OPINION: Women4Tech

Joy Tan, president of global media and communications, Huawei

Technology disciplines used to be populated almost exclusively by males. Nowadays, the world of tech is still male-centric—even in Hong Kong, where women govern from the apex of organizations in both public and private sectors.

This needs to change. STEM disciplines are not restricted by gender, and women often prove better administrators than men, given the opportunity. Public and private sectors should promote basic tech skills across all levels to determine the best candidates.

It's hardly a new concept. Mathematician Ada Lovelace (1815-1852) was worked on Charles Babbage's proposed mechanical general-purpose computer, the Analytical Engine (the progenitor of all modern computers). She was the first to recognize that the machine had applications beyond pure calculation, and published the first algorithm intended to be carried out by such a machine. Describing the engine's programming by punch cards, she wrote: "We may say most aptly that the Analytical Engine weaves algebraical patterns just as the Jacquard loom weaves flowers and leaves."

Austrian-born Hedy Lamarr (1914-2000) is best known as a Hollywood actress. But during World War II, she and composer George Antheil developed a radio guidance system for torpedoes which used spread spectrum and frequency hopping technology to defeat jamming techniques. Although the US Navy did not adopt the technology until the 1960s, the principles of their work are similar to methods used in legacy versions of CDMA and wi-fi.

History is important (and a visit to London's Science Museum, where you can see a modern construction of Babbage's Analytical Engine and the whalebone punch cards designed for it, is a highlight) but it doesn't help our female students put in the hard yards on STEM disciplines, then move into the tech-sector. However, last month's Mobile World Congress in Shanghai had several speakers commenting on the role of women in tech (the GSMA developed their Women4Tech Program to address gender diversity in the mobile industry).

Huawei senior vice president Chen Lifang delivered a keynote speech in which she emphasized in her speech that the digital era will benefit women, and education is a key initiative to close the digital divide.

“In the past, value creation relied heavily on physical labor,” said Chen. “Compared to men, women were at a disadvantage in this respect, but in a digital world, everything will be different. A diversified world will offer women more opportunities [while] most kinds of repetitive work will be done by AI, which will save time and boost productivity.”

“We need to realize that there is a digital divide not only between countries, but also between genders,” said the Huawei SVP. “In the digital world, we do not want to see women who were just freed from disadvantages of a labor-intensive system to be caught again in the digital divide.”

“Education is the one of the most important solutions to this issue,” she said. “In 2008, Huawei launched the Seeds for the Future program—to help develop local ICT talent.” Chen said that in the UK” “four years ago, there were no female students in the program, but last year, females accounted for 48% of all UK participants.”

“We also deliver training for women in remote areas to help them master ICT skills,” said Chen. “Last year, Huawei joined forces with the Bangladesh authority as well as a local operator to start the Digital Training Bus Project. The project will last three years, running six buses with training facilities and trainers. The buses are now traveling to different remote areas around the country. The tailored courses are helping local women learn to access the Internet, use e-banks, and master other basic ICT skills.”

Dealing with development
Joy Tan, president of global media and communications, Huawei, gave a crisp keynote that pointed out the digital disparity not only between genders, but across the globe. “The world is super-connected but the gap between the haves and the have-nots is huge,” she said. “Nine out of ten people in Africa & Asia remain unconnected.”

Tan said that 1.7 billion people remain completely unbanked, and in Zambia, over 500 primary school students share a single computer. She mentioned a solution her firm had developed to help bridge the gap: RuralStar, which won the GSMA’s "Best Mobile Innovation for Emerging Markets" award at MWC Barcelona in February. “It uses special equipment to cut down the power to about 200 watts,” said Tan in Shanghai. “This allows it to use solar panels in areas with little or no electric power.”

Tan said another Huawei-developed cost-cutting solution—dubbed PowerStar—which “uses AI to analyze patterns of data traffic and reduces energy consumption during periods of low traffic. It helps operators lower their energy costs by 10% to 15%.” She later published an essay (https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/creating-hope-connectivity-joy-tan/) well worth reading for insight into tech improvements for the developing world.

Why you should encourage your daughters to become data scientists
This is the title of a recent blog-post by Sydney Sarachek. “In the United States, women hold a mere 26% of data jobs,” wrote Sarachek. “The data science field is booming and the rise of big data is visible almost everywhere. While data science is still new, as a society, we cannot be complacent with women making up just a quarter of the field—we need more women in data science.”

Yes, we do.



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