Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Fourteen to One.

I was working in Xinzhu Science Park last night and the subject of science park dating life came up (don't ask me how - it just did). I heard a statistic that hadn't come up before that very much affects not just the marriage rate, but the gender disparity in the tech industry. That's not just a problem in Taiwan, but I have to say it's quite striking here.

Remember how back in my last post about the low marriage rate - of which there have now been two - Catherine mentioned in the comments that a huge reason for this is that the Taiwanese simply work too hard? If you're in the office all day, slaving away for a wage far lower than you deserve (the average salary for those entry-level Office Ladies is about NT$30,000, and considering the hours they work, that's just sad), the odds grow against the likelihood of finding the time to meet, date, get to know and possibly marry someone.

That is absolutely true, especially for the Science Park, where people continually admit to working twelve hours a day not because there's a special project or something in particular that requires temporary extra effort, but as a matter of course because every project is urgent, understaffed and requires this effort. One can technically refuse and go home on time, but if that's you, expect to be the first person placed on mandatory unpaid leave and the last person to be promoted.

There's an added layer to all this, though: the ratio of men to women in the science park is 14 to 1. Fourteen men for every woman. Fourteen times as many men as women. Fourteen times. I shudder to think that a lot of the women who do work in the science park are generally secretaries or in marketing or HR, leaving the ratio of male to female engineers something astonishingly disparate.

(To their credit, Mediatek's ratio is about 8 to 1, which, while not great, is an improvement).

I've seen this play out in my classes - of my long term courses at tech companies, most of the classes are entirely male. At one company there was one woman working in R&D out of 11 students. I have another class with 4 students, including one woman, which is sadly unusual. I will say that at Acer, where I teach no permanent classes but do a lot of training seminars for recent recruits, there are generally quite a few women among the new hires...at least in my classes.

"So is there a 'science park dating scene'?" I asked.
"A little bit. People do date, even between companies because we all live in Xinzhu. It's not a big city...but how can we have a dating scene? Fourteen to one! Who would we date?"

"Besides," he added. "Many of my coworkers are 35 and have never had a girlfriend. They don't know how to speak to women. The ones who are married usually married a classmate. If you don't do that, it is really hard to date."

I'm not sure I'd go so far as to say that the disparity between men and women in the Taiwanese tech sector is entirely discrimination or milder but still pernicious assumptions about gender roles - although that is probably partly the case.

I do think this is an issue that needs to be addressed by that industry - there's way too much acceptance of "men become engineers, women become accountants".

That said, interestingly, the wealthiest person in Taiwan is no longer Terry Gou, it's now Cher Wang, the chairwoman of HTC (also the most powerful woman in the Taiwanese tech sector).

That's something to be proud of, at least.

12 comments:

richard said...

great article, i worked in several high-tech companies in Taipei and it never was so bad. actually met lot of very beautiful and single girls.
hope you will publish more on it

Okami said...

Now one thing that gets me and I saw an article on it, Women that may have the smarts to be engineers generally also have the smarts to do other things just as demanding intellectually and often see engineering as less desirable compared to other careers. I AM NOT ARGUING THERE IS NO GENDER BIAS.*

I would like to see how this stacks up in MBA's, lawyers, marketing, biomedical research and doctors. I know nursing, teaching and accounting tends to be dominated by women. I a;sp wonder what the ratios look like in the other science parks like Taichung, Nankan, Tainan and the one in Erlin.

What is the marriage rate of the men in the 14-1 ration science park? What do their wives tend to do? Do they have the opportunity to allow their wives to stay at home because they wish to do so or have small children? A 14-1 ratio sounds bad, but without further information it seems like a bias due to gender and/or society.

*I'd rather not be accused as a sexist when I'm questioning things I don't know for sure. It's a blog everyone tends to troll everyone else.

Jenna said...

Okami - you must have seen by now the gender bias in what Taiwanese parents push their kids to study? I covered it in a previous post, in fact. Daughters are now encouraged to go after stable, high-earning careers just as sons are, but they're pushed into teaching (which is not all that high-paying but it is stable) or accounting. The sons are encouraged to go for engineering.

Sure, there must be an element of personal choice, but ask the average Doris Chen in Accounting why she chose that career and she'll say "my test scores were right / my parents told me to because it is stable". Ask the typical Kevin Lin in R&D why he became an engineer and he'll say "my test scores/my parents told me to".

Would Doris have picked Engineering if she'd had more freedom of choice and no parental pressure? Maybe, maybe not...but that doesn't mean parental pressure doesn't matter.

In which case, it IS a gender bias. I'd agree with you that in the USA women just don't tend to choose engineering, but there have been studies saying that a lot of them do feel discouraged from entering that field - not openly, mind you, but subtly, in that when everyone in your class and your teacher is male, and all the internships and job fairs for new engineers are clearly giant sausage fests, a lot of women just don't go for it. A typical case of "nobody told me I couldn't do it, but I don't feel welcome here". And yes, that is a problem as far as I'm concerned.

Okami said...

I know there is gender bias, I'm not arguing there isn't. Please try not to misconstrue my meaning nor gloss over honest questions I have when something that may seem odd might in fact be more normal than you think.

There are some activities men gravitate to and some that women gravitate to. There maybe some mixing, but in general if given a sample of people and an activity, you could easily guess which sex dominates the group if the group is in fact dominated by one gender. i.e. shopping for shoes-women, playing video games for long periods of time-men; that doesn't mean some men don't like spending long periods of time shopping for shoes or some women don't enjoy long periods of time playing video games.

One female engineer I knew didn't like being an engineer very much and since she was a very smart woman, she decided to do something else that allowed her more free time and better control of her life. Women with good management and analytical skills have a load of options which you often see in female engineers. Other women that I have known that were engineers, had a certain type of personality that you don't see in most women. They could also handle themselves quite well in any sausage fest. There's a world of difference between dealing with a woman who is an engineer versus one that works in human resources.

There aren't hard and fast rules about what each sex will do, but there are tendencies.

I'd also argue that society through the educational system plays just a large a part as parents do with students being led down certain professions earlier than they would be in a western society. You can make a very good educated guess about what majors and universities will be open to students by the high school they attend.

Anonymous said...

>the ratio of men to women in the science park is 14 to 1.

That sounds about right for R&D, but is surely not correct for the science park as a whole. The production lines at many companies are primarily women (and often foreigners). Let's not forget about them.

Anonymous said...

Check the following link in Chinese for some supporting statistics to the previous comment.

http://alumni.ee.ntu.edu.tw/wp/content/29/4.html

richard said...

i dont see a problem, they often chose as they wish, suibian ...

Jenna said...

Okami, just because I don't entirely agree with you doesn't mean I'm "misconstruing" you or whatever. I at no point said that you were ignoring a gender bias. My point is merely that I think the bias is greater than you may believe. I am generally interested in hearing what you have to say, but if you're going to be one of those cranky commenters who goes all "you just don't understand" whenever someone says something contrary to what you believe, I'll stop publishing your comments.

Anyway, yes, there are activities for which men gravitate to some and women to others. That was a really poorly constructed sentence but I worked all day in Xinzhu again and I'm tired. Yes, women will generally prefer shoe shopping, although if you talk to individual women you'll find that it is not as popular an activity as many men believe it is among women. Yes, men will generally play more video games than women as well.

I am in no way convinced, however, that engineering (generally - including all types) is one of those things that men innately prefer over women...or even if that is true (and it could be true), the gender bias skews it so much that it seems like a greater innate preference for men than it really is. Here, I'd point more to steering children into gender-role-appropriate activities that eventually push women into more 'female' occupations and men into more 'male' ones.

Basically, yes, there may well be a disparity in how many men prefer engineering than women, but for the huge gender gap in this industry I'd point more to nurture than nature (whereas shoe shopping and video games would be more nature than nurture). Yes, it is more than parents steering the youth into gender-specified future careers. Schools, society and even friends play a role as well. I've just noticed the parental thing because it's so common and so many people I work with comment on it or admit to it influencing their career choice - enough that I'd say it's statistically significant.

I do think we'd see more female engineers and male teachers if we managed to eliminate that bias, but I suspect you agree with me there. We may simply disagree on how big the change would be.

Anonymous - after working in the science park the 14-1 stats seem quite plausible to me. Seeing as many companies (a notable exception being TSMC) have moved their production lines to Kunshan, Dongguan etc. and many production lines in Taiwan are not in the science parks themselves, where R&D reigns, but out in places like Guanyin (in Taoyuan), Wugu and parts of Tucheng.

I've also noticed that yes, HR is staffed primarily by women, but when I look out across the park, what I see are (mostly bespectacled) men with a smaller number of women in the HR offices supporting them.

So...do I have official documentation of the statistic beyond a student telling me that a.) he read about it and b.) it's common knowledge in the science park? No, but I tend to believe the student. He's not a flake who would make something like that up.

By the way, I too would like to see statistics for the other science parks in Taiwan, but this post was specifically about a conversation with professionals in the science park, so I'd save that for another post.

blobOfNeurons said...

"So is there a 'science park dating scene'?" I asked.
"A little bit. People do date, even between companies because we all live in Xinzhu. It's not a big city...but how can we have a dating scene? Fourteen to one! Who would we date?"

This sounds like a great business opportunity. Now what's a good Chinese name for a dating site for engineers?

Anonymous said...

>So...do I have official documentation of the statistic beyond a student telling me that a.) he read about it and b.) it's common knowledge in the science park?

I think there has been a miscommunication or a misunderstanding. Fortunately, we don't have to rely on hearsay, that's why I posted the link in the comments above. On that page you can see that, according the Science Park management, of the 110,000 people empoyed in the science park, 51% are men.

Jenna said...

I'm not entirely sure it matters, although yes, it could well be correct that when he said "the entire science park" he meant just the tech workers in the science park, not including maintenance staff, factory line workers, secretaries, receptionists etc...although this is a smart guy we're talking here (R&D manager at a major company, and my personal acquaintance with him confirms his intelligence).

That said, when I look out over the staff I see at various companies - and I work at quite a few - I see a ratio more similar to his 14-1 (or MediaTek's 8-1) than to 51/49%. It's true that I generally do not see maintenance and factory workers and only fleetingly see receptionists and HR reps.

This post is about dating in the science park, though - and that's why I stand by my observations. Yes, engineers do marry secretaries and HR reps, but generally they date within their own, if there is someone to date (which runs contrary to the song "Code Monkey", but hey). Even if the ratio is more balanced when you look beyond tech workers, that doesn't mean the dating scene is.

Anonymous said...

>I'm not entirely sure it matters

If you're not concerned whether factual assertions in your blog posts are true or not, I suggest omitting those statements to save readers from wasting their time checking those facts.