“I’ve always been interested in developing my career within the ICT industry. However, be it in Hong Kong or in other places, this industry has always been perceived as a male-dominated one,” said Emy Chang, a student from the University of Hong Kong. Unfortunately, this is a sentiment echoed by many girls and women repeatedly in Hong Kong.
Due to deeply entrenched biases and stereotypes, such as the perceived aptitude of men over women in technology, there is a severe discrepancy between the number of men and women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) jobs and among STEM degree-holders. In the United States, which displays similar attitudes and trends, it is estimated that the continued lack of women joining the STEM workforce would lead to the industry filling up only half of its available jobs by 2018. This trend casts worrying implications on job prospects for women in Hong Kong, and the country’s innovation and global competitiveness.
"At The Women's Foundation, we found that women are significantly underrepresented in the STEM subjects in Hong Kong in terms of studies and career options. This is largely due to gender stereotypes, cultural attitudes, the absence of visible female role models and the lack of networking and mentorship opportunities," said Su-Mei Thompson, Chief Executive Officer of The Women’s Foundation.
Seeking to help nurture an environment that encourages girls and women to pursue their passion for technology, Microsoft Hong Kong collaborated with The Women’s Foundation and Ivey Business School to organise GirlSpark Camp, a women’s-only camp promoting engagement in the ICT sector. Fifty-one female university students were selected out of hundreds of applicants to join the three-day camp.
During the camp, outstanding community leaders shared their experience and insight on career development for women. For instance, Agnes Mak, Executive Director of the Hong Kong Productivity Council, spoke about her 30 years of being in the IT industry and her journey in running her own IT consultancy. Patricia Lau, Deputy Head of the Efficiency Unit of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) Government, talked at length about using technology to serve the greater good. Finally, speaking about the importance of community work was Ms. Starry Lee, member of the HKSAR Executive Council.
The students worked in groups to draft a business plan based on real-life market data and business targets. During this process, they worked with several industry experts to discuss and craft their final proposal, which was presented to a panel of industry experts. Finally, to help the students expand their network and enhance their learning process, Microsoft invited them to apply for summer internships.
The students broke up into groups and worked with industry experts to propose a business plan.
Many students felt that GirlSpark Camp was a highly rewarding experience; the knowledge they garnered was highly relevant to the IT industry, and the event also offered them plenty of networking opportunities and opened their eyes to future career prospects. Participants were able to trade ideas and collaborate with like-minded peers, while some also felt they had achieved some personal growth.
“A career in the ICT industry is now a serious consideration after graduation,” excitedly shared Vaishnavi Kaushik, a student from the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. “The GirlSpark initiative has been a transformational experience. The mentors’ sharing sessions and the industry expert talks have been immensely insightful in helping us understand the ICT landscape and the multitude of opportunities that it offers to all.”
“The GirlSpark initiative has been a transformational experience. The mentors’ sharing sessions and the industry expert talks have been immensely insightful in helping us understand the ICT landscape and the multitude of opportunities that it offers to all. A career in the ICT industry is now a serious consideration after graduation.”
Vaishnavi Kaushik, student from the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology