Is Asia's IT industry male-dominated?

Men may have moved up the ranks more quickly in the past, but women today are making their mark too.
Written by Isabelle Chan, Contributor

One industry observer thinks so, while others say there is less of a gender imbalance at the IT workplace these days.

"IT has always been a male-dominated industry," said Yeo Gek Cheng, divisional manager for IT and telecommunications with human resources company Hudson.


She explained: "It stems right from the time when students choose their faculties or interest areas in universities. Computer Engineering or Electrical Engineering, which accounts for almost all of IT entry-level candidates, has a huge proportion of males versus females applying for these [courses]."

"IT has always been a male-dominated industry... It stems right from the time when students choose their faculties or interest areas in universities."
-- Yeo Gek Cheng,

The HR professional added that an individual's career choice "comes down to personal interest and where people think their future would lie". Factors for consideration include salary levels and aspirations to work for high-profile IT giants like IBM, HP, Microsoft and Oracle. And it appears that "the male gender has a greater appetite for such disciplines", she noted.

Yeo, however, acknowledged that in some Asian countries like Singapore, women have succeeded in climbing the corporate ladder. She said: "Microsoft, IBM and HP have or have had female managing directors. Currently, one of these companies' Singapore operations is run by a female, and so are its Asean operations."

She noted that another of these companies is also run by a high-profile female, who has climbed through the rank and file, "facing intense competition from her male colleagues in order to rise to the top" in the process.

Eva Au, managing director of IDC Asia-Pacific, made an interesting observation. "Most people may get the impression that there is a growing number of female leaders in IT companies. This could be due to the recent spotlight on female leaders in the IT industry simply because IT is often perceived as a male-dominated industry.

"On the same note, hardly anyone ever questions why there are male managers at the helm of fashion companies where products and services are targeted at females. However, you may find that there are more women leaders in Southeast Asia than North Asia, such as Japan and Korea, where cultural differences still exists," Au added.

Andrew Sansom, director of DP Search, also observed this perception of gender imbalance in the IT industry.

"IT has, for a long time, appeared to be a male-dominated industry, but appearances can be deceptive," he told ZDNet Asia. "I would venture that the sex equation comes out at close to 50:50 for Singaporeans, and locals in other countries in the region, although the figures are slightly skewed because foreigners working in IT (from India and elsewhere) are predominantly male."

Sansom added: "Males are more likely to change jobs, [whereas] women tend to stay [longer in their jobs], so applicants for new jobs will be overwhelmingly male."

However, women in Asia today have as many opportunities to climb the corporate ladder compared to the past, Sansom said. "In IT, like many other industries, males have tended to come up the ranks more quickly and more often than the ladies in the past, but that is changing. The trend now is for most companies to try to recruit and promote women wherever possible," he noted.

Sansom cited a recent example where a recruitment brief from one large U.S. MNC client spelled out 'think female' in large capitals.

"You can't ask for it plainer than that," he noted. "In IT, women have never had a better opportunity to enter the industry and do well. Look around and you will see more women country managers, CEOs and CIOs than ever before. They may not yet be in the majority but they are getting closer."

One IT professional who has had a successful career is Tan Lee Chew, Hewlett-Packard's vice president and managing director for the Southeast Asia region. She told ZDNet Asia that gender is less an issue in the island-state compared to other countries.

"In Singapore, I feel women are rarely disadvantaged because of their gender, although in some more male-dominated societies across Asia, it might be far harder for women to break through mental barriers within their work environment and advance their career," Tan noted.

Recounting her past experience in managing the business across several countries in Asia, Tan, who also heads HP's Technology Solutions Group for Southeast Asia, said: "I have noted that in many instances, the men will accord you the due respect and collaboration when you are credible in your role. Gender then becomes a non-issue."

Another company that has its fair share of women leaders is Accenture. The global consulting giant's Asia-Pacific CEO is a woman, and so is the Asia-Pacific lead for Accenture's Communications, High Tech and Products industry organizations, noted Stephanie Gault, partner for Human Performance, Asean and Singapore, Accenture.


Gault, who has also had a successful IT career, noted: "I have never faced a glass ceiling for women, and certainly don't think there is one in IT. I'd like to think that people progress in this industry because of capability and competence, and not gender."

"I have never faced a glass ceiling for women, and certainly don't think there is one in IT."
--Stephanie Gault,

On equal footing
Industry observers also say one way to address the gender imbalance issue in employment is to stop stereotyping women. "Stereotyping of women in the workplace sets the female gender back when it comes to climbing the corporate ladder. The worst kind of stereotype, however, would have to be women stereotyping themselves," said Gek.

"If we are not thinking we will ever make it, we certainly won't," she added.

HP's Tan hopes to see more companies give opportunities to women and encourage them to take on significant roles in the organization and to lead.

Tan added: "There's no need to be like the men to be successful." She explained: "What sets a leader apart is his or her experience, values and passion, not gender."

Women should learn to embrace their femininity and create their own formula for success, Tan noted. "A woman's perspective on what is important, what represents the best approach and what works can offer a whole new dimension of driving business and building the nation," she added.

Accenture's Gault highlighted three key attributes that are "in our favor".

She said: "Our ability to multitask makes us good project managers; our communication skills enable us to gather and manage user expectations and change management; and finally, our people focus helps us develop good user-friendly designs."

Patricia Yim, managing director of IBM Singapore, added: "Leaders all have different strengths, regardless of their gender, which brought them to where they are in the corporation.

"Outstanding leaders, regardless of gender, share similar attributes. There are no fundamental attributes that men have and women do not, which makes a difference in their ability to execute in the workplace. They face similar challenges, too."

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