Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Survey: Asian American women least likely to hold leadership roles in tech

By Louis Chan

DIANE KENG'S youthful appearance belies her stature.

At 18, she founded her first start up, My Weboo, during her senior year of high school.

Five years later in 2015, she launched Breinify, an artificial intelligence startup where she currently serves as CEO.

Keng is an outlier.

A new survey of 582 women in technology by Girls in Tech has found that Asian American women are least likely to hold leadership roles.

More than 19 percent who answered the poll questions were Asian Americans.

Almost 36 percent of the Hispanics polled identified themselves as a Director, VP, C-Level, or CEO compared to hite/Caucasian 34 percent, Black/African American 21 percent, and Asian/Pacific Islander 20 percent.

“I do think that Asian women holding the smallest percentage in leadership roles has some cultural swaying to it,” said Keng to AsAmNews. “One, I think upbringing is a big part of shaping who we are. I am lucky to have parents who are both logical, creative, and big believers of fighting for what you believe in. They did not push me to be in one profession or another.”

Second she sees a lack of Asian women role models.

“What I’m about to say is probably true for many cultures and not meant to sound restrictive. But growing up, I always saw Asian women sacrifice their jobs for their children. These are women who had great education and high level jobs who decided to take a break so that they can raise their kids. I think this is an amazingly valiant sacrifice. But with this, it also means less women have the opportunity to be in the leadership positions because of the huge gap of time between work.”

Girls in Tech is a non-profit dedicated to the education and empowerment of girls and women worldwide who are passionate about technology. It was founded in 2007 by Adriana Gascoigne who echoed some of Keng’s thoughts.

“While it’s hard for me to speak for an entire ethnic group, I believe this has a lot to do with cultural upbringing,” said Gascoigne to AsAmNews. “Asian American women growing up are often tasked with taking a backseat to male siblings, even when they are older. Furthermore, many Asian cultures teach their children to respect their elders — almost to a point of fault — that may negatively impact their chances for promotion. Is this all Asian women? Absolutely not, but it’s important to take into account the ways parents may be rearing their children from their own upbringing.”

Gascoigne also points out that the numbers for women overall in leadership positions are extremely low across the board, something she see as unacceptable.

“At Girls in Tech we are dedicated to increasing the number of women across the board and that starts with creating a network that fosters growth and support, but also access to other female leaders. The tech sector has been dominated by men in the venture capital ranks, which leads to mostly male-founded companies getting funded. It has to start from the top down.”

Keng says when people look at her, they don’t see an engineer, much less someone who works in artificial intelligence.

“Often times I get invited for meetings which I think will be business related but rather it is for me to find out that the guy is single and ready to mingle,” she said.

Sexual harassment is a real problem in the work world, technology is no exception. Keng sees accusations often turning into a he said, she said scenario.

“I’ve had female friends that missed out on great opportunities because they would rather be safe than to be put in a scenario where something bad but not provable actions can happen.”

The Girls in Tech poll also asked questions about sexual harassment, gender discrimination and the presidential election.

You can read the full results here.