In­de­pen­dent clubs are ad­dress­ing the gen­der im­bal­ance that dis­crim­i­nates against women in China’s tech sec­tor. Xu Wei re­ports.

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - CHINA -

The ques­tion soft­ware en­gi­neer Wang Jing is asked most fre­quently fo­cuses not on how a per­son learns to write code, but how a wo­man learns to write code.

Wang, a 28-year pro­gram­mer for a video-host­ing ser­vice in Bei­jing, said peo­ple’s cu­rios­ity about how she man­aged to land a job as a pro­gram­mer is al­most trou­bling.

“They ask ‘ How on earth did you be­come a pro­gram­mer’? and ‘How on earth did you land this job’?” she said.

How­ever, the fact that she is one of just five wo­man pro­gram­mers in a team of more than 60 also gives her a very spe­cial role, one she de­scribes as a “mood blender” — some­one who can neu­tral­ize a staid, nerdish at­mos­phere.

Wang be­lieves that women can add a fem­i­nine in­flu­ence to the male-dom­i­nated work­place, even though her work­load is no less tax­ing than those of her male coun­ter­parts.

“No of­fense, but some pro­gram­mers are just nerdish peo­ple. They don’t know how to live life, but women do. We can of­fer snacks when the team is work­ing over­time and de­cide the lo­ca­tion of din­ner par­ties,” she said.

Out­num­bered

Wang’s work­place is typ­i­cal of a sec­tor long dom­i­nated by men, even though women oc­cupy well-placed tech­ni­cal po­si­tions.

The gen­der im­bal­ance in the in­dus­try is ev­i­denced by sev­eral in­de­pen­dent re­ports con­ducted and pub­lished by pro­gram­ming web­sites in China.

Ac­cord­ing to sta­tis­tics re­leased in Oc­to­ber by 100of­fer, a web­site that pro­vides em­ploy­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties for soft­ware en­gi­neers, men out­num­ber women by 4-to-1.

A re­port pub­lished in 2014 by Code­forge, a source-code shar­ing web­site, showed that only 20 per­cent of pro­gram­mers in China are fe­male.

The Code­forge re­port, which polled more than 1 mil­lion pro­gram­mers, also found that the gen­der im­bal­ance is driven by the na­ture of the job, in­clud­ing the ir­reg­u­lar life­style that re­sults from the fre­quent need to work ex­tra hours.

Wen Yang, who started the Cod­ing Girls Club, an or­ga­ni­za­tion in Bei­jing that of­fers free pro­gram­ming sem­i­nars and train­ing courses for women, said the un­fair treat­ment of women in the sec­tor is not ob­vi­ous un­til it comes to salaries.

“Mostly, this un­fair treat­ment is not ob­vi­ous or pal­pa­ble. The ide­o­log­i­cal in­doc­tri­na­tion that women are not suit­able to work as pro­gram­mers and have poor log­i­cal think­ing is be­hind the gen­der im­bal­ance in the in­dus­try,” he said.

“This ide­ol­ogy and in­doc- tri­na­tion is a form of bias in the strong­est and most far­reach­ing way.”

Hos­tile at­ti­tudes

China’s boom­ing in­ter­net sec­tor has re­sulted in grow­ing de­mand for pro­gram­mers. Ac­cord­ing to a 2015 re­port by the US man­age­ment ser­vices re­searcher Bos­ton Con­sult­ing Group, the in­ter­net in­dus­try — which main­tained com­pound growth of 50 per­cent be­tween 2011 and 2014 — was di­rectly re­spon­si­ble for the cre­ation of 1.7 mil­lion jobs in China in 2014.

How­ever, ac­cord­ing to the 100of­fer re­port, the highly com­pet­i­tive in­dus­try has dis­played a hos­tile at­ti­tude to­ward fe­male pro­gram­mers, who are gen­er­ally of­fered lower salaries than their male coun­ter­parts for the same po­si­tion.

For po­si­tions in ei­ther Java pro­gram­ming or front-end de­vel­op­ment, male pro­gram­mers are usu­ally of­fered 10 per­cent, or 3,000 yuan ($432.50) to 4,000 yuan, more than their fe­male equiv­a­lents.

“Dur­ing the re­cruit­ment process, many com­pa­nies worry that fe­male pro­gram­mers will marry and have chil­dren at some stage, which means they will have to de­vote a sub­stan­tial amount of time to their fam­ily life,” said Kang Wen­juan, a re­cruit­ment con­sul­tant with 100of­fer

he com­pany’s re­port also found that the wage gap widens with ex­pe­ri­ence — the salary gap be­tween male and fe­males pro­gram­mers is about 24 per­cent for those with more than five years’ ex­pe­ri­ence.

The prob­lem has also been noted by Hired, a job search plat­form in the United States. In a re­port pub­lished last year, the plat­form said that there is a wage gap of 7 to 8 per­cent be­tween male and fe­male soft­ware en­gi­neers in Sil­i­con Val­ley.

“On av­er­age, we found that com­pa­nies of­fer women 3 per­cent less than men for the same roles, with some com­pa­nies of­fer­ing as much as 30 per­cent less,” the re­port said.

Kang, from 100of­fer, said her com­pany’s re­search es­tab­lished that age is also a ma­jor fac­tor in the em­ploy­ment of fe­male pro­gram­mers. Those ages 26 to 29 and with three to four years work ex­pe­ri­ence have a sig­nif­i­cantly higher chance of land­ing a job with an in­ter­net com­pany. Af­ter that, things be­gin to de­te­ri­o­rate.

“There are sig­nif­i­cantly fewer op­por­tu­ni­ties for fe­male pro­gram­mers ages 30 or older. The sit­u­a­tion is par­tic­u­larly bad for those who are sin­gle, and those who are mar­ried but have not yet had chil­dren,” she said.

The gen­der bias is also deep­rooted, ac­cord­ing to a pa­per pub­lished in July by re­searchers at Cal­i­for­nia Polytech­nic State Univer­sity and North Carolina State Univer­sity.

They found that when a fe­male pro­gram­mer in the US con­trib­uted to an open­source project, the work was more likely to be ac­cepted by their peers than con­tri­bu­tions by men, but only if the peo­ple judg­ing the work were un­aware that the pro­gram­mer was fe­male. The same work was more likely to be re­jected if their gen­der was made pub­lic.

The re­searchers sug­gested that fe­male pro­gram­mers are at least as com­pe­tent and some­times more skilled than the av­er­age pro­gram­mer on GitHub, one of the world’s largest web-based hosts of source code. “It shows that women face a gi­ant hur­dle of ‘gen­der bias’ when other peo­ple as­sess their work,” they said.

Kang, the re­cruit­ment ex­pert, said 100of­fer is op­ti­mistic that its re­port will at­tract greater at­ten­tion to the in­come dis­par­ity be­tween male and fe­male soft­ware en­gi­neers.

“The sit­u­a­tion will only im­prove when more fe­male pro­gram­mers join the work­force. We also need events to mo­ti­vate fe­male coders and en­trepreneurs to speak up,” she said.

Pro­fi­ciency is para­mount

How­ever, not all fe­male pro­gram­mers have found the gen­der bias so ob­vi­ous.

Zhang Danli, a 32-year-old who works for Mtime, an on­line movie por­tal, said gen­der only plays a mi­nor part, and pro­gram­ming pro­fi­ciency de­ter­mines a per­son’s posi- tion in the work­place.

“Some star­tups might pre­fer young, male pro­gram­mers be­cause they are more adapt­able to work­ing ex­tra hours. But for some ma­jor cor­po­ra­tions, gen­der is no longer an is­sue,” said Zhang, who has changed em­ploy­ers three times in the last six years.

Su Xunbo, Zhang’s team leader who is re­spon­si­ble for the de­vel­op­ment and main­te­nance of Mtime’s app, said fe­male pro­gram­mers of­fer di­ver­sity to his team, which is com­posed of two women and six men.

“Pro­gram­mers’ meet­ings can be at dag­gers drawn. In the midst of red faces and even clenched fists, a wo­man’s voice can have a sur­pris­ing ef­fect, in­clud­ing the power to calm ev­ery­one down,” he said.

How­ever, Wen Yang, from Cod­ing Girls Club, said his or­ga­ni­za­tion be­lieves that women de­serve the right to use pro­gram­ming as a spring­board for their ca­reers, and it has set a tar­get to pro­vide pro­gram­ming train­ing to 1,000 women across China in the next three years.

“Pro­gram­ming is es­sen­tially an in­tel­lec­tual ac­tiv­ity, an area with no gen­der dif­fer­ences. We be­lieve there is a trend by which the gen­der im­bal­ance will dis­ap­pear in the fu­ture,” he said.

“It is a not a mat­ter of whether it will hap­pen, but when it will hap­pen.”

No of­fense, but some pro­gram­mers are just nerdish peo­ple. They don’t know how to live life, but women do.” Wang Jing, 28-year-old pro­gram­mer for a video­host­ing ser­vice in Bei­jing of pro­gram­mers in China were fe­male in 2014, ac­cord­ing to a re­port by source-code shar­ing web­site Code­forge

Con­tact the writer at xuwei@chi­nadaily.com.cn per­cent

the dif­fer­ence in salaries of­fered to male and fe­male Java pro­gram­mers by large com­pa­nies, ac­cord­ing to 100of­fer, a web­site that pro­vides em­ploy­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties for soft­ware en­gi­neers

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