Showing posts with label tech_sector. Show all posts
Showing posts with label tech_sector. Show all posts

Friday, October 5, 2018

Taiwan's Future Hinges on the Little Things

Here are some things I am not an expert in:

Military/defense
Tech
Arms sales
Intelligence
A lot of other things
Most things, actually

But an interesting theme - to me, the non-expert, at least - seems to run through several Taiwan-related news items that touch on these topics these days.

We have the always-great Tanner Greer, writing about how Taiwan can win a war with China. Sure, China's got a bigger army, a bigger budget, a bigger country, and is all around just bigger. But in order to actually win a war with Taiwan without getting trapped in a protracted battle (or before help for Taiwan can arrive), Greer argues that it would need to take Taiwan and strong-arm the population into docility within two short weeks.

That's a very small window of time, and it is not at all clear that China could accomplish it.

What stands in China's way?

The places where the PLA could land in Taiwan amount to a few beaches on the west coast. None of them are friendly to incoming assault.



There are only 13 beaches on Taiwan’s western coast that the PLA could possibly land at. Each of these has already been prepared for a potential conflict. Long underground tunnels—complete with hardened, subterranean supply depots—crisscross the landing sites. The berm of each beach has been covered with razor-leaf plants. Chemical treatment plants are common in many beach towns—meaning that invaders must prepare for the clouds of toxic gas any indiscriminate saturation bombing on their part will release. This is how things stand in times of peace.

As war approaches, each beach will be turned into a workshop of horrors. The path from these beaches to the capital has been painstakingly mapped; once a state of emergency has been declared, each step of the journey will be complicated or booby-trapped. PLA war manuals warn soldiers that skyscrapers and rock outcrops will have steel cords strung between them to entangle helicopters; tunnels, bridges, and overpasses will be rigged with munitions (to be destroyed only at the last possible moment); and building after building in Taiwan’s dense urban core will be transformed into small redoubts meant to drag Chinese units into drawn-out fights over each city street.


Each of these hurdles is a very small thing, but strung together, each one buys Taiwan a little more time, getting it a little bit closer to that two-week window in which the war stops being a certain victory for China and becomes a massive quagmire. It is to Taiwan's advantage, not China's for this to happen. If China overwhelms Taiwan and pushes on it a tense, authoritarian 'peace', the bombings will stop. But Taiwan will be finished. There will be no fighting back - only dying. If you thought the White Terror was bad, wait until you see what China is capable of. Oh wait, we already know.

Taiwan's weapons for fighting back are comparatively small, but they could have a huge effect on how such an invasion would go.

Here's another thing that's small - the latest arms package to Taiwan. But Michal Thim proves that it's not the size that counts, it's how you use it:


On the face of it, the content of the latest arms sale does not look particularly concerning to Beijing. The total size of the sale is much less than the US$1.4 billion approved last June....

However, the content of the sale is not the most crucial aspect, although its utility to Taiwan’s air force cannot be overstated. The fact that the sale is just about supply and logistics suggest a change in attitude on the US side.

First, the items were approved on a continuing basis and as needed and available. Second, the Trump administration has not only moved from large bundles every few years to sales on an annual basis, but it may also indicate a move away from bundling orders altogether.

In the past, and especially during Barack Obama’s two terms, the US government came across as too accommodating in trying to navigate relations with Taiwan in a way that would not upset Beijing, and Chinese leaders seized on every opportunity to capitalise.

The result was that arms sales to Taiwan were bundled into large packages and separated by long periods of no activity, though the ever-growing military capability of the PLA warranted a response via robust arms sales, as presumed by the Taiwan Relations Act of 1979. Something as routine as a supply of spare parts under the logistics agreement became subject to political considerations. Now, Washington may be returning to normal.


Small sales with big impacts. Arms sales on a continuing basis and not bundled into large packages, offered fairly rarely, which China throws a fit about each and every time, are in fact not as good a deal for Taiwan as sales on an as-needed, always-available basis. Nobody - not even China - can keep up the screamy outrage for that long. The more the US sells to Taiwan regularly, the less often China can "raise tensions" (then pretend those tensions rose by themselves, like magic) over it.

Well, actually China probably can do that. But nobody can keep the media's attention with its screamy outrage for that long, and that's really what matters here. If China cries alone in a forest and nobody is there to hear it, did it ever really cry at all?

Also, BOO to South China Morning Post for completely mangling a perfectly good shot at a dirty joke in their overly prolix subheader, and read the whole article to hear about how Europe is entering the Taiwan arms game. Also a small thing with a big impact: the more people we have ensuring that Taiwan can defend itself, the better. The sale may be small but the precedent it sets is huge. 


Here's an even smaller thing: Chinese companies have been hiding chips that enable them to hack into systems around the world into tech they manufacture: 



Nested on the servers’ motherboards, the testers found a tiny microchip, not much bigger than a grain of rice, that wasn’t part of the boards’ original design. Amazon reported the discovery to U.S. authorities, sending a shudder through the intelligence community. Elemental’s servers could be found in Department of Defense data centers, the CIA’s drone operations, and the onboard networks of Navy warships. And Elemental was just one of hundreds of Supermicro customers.

During the ensuing top-secret probe, which remains open more than three years later, investigators determined that the chips allowed the attackers to create a stealth doorway into any network that included the altered machines. Multiple people familiar with the matter say investigators found that the chips had been inserted at factories run by manufacturing subcontractors in China.


It doesn't take a tech expert to see that this is terrifying, and Jordan Robertson and Michael Riley lay out why:



In the three years since the briefing in McLean, no commercially viable way to detect attacks like the one on Supermicro’s motherboards has emerged—or has looked likely to emerge. Few companies have the resources of Apple and Amazon, and it took some luck even for them to spot the problem. “This stuff is at the cutting edge of the cutting edge, and there is no easy technological solution,” one of the people present in McLean says. “You have to invest in things that the world wants. You cannot invest in things that the world is not ready to accept yet.”



Tiny chips, massive problems. If this is what is being found in the US, imagine how much of Taiwanese telecommunications and other digital activities and information China has access to.


There are also small things like port terminals to consider. It seems odd that after a Chinese takeover, the Taiwanese government would allow terminals in Kaohsiung port previously controlled by a small shipping company (Orient Overseas) to be transferred to Chinese-owned Cosco. 

When Chinese state-owned shipping line Cosco Shipping Holdings unveiled a $6.3 billion deal to buy smaller competitor Orient Overseas (International) last year, Orient's ownership of port terminals in the U.S. and Taiwan appeared to pose a potential regulatory obstacle.

Port ownership by Chinese state companies has become an increasingly sensitive topic globally as Beijing's Belt and Road Initiative spurs concerns about whether their control could be leveraged for security purposes.


Given deepening confrontations between Beijing and both Washington and Taipei over a range of issues, it looked doubtful that Cosco would be allowed to take over the assets of Hong Kong-based Orient Overseas at Kaohsiung, Taiwan, and Long Beach, California, near Los Angeles.

On July 7, Cosco and Orient Overseas, better known under its operating brand OOCL, said that U.S. regulatory approval had been secured, with the condition that the Long Beach terminal be put into a trust and then sold. Cosco then announced the completion of its takeover on July 27, with no mention made of Kaohsiung.

While there have been no public statements, it is evident that OOCL retains control of its terminal at Kaohsiung, Taiwan's busiest port. OOCL's name remains on signage there and staff in Kaohsiung say nothing has changed.


What happens to those terminals when China grows more hostile toward Taiwan (as it likely will), or otherwise throws a conniption over Taiwan's simply trying to exist? How does it affect Taiwan's economy? 

I don't know, but that people who know these things say it matters means we ought to be paying attention. These terminals may barely register as small pearls in China's massive BRI pearl necklace encircling the world, but they could, in the coming years, matter quote a lot for Taiwan. 

People think big: they think about big bombs, big invasions, big armies.

But the war for Taiwan - and for liberal democratic values in the face of an increasingly expansionist China - isn't going to be won by earth-shaking missiles or massive regiments invading by sea.

It will be won by things as small as a gauntlet of booby traps starting in the Taiwan Strait and ending in Taiwanese cities, as small as whether Taiwan is able to maintain its defensive capabilities with rolling arms sales from the West, or whether we're all laid bare by hidden microchips as small as a number carved on a penny.

When it comes to ensuring a future for Taiwan, in some ways, think small.

Little end note: I just quoted a bunch of really smart men. Everything they say is worth listening to, but really, all men. You probably didn't notice, but I did. Where the ladies at? 

Friday, April 27, 2018

In China, tech companies are blatantly sexist. In Taiwan, not even Hooters posts gender-specific job ads

china-hrw-thumbnail-videoSixteenByNine1050
I have no desire to translate the rest of this for you. It's just as sexist as it looks. 


For years, I have initiated or participated in discussions of the relative level of women's rights and equality across various countries in Asia. For years, I have posited that while Taiwan isn't exactly great when it comes to women's equality (I struggle to find a society that is), it is the best country by far in Asia for women. The problem is that "in Asia" is a low bar, even when you adjust your expectations of how feminism might look in Asian societies.

Along these lines, a spate of news and opinion pieces appeared recently on how badly women are treated - just how much they are objectified and male needs are prioritized - in the tech industry in China (and, according to Zhang Lijia, whose video op-ed is linked to below, in Chinese civil service recruitment as well, with a number of jobs listed as requesting male candidates).

Chinese Tech Companies' Dirty Secret (watch this one first, and be horrified)

Alibaba, Baidu and other Chinese tech companies post men-only job ads

Wanted at Chinese start-ups: attractive women to ease coders' stress

In all of these pieces, the biggest horror in my view is the ad that says "Finding a Job = Finding a Woman: Fuck What You Want to Fuck". I truly have no words.

Through those years, the biggest point of contention I've come across is a belief that Chinese women actually have it better - have more equality, get more respect from their society - than Taiwanese women. Talk about how in Shanghai, women rule and men do as their wives and mothers say (I haven't really found anything to corroborate this beyond what people say; I suspect it's an urban legend to some degree). Talk about how Communism sucks but at least one of its ideals is gender equality (maybe true under Mao, not so much anymore). Talk about how there are more female engineers and women in traditionally male fields in China - I saw 39-40% cited on a number of websites, but none I'd trust as a source especially given the links above).

But, you know what? I just don't believe that. I never have. I lived in China, I saw how women - in several unrelated examples where I knew the people involved personally - were treated as a matter of course. I saw, with my own eyes and through personal stories told to me, how many men in China really thought they had the right to "fuck what they want to fuck" - in some cases, literally.

In short, what I saw and heard didn't add up to this belief that "China is a gender equality leader in Asia" or that it somehow outpaces Taiwan in gender equality.

Now, I can say with confidence that I was right.

I set out to see if such job ads were common (or even rare but extant) in Taiwan, and while I would not call my look into the issue a feat of investigative journalism (it really wasn't), I did ask a wide range of people both online and off, including a number of female professionals that I know, to see if they'd even come across such an ad. I included questions not just about sexist ads targeting men (showing Zhang's examples in the vomit-inducing video above), but also ads stating explicit gender preferences or appearance requirements. I specifically did not include ads for foreign teachers, which are their own cesspit of sexism and general unprofessionalism (I'll discuss that topic below). I trawled 591 for a bit, but it's huge and I admit I barely made a dent.

Nobody - no-one on Facebook, no-one in real life, none of the professional Taiwanese women I asked - had seen anything like this in Taiwan, nor could I find any evidence of it. Every last one was positive that any company that even attempted these sorts of recruitment tactics in Taiwan would get sued so fast that the Apple Daily issues would still be literally hot off the press when the subpoena arrived.

The best I could find was one woman - a female programmer - who said there were rumors of the sorts of "engineer comfort women" (she did not mean the term in the way it is typically used in Asia, the point was to be more of an at-work hostess, not to actually provide sexual services) discussed in the third link above also exist in Taiwan. However, I could not find a Taiwanese ad for such a job.

On the contrary, I was alerted to several instances where gender discrimination in hiring in situations that might actually be open for debate were met with lawsuits: in one case, a "maid cafe" (where female servers dress up like maids - it's a subculture thing that I think is a bit tacky but is not worth my time to complain about - whatever) that would not accept a male applicant, citing its uniform of short skirts as awkward for men to wear, and was fined NT$150,000. (Link in Chinese). While I think it's relatively likely that the male applicant purposely called up the maid cafe to hear that he wasn't welcome to apply based on his gender so that he could complain, it doesn't matter: in Taiwan, it doesn't matter if you are explicitly a maid cafe. If it can be proven that you are discriminating based on gender, you are likely to lose any lawsuit that is filed. In another well-publicized case, China Airlines listed height requirements for flight attendants, saying they needed to be able to help passengers put luggage in overhead compartments. They also lost.

One of the women I asked pointed out that, as a C-level executive with hiring powers, she has to attend a workplace gender equality training regularly, and that it confirmed what the maid cafe link mentions above: the court ruled that very few jobs could restrict hiring based on gender, citing underwear modeling as one such exception (I dunno, I think an ad for boxers where the boxers are worn by women, implying that she's your girlfriend wearing your boxers the next morning, would actually do well).

This brought to mind a Hooters job ad that I saw once, which stipulated no gender. It is quite obvious that they would hire women to be "Hooters Girls" - I mean their Facebook page, predictably, is a parade of cute young women. If Hooters (Hooters!) knows it can't post a gender-specific job ad, then damn - you really can't post a gender-specific job ad in Taiwan, let alone a blatantly sexist ad touting your "beautiful women" to potential male recruits.


Screen Shot 2018-04-27 at 10.01.12 PM
The hashtags include "#hootersgirl", but note that there is no gender specification in the ad itself. 



That is not to say that Taiwan is doing fine. I'm sure anyone reading this far is screaming "but there's still discrimination in hiring! They just don't tell you they're doing it!" And that's true. There absolutely is - I can't find anything proving it, and yet, I haven't talked to anyone who isn't fully aware it happens (part of the point is getting away with it by making it impossible to prove). I doubt a man applying to be a Hooters Girl, for example, would actually get the job. I personally know of a few instances when, without giving out too much information, people in charge of hiring debated female applicants based on their looks. I know of a few instances where a man got specific contracts because he was male, and at least two where women got them specifically because they were women (in at least one case, it was a situation where she'd be working mostly with men, who seemed to want some eye candy to go along with their work obligations - yuck). I don't think it's a coincidence that in Taiwan, flight attendants tend to be young, attractive women whereas in America they seem to be more average-looking women and men of a variety of ages. It can't be that only young, attractive women apply for those jobs in Taiwan (and if that is the case, something must be actively discouraging other potential applicants).

This is not right, but a lot of people come to the (wrong) conclusion that this means the law doesn't work, or there shouldn't be a law. "Isn't it better to know up-front whether they want you or not then to waste your time applying to a job that won't actually consider you?" "Why would you want to work somewhere you're not wanted anyway?" - yeah, yeah, yeah. A tempting line of reasoning, but ultimately wrong. If there is no law specifically forbidding gender (and other) discrimination in hiring, then it becomes socially acceptable to do so. If there is a law, that's step one to eradicating it. What people who think it's better that companies be open about it are missing is that these things take time to become social norms. Passing a law doesn't mean immediate amelioration of a social problem: it's just step one. But without it, we have no power when we do see blatant discrimination, and we will never make it to step two, which is reducing actual discrimination. Anecdotally, I do see this happening: the openness with which people accepted the existence of discriminatory hiring seemed far higher a decade or even 5 years ago. Now, people acknowledge it exists but are openly disgusted with it. Without the law, we never would have gotten that far. And if you break down the numbers intelligently as Brookings has, you'll see that this could well be affecting female participation in the workforce, especially in managerial positions.

In cases where discrimination can be proven, the law seems to be actually enforced, too. That's really something - China has a gender non-discrimination law too, but it's vaguely-worded, rarely invoked and almost never enforced (Zhang Lijia covers this in her video above). Zhang is wrong about only one thing: the issue isn't that companies can get away with this because the job market is competitive. They can get away with it because society lets them, and they know the law is ineffective. In Taiwan, society doesn't really let them - not anymore - and if they face the law, which they well might, they are likely to lose.

And of course, once hired, women in Taiwan may still face discrimination or sexist treatment in the workplace, a problem faced by women around the world. Taiwan still has a wage gap - it's narrowing, but still entirely too big. I don't know any Taiwanese woman who has not faced sexism in the workplace. I have as well - it happened at a job I quit in 2014. That too is difficult to fight, but enforcing gender non-discrimination and slowly eradicating sexist beliefs in society is one tool we have in winning that battle.

Every screamer who's left is probably now shouting "but job ads for foreign teachers in Taiwan specify gender all the time!" That's right, they do. I wanted to focus on local job ads, because it does feel like different factors are at play, including that:

a.) Most of those jobs for foreign teachers are posted by dodgy recruiters and third-rate buxibans, hardly professional work environments. I do expect the average Taiwanese office at anything larger than a family-run company to be at least somewhat more professional. I have very low expectations for these sorts of schools and recruiters, who are - and I am not sorry to say this - the gutter scrapings of the English teaching job market. That doesn't make it right, but it does clarify why they think they can do this.

b.) They probably think they can get away with it, assuming foreigners don't know the law. I do not at all believe that these gutter-scrap jobs and the people who shill for them don't know the law - they do.  When it's pointed out to them - and I once got kicked out of a Facebook group for doing so - they get angry and defensive and show what kind of work environment they'd really provide. They're not stupid, they're just crappy people. There's a difference. (OK, sometimes they're stupid too.)

So, no, Taiwan is not perfect, but it's still the best in Asia. We have a lot of problems to face, but hiring managers (and men) here know they can't just 'fuck what they want to fuck'.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Keeping Women in Tech: a worldwide survey

So I've just come back from a wonderful trip to Burma, and am excited to put pictures up. However, I took over 2,000 pictures and haven't even sorted through half of them yet, so it's going to take a few more days before I can make that post (or possibly, series of posts).

For now...

This interesting article popped up in the Washington Post today, and I thought I'd link it here.

I hear a lot of hooey about how there aren't a lot of women in STEM fields because "women jst aren't interested in it", or "it's not as appealing to women" Bullshit. To wit:

"The study finds that gender bias underpins why these women either don’t think they can get ahead or are choosing to leave their organizations. One-third of U.S. women in what the report calls “lab-coat, hard-hat and geek workplace cultures” feel excluded from social networks at their jobs (that number is 53 percent in India). Meanwhile, 72 percent of women in the United States and 78 percent of women in Brazil perceive bias in their performance evaluations."
It's not about these fields not being appealing to women, it's about women feeling pushed out, unwelcome, and purposely stalled/kept back from achieving their best.

I don't think the study included Taiwan, but combining the countries surveyed (including Taiwan's Big Bad Neighbor, China) which are thankfully not all Western, along with my own knowledge and experience interacting with people in the tech industry in Taiwan, I am confident in asserting that this is a problem in Taiwan, as well. 

I've taught classes in which the only woman in that company I've met has been a secretary or HR representative. I've eaten dinner in big-company fabs and office cafeterias where all you see, all around you, is men (maybe a smattering of women in office clothes that hint at their working in a lay department). I've met women in those industries who speak to being the only woman in an office full of men, or who have graphed their performance evaluations to show that there have been dips - despite their best efforts and corporate promises that maternity leave will not impact your performance evaluation - the same years they've taken maternity leave. I've talked to people who admit to doing things like gossiping about new "hot" (or "cute") female hires and using their employee numbers to refer to them (so they, and their employee photo, will be easy to look up). Those same men have not understood why that's undermining to their female colleagues and women in general. When you're judged more on your appearance than abilities generally - and women demonstrably are - and then your appearance becomes a major conversation point (not your abilities), and you're treated differently from male hires, not because you're better or you stand apart based on your work but because of your face, that's a big fucking problem. It further undermines the credibility of your work and puts your appearance, not your work, first and foremost. But that's not something easily understood, and it's taken time for me to get my point across regarding just how big of a problem it really is. 

It's a huge problem, and I'm sick of it being dismissed with "women just aren't interested in STEM." BULL. SHIT. It's time we a.) recognized that the issue is actually one of systemic, institutionalized sexism and b.) did something about it. In Taiwan and around the world.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Taiwan's Invisible Innovation

India's Invisible Innovation

Interesting talk, especially when he quotes people who say "Indians don't do innovation...they aren't good with the creative stuff...it has nothing to do with Indians, it's their schooling, based on rote memorization".

This reminds me of what a lot of people say about Taiwan - oh, it's not that Taiwanese aren't creative, it's their schooling which beats creativity out of them and doesn't value opinion, independent thought and artistic expression" - what I myself have said about Taiwan, although I'd like to take a lot of that that back.

I do think the teaching methodology and ideas about education in Taiwan are screwed up: I feel that the education system here doesn't foster creativity, and they don't value opinions, independent thought or artistic expression. There is a lot of regimentation and rote learning, a lot of teaching to the test, a lot of cramming and very little encouraged inquisitiveness. My opinions in that regard have not changed.

BUT...

Despite this, creativity breaks through - more than most Westerners think. In fact, I'm beginning to believe it's snottiness as well as possibly mild (but probably unintentional) racism. It's true that I've noticed trends: students who reply to a question asking for an opinion with a fact ("what, my opinion matters?"), students who come into a class believing that cramming their head with new words or phrases - which they will forget or use incorrectly - is more important than taking the time to practice fewer new lexical items and gain more fluency, students who think that formal usage is always better, or that grammar accuracy always trumps fluency, or who think that fluency is something that can be memorized.

BUT, again...

I've also noticed that there are many creative souls in Taiwan, and that there are people who love to ask questions or who just enjoy gaining the confidence and fluency to talk in a language as naturally and effortlessly as possible. There are so many more inquisitive people, thoughtful people and artistic people than many foreigners give Taiwan credit for having.

All this, not because of but despite the cramming and test prep that defines Taiwanese schooling (both government-run and cram school-based).

So why do I still hear the same "blah blah blah Taiwanese don't do creativity" bullshit, which I myself have been guilty of spewing? Why don't people see it?

Because, like India, a lot of it is invisible. I mean, you have a lot of artistic types who make things, who create, who cover walls with art, who run booths selling their work at markets and fairs, all that terrible poetry from poetry contests published on the MRT (I'm sorry, I'm not a fan) - and you have the entrepreneurial types who get creative when starting up their small businesses. But so much creativity in Taiwan goes into products that don't get branded as being created in Taiwan. "Made in Taiwan", maybe, once upon a time, but not created here. Not innovated here. And yet, in many cases, they were.

Who do you think designed the technology that allows you to stream video on your smartphones? A bunch of Taiwanese R&D guys, that's who (and some other folks, too, but the R&D labs of Taiwan were involved). Who is behind the push to make ever smaller, more powerful semiconductor wafer technology? Taiwanese R&D guys. A lot of apps, branding and design come out of the USA, but a lot of graphics, games and innovation not meant for end users (or meant for end users but not branded as having come from Taiwan or, more generally, Asia) comes out of Asia, including Taiwan.

Basically, everything Nirmalya Kumar says about India in the talk above could also be said about Taiwan - possibly more so (although I don't want to get into a debate on that, I can't really say for sure).

Taiwan is home to innovation, and it is home to creativity. A lot of creativity. You just don't see it because it's not branded that way. It's in the research, development, design and production of components within a product that you think was innovated entirely in the West.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Here are some hot guys for you

I figure since we're back on Computer Xiaojies (or "booth babes"), that if we can't have a fair world in which women
never fear the fine line of admiration vs. objectification, then I'll give a little somethin' to the other team. I'd prefer that we objectify nobody, but as long as the playing field is not fair, I don't see why I would need to play fair.

My friend Steven and I are fighting over bottom row, second guy from the right. I guess it depends on which side of the Strait he's on.

Har har. See what I did there?

From here - no, I don't subscribe. Blame Steven.

In the spirit of my continued interest (and hopefully yours) on the topic of women in tech, here are two more things worth reading:

Klaus on "Booth Babes" (thanks for the quote shout-out, Klaus - glad someone cares about this issue and is approaching it honestly without calling women who are concerned about it bitter harridans or whatever)

And Slate talking to Genevieve Bell on women in tech.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Computer Xiaojie CTRL+ALT+DELETE

Worth reading not just for general interest, but for the super classy tweet from ASUS at Computex 2012.


As Jezebel says...stay classy, ASUS.


So for every Cher Wang (HTC's chairperson, although it's not like she built an empire from nothing) we have some of these wankers.


The link to the original tweet no longer works - the tweet, as best I can determine, was removed. Still, the underlying thought process that led someone to believe it was an acceptable thing to say publicly makes me sad, and proves how sexist the industry really is. Most industries, in fact.


I mean, I do have the occasional uncomfortable laugh at the whole "Computer Xiaojie" thing that goes on at Computex and similar expos, but deep down I do wish it would stop. Not that I think it's going to - it's widely gossiped that Computex's revenues are pushed up a fair amount by all the attendees who come to gawk at the Computer Xiaojies and might only incidentally actually buy something, and it's notoriously hard to get rid of this kind of objectification. If you even say you'd like it to end, you get labeled a screaming sexless harridan when really, you'd like to see a world where women were worth more than their bodies, and women were seen as potential engineers, not potential sex objects that can push the goods (their own or whatever they're modeling for). Oh, perish the thought!


I'd like to see a world where it's more attractive to a woman to sign up for programming class than a stunt as a Computer Xiaojie (because, yes, these women do sign up for the gig and nobody's forcing them), because she values her brain more than her sexuality - because she lives in a society that does the same. Even if she is gorgeous.


There's an interesting comment-and-response about this on the article linked to above:


I know this is a woman's blog, but are you really complaining about booth babes? It's not like they were forced to do it. Haven't we always sexualized the opposite gender to sell things? It's not like the entertainment and clothing industry never does that with men.
promoted by ad infinitum

And the response:

A) Men's bodies are not, nor have they ever been, commodified anywhere the same degree women's are. That's a ridiculous assertion that doesn't pass the sniff test.

B) The use of booth babes is sexist and othering to women in tech (emphasis mine), which is the kind of thing Jezebel talks about. I realize that since that has no effect on you, it's very hard for you to see how it could matter to anyone, but that's actually why blogs like Jezebel are important--there aren't a lot of places, online or off, where problems that primarily or purely affect women are taken seriously. In most places, they're just mocked and discounted exactly as you did here. If you'd prefer to see women's issues mocked and discounted, you have almost the entire internet for that. Bitching because you choose to hang out at one of the few sites where that doesn't automatically happen is some seriously childish bullshit.
One of my students as at Computex right now, staffing his company's exhibition booth. I wanted to Facebook back "haha, hope you're enjoying the xiaojies" before thinking "wait, no, it seems innocent and all in good fun but actually that's totally buying into the patriarchy, oh noes". So I said nothing.


And that's just it - I'm not anti-enjoyment of looks. I'm not against men admiring beautiful women. Heck, I admire attractive men. It's more that this sort of commodification of cute sends a message to the men in the industry: that women are objects, that their main asset is looks, and therefore that they aren't to be taken seriously as colleagues and innovators. Then, less women get hired because women aren't encouraged to be the innovators, and the men spend less time around successful women (while still spending time around the Computer Xiaojies), and that's the view of women that they get, and the cycle repeats.

I have the same issue with entertaining for business by going out to special service KTV, hostess bars or places where women wear skimpy clothes (or no clothes) or are "for hire" - it creates an environment where that's how the men there see all women, and therefore it's harder to take female colleagues seriously - and harder for female colleagues to get ahead because they can't entertain clients in the same way.



That's what I have a problem with - not with the admiration of good looks or women using them to some degree. If I had good looks I'd use 'em too. I don't - I have brains, so I use those - but even if I were gorgeous I wouldn't be a Computer Xiaojie.


Working in the science park as often as I do, I can attest to the huge gender imbalance in the tech industry here - there are women who work in the park, but they tend to be office girls and HR, not techies (although those do exist). In the many classes I've taught at major companies there and in the Hukou Industrial Park, as well as Wugu, Huaya, Tainan (don't recall the official name of that one) and Tucheng parks, I can say that most of them are 100% male, and the few that have women have one woman out of 4, 6, 10, 12 or 16 students. In just one class do I notably have two women. That's remarkable enough that I took notice.


The upside is that the women I've taught, as few as they are, have all been engineers of some stripe. The downside is not only that there are so few of them, but that when I do take on these classes, the HR reps and office workers I deal with in the initial stages are usually women, working long hours for less pay (with far less technical expertise, though). Those women aren't 'worth' the salaries that the engineers earn, which one could argue is fair (what's not fair is pushing women into these lower-value careers - and by "lower value" I mean "not as valued by society"). They don't generally get to take English classes; it's not seen as a priority (or they're expected to already speak English well, but it's clearly not seen as important enough a skill to pay them better for it).


So, what would I like to see? A world that values women in tech as more than HR support and Computer Xiaojies, and women who value themselves enough to both shoot for the moon and demand credit, and a world where my classes full of engineers have a roughly equal ratio of men and women, because the women don't feel "othered" by the whole industry. Both in the USA and here in Taiwan.


Or maybe this issue is just really close to my heart right now because I have a meeting later to day about how I'm not getting as many of the "best" seminars (the 16-hour presentation ones) as I really should, as a senior instructor and - not to brag, but it's true - one of the best instructors. I have noticed that I helped train some of the men who do get these seminars, and that there are no women doing them. I intend to say that I can't help but wonder why this is happening when they know perfectly well I am capable - and in some respects better - than the men who are getting these gigs (not going straight for the "it's sexism" jugular, heavily implying is enough), that women who take these seminars are being shortchanged by never seeing female role models in presenting, and that with permanent residency coming up soon, they can do what they want and stay on course if they like, but I have noticed, I'm not stupid, and this will be one of the major factors that will influence my decision on where my best opportunities lie. Again, I don't need to say "stop the bullshit or your most senior instructor who consistently gets the best feedback and the highest renewal volume is going to quit". It merely needs to be implied.


So, anyway, that's my dirty lens. Down with the patriarchy.

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.