Ann Mei Chang joined us at the San Francisco Summit having just joined Mercy Corps as their Chief Innovation Officer tasked with the job to “develop bold new approaches to tackle some of the toughest global challenges.” Prior to Mercy Corps, Chang worked at the US Department of State as the Senior Advisor for Women and Technology as well as an engineering director at Google. She joined us to give us a global perspective of what it is like to be a woman in the technology sector.
Chang tracks 5 countries, US, India, Kenya, Myanmar, Saudi Arabia through anecdotal data to describe the technology climate for women globally. She polls the audience to assess which country they believe has the largest number of women in the technology field. Chang begins with assessing Kenya; Kenya’s technology sector is still in infancy and is continuing to grow. However, there is a strong cultural preference to educate boys over girls. She notes that the current education system in high school fails to allow girls to further advance in technology by forcing them to choose a “track” after 10th grade. This mandate stunts the growth of the amount of girls in technology as they aren’t allowed to study technology if they have chosen a non-technology “track”, thus only 10% of students studying computer science in university are women.
India on the other hand has a well developed technology sector with a large outsourcing network. Chang states that one of the downfalls of Indian culture is the “striver” mentality, whereby parents put a lot of pressure on their children to have a better life than they had. This mentality encourages children to go into high paying fields such as law, medicine, and fortunately technology. While this may not be easy, it does support women pursuing the technology field thus 40% of the students studying computer science in university are women. Unfortunately, there are a large amount of societal pressures for women to stop working after they get married and most definitely after they have children. Due to the pressures, very few women progress past basic entry level jobs and so in upper level positions only 10% of them are occupied by women.
Saudi Arabia is full of surprises to the audience, 50% of the students studying computer science in university are women and 60% of people in universities. Sadly, the women in Saudi Arabia only make up 15% of people in the technology workforce due to the societal and cultural oppression. However, Myanmar proves to be the biggest shocker, 70% of students studying computer science in university are women. Myanmar like India admits students to university based on a test however, unlike India, Myanmar is far less competitive. Women in Myanmar do much better than men on the test, thus the country created affirmative action for men whereby men must get a lower score on the test to be accepted.
Finally, the United States has depressing figures; only 18% of students studying computer science in university are women and that number has ceased to budge, staying flatline for the past 5 years. Like many other countries, women in the US have cultural barriers, Chang notes that many women aren’t interested in “playing in the boys club all the time.” She continues on to highlight the role microaggressions have in the technology field in the US against women, technology culture rewards men who stay up all night and fails to see the plan-ahead style of women. Chang proposes a radical idea that the US should require all students to take computer science and in doing so the US will obtain a “critical mass” of people that will be needed in the technology sector by the year 2020. She closes her speech in unifying all of the countries she presented in concluding that although women throughout the world face barriers to entering the technology sector that they can indeed do just as well or better as men in the field.