with Asia hubs in Japan, Malaysia, India and Taiwan, in addition to China.

Not only does the female-support group provide an avenue for women to pursue a career in technology by organizing hackathons, technical study groups, speaking events featuring influential technology industry experts and investors, but it also fosters environments where networking and mentorship are valued.

Women Who Code wants to expose women to a career in tech because of the abundance of job opportunities, high salaries and great benefits, Percival said. The organization wants to dispel some media portrayals that the tech industry is sexist and that computer programmers work in an unpleasant environment.

Alaina Percival encouraged women to join Women Who Code at an event at Peking University in Beijing on Wednesday. (Photo by Wendy Tang)
Alaina Percival encouraged women to join Women Who Code at an event at Peking University in Beijing on Wednesday. (Photo by Wendy Tang)

Although it’s an unpaid commitment, Percival said being a local director of Women Who Code is a prestigious position. She said these leadership experiences dramatically accelerate their directors’ careers, a result she says she is most proud of.

“The directors are invited to speak as thought leaders, they get press mentions, they get writing opportunities, they receive awards, some have even been invited to be on advisory boards,” Percival said.

Percival and her two full-time paid staffers were in India before China to conduct similar training for the regional leaders to head up Women Who Code locally. She said one of the leaders in Bangalore was also mentioned in all the articles along with her.

“It really elevates the leader’s profile while she is a strong contributor internally at her company,” Percival said. “The elevation will transition her to be a tech leader in the community, which will help her get promoted at her company and also be a role model for other women in the tech industry.”

She adds the impact of leading Women Who Code creates a ripple effect even if the leader decides to step down.

“All our 145 leaders around the world are passionate about fulfilling the mission of Women Who Code and seeing women excel in tech careers,” Percival said. “They will carry that with them every step of their careers.”

The U.S. government encourages companies to disclose diversity statistics and many women groups in the States are also cultivating a pipeline of females to enter STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) professions, said Lily Chang, VP, Central Engineering at VMware, who is also an advisory board member of Women Who Code.

Chang said those efforts seem to be unclear in China.

Alibaba attempted to put Silicon Valley to shame by disclosing that one third of the company’s 27 partners are women in 2014 to woo investors before its historical IPO in New York.

Percival said International Women’s Day should still be celebrated in 2016 because women are dramatically underrepresented and women need to celebrate their success. Percival reminded me that the first computer algorithm was created by a woman — Ada Lovelace.

Percival said she is very bullish on the direction that Women Who Code is heading: to have more women leaders in tech. She believes her organization can close the gender gap in her generation.

“I hope we can put Women Who Code out of business soon,” Percival said. “It means women are represented in the tech industry, that’s the day I look forward to.”

(Featured photo of a hackathon is provided by Women Who Code)

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