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Bridging the IT gender gap【China Daily 17.3.16】

Bridging the IT gender gap

By Nan-Hie In

Diversity problems in Silicon Valley continue to take center stage but to what extent do these issues also resonate in Hong Kong’s startup community? Tech experts weigh in on the topic. Nan-Hie In reports.

Bridging the IT gender gap

Diversity woes in Silicon Valley are making headlines again as Arjuna Capital’s push for transparency in the gender pay gap in the tech sector gains traction.

The investment firm is pressuring shareholders at seven tech giants, including eBay, Amazon, Google, Microsoft and Facebook, to disclose salary disparities of men and women and more. Amazon and eBay have balked, whereas Intel and Apple have embraced them. Other firms will vote on the proposals this year.

The movement was ignited after an uproar over comments by Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella in 2014 that women should refrain from asking for pay raises but should have faith in the system.

Jennifer Carver, chief investment officer at Nest in Hong Kong, applauds Arjuna Capital’s movement but cautions companies not to get too carried away so as to overlook the meritocracy. Skills and experience should shape salaries. “Sometimes the conversation turns too much around pushing women as opposed to pushing capable women and helping women to be more effective in the work place,” she says.

The industry veteran also claims pay inequality is not as prevalent in Hong Kong, where the startup scene remains too green to have developed these issues to the same degree.

Eda Chow echoes that view. She’s a career tech entrepreneur who just opened Maker Lab, a hardware products innovation lab in North Point focused on digital fabrication technologies. “I was paid decently during my startup and tech career. I was even paid a little higher than my male counterparts,” she says. “When I’m the boss, I pay my staff based on their experience and not their gender,” adds the co-founder of Maker Lab.

In other areas of the industry gender imbalances are evident. Chow has attended tech events and mentoring programs where she was the only female entrepreneur present. Tech experts elaborate on various gender diversity issues and efforts to help close these gender gaps in Hong Kong.

Tech’s discrimination

Ping Wong, the CEO of Evention, a mobile-based event solution helping organizers stage events, has observed underrepresentation of women in her industry. For instance, Wong, who has 15 years of experience in the IT industry is the only woman on the eight-member board of the Hong Kong Internet Registration Corporation.

She recalls a dinner gathering at which tech peers asked everyone to count how many female tech startup founders they knew in Hong Kong. “I could count them on my 10 fingers,” she says.

Many factors are at work behind the gender imbalance. That includes what Wong dubs as “unconscious bias” in the industry. She says it’s not active discrimination but gender bias among industry professionals, rooted in social culture and expectations. “For example, employers are not conscious about wanting to recruit male developers but they believe it perhaps due to a long-held perception that men are better at coding than women,” she says.

She suggests women give voice to these issues to challenge such misperceptions in the hopes that decision-makers use more objective criteria in assessing tech professionals for hiring and promotion.

Another factor that deters women from the industry is the traditional Asian culture that expects women to carry the bulk of family responsibilities. “These (expectations) not only come from your husband but your husband’s family and your family, which amounts to a lot of pressure,” she says. Wong implores family members to encourage and support women with startup founder ambitions or other dreams in the field. That includes the sharing of family responsibilities.

Wong and some of her industry friends plan to launch Tech X Women within a few months. It’s planned as a platform to help women in the tech sector to connect, share knowledge, support and mentor each another.

One of the initiatives includes trips to Silicon Valley, to experience the startup culture and mindset. “When I went a few years ago to Silicon Valley, it changed my thinking, that I can do much more than I had thought,” she says, adding that the experience shaped her current startup.

On those trips, Wong observed stark differences  in the mindset of US and Hong Kong entrepreneurs. Startup founders in Silicon Valley tend to take bigger risks and hold grand visions of their concepts. “Often they would say ‘I want to make a product that changes the world,’” says Wong. Most young people in Hong Kong tend to aim to make lots of money to buy a flat, says Wong.

“If you don’t think big you will never be big; for young people and for startups, I think the mindset is very important,” she says.

Nothing ventured

In Silicon Valley, gender inequity is most amplified at the investor level, as Ellen Pao’s sex discrimination lawsuit in 2015 has highlighted. Studies also reflect this. Babson College’s survey in 2014 found that only 6 percent of decision makers in venture capital firms in the US were female, a decline from the 10 percent in 1999.

Carver says this is because “the old boy network is just too difficult to overcome.” However the situation is not the same in Hong Kong’s young startup ecosystem. For example, four or five years ago there were no early stage venture capital firms in Hong Kong, so that issue didn’t even exist.

“Among the early stage venture capitalists we work with, there are still fewer women than men but it’s not 6 percent; it’s maybe 40 percent or 30 percent,” she reveals.

There was a time  gender equality in the Hong Kong investment scene was worse. Carver’s nearly 30-year career in asset management began in 1987, in equity sales in Hong Kong. Back then, brokers and clients were predominately male. “I went to a lot of hostess clubs and drank a lot of scotch and smoked a lot of cigars,” she recalls. That was how you got business back then.

She found she was excluded from after-hour outings where deal-making, idea-sharing and networking were done. She couldn’t get into The Chinnery Bar at the Mandarin Oriental, a popular hangout for brokers. In those days women were not allowed.

Conditions have changed dramatically since. In the tech field, for example, Chow, Carver and Wong claim they do not feel excluded from social occasions because of their gender. “Because of the early stage of the ecosystem, everybody wants to include many people so they can get things moving,” explains Carver.

The investment head at Nest foresees more women participating in the industry, as Hong Kong’s startup culture matures. Her firm is at the forefront of advancing this community. Nest’s founder Simon Squibb, for example, has been persuading InvestHK to do more to build the city’s startup culture and his efforts have paid off. StartmeupHK was one result: a week-long events and activities for new and promising companies, organized by InvestHK. Its recent launch drew considerable attention with Tesla and SpaceX founder Elon Musk as its keynote speaker.

Nest also launched the Step Up series at its AIA Accelerator debut in Hong Kong this month. The aim was to highlight issues such as raising capital to help female entrepreneurs. However, as its first event, the lack of men in the audience concerned Carver. “We need to engage men but they don’t show up for those conversations. Without them, things won’t change as rapidly as they need to,” she says.

Education can also be improved to help close the gender gap. Local schools must shift away from its heavy test-oriented approach and an educational culture that fosters a negative stay-within-your-confines mindset. She has noticed some universities now focus on entrepreneurial studies. “That’s a good move to teach kids to think out of the box but it needs to start earlier,” she says.

Tackling the cultures that define gender roles and women’s pressures at home are trickier. As she says, it’s a challenging global issue. Male support of women including willingness to share family responsibilities are key to recalibrating gender imbalances in the sector. “It comes back to having more men involved in these conversations to understand the issues and participate in them,” she explains.

While it is important to have this dialogue among men and women, at the same time she takes issue with the fact that question is still under discussion in 2016. “I look forward to the day these conversations doesn’t need to happen.”

 

The opinions expressed are solely her own.
Ping_profile
ABOUT PING

Female serial entrepreneur, CEO and Co-founder of EVENTION, her 2nd tech startup.Business development & marketing professional with >15 yrs’ exp in IT. Writer for HK & regional media.

 

Original article was published on《Tech in Asia》on 17 Mar 2016

日本長青企業給創業者的三個啟示 (信報﹣StartUpBeat 22.3.2016)

創業者總喜歡向創業先驅取經,每天必看Tim Cook、Mark Zuckerberg、Elon Musk等成功創業家的博客,以及將《Zero to One》、《The Hard Thing About The Hard
Things》等創業書藉奉為「創業聖經」,希望從中吸收寶貴經驗,摸索出成功之路。

作為創業者,筆者完全同意參考前人及成功創業者的路,相信有助創業路走得比較容易一些,可是成功從來沒有一條特定的公式。

最近筆者偶爾閱讀了幾篇文章,是關於有數十年歷史的日本「長青」企業,發現從設計理念到經營管理,這些品牌及企業都展現了日本人與生俱來的「減法美學」,建構出「精簡、穩實」的企業,絕對值得創業者參考。

1. 開發產品首要原則:少即是多

如其名,無印良品主打無標誌(logo)、少設計(Design)的家庭用品,貫徹「這樣就好」的理念,產品功能基本上是解決生活問題,沒有多餘、花巧的功能。

這個理念充分體現在無印良品研發家電上。

90年代,當中國及韓國廠商開始以廉價家電作為賣點,希望與一直佔據亞洲家電市場的日本分一杯羹,大多數日本廠商為了迎戰,通過增加產品功能來「收復失地」,然而無印良品卻反其道而行,堅持只開發具有基本功能的家電,以保持質素及具競爭力的價格。

「無印」認為,家電是生活必需品,只要保留基本的功能就能滿足大部分家庭的需要,相反,太多花巧的功能不僅增加成本,抬高產品價格,還會令使用者感到無所適從。

無印良品官網圖片

無印良品官網圖片

筆者認為這個理念同樣適用於創業者將意念(idea)轉化成產品(product)的過程,創業者假若一味只以「求新求變」作為立足點,往往會製造出花巧但又不實際的產品。反而,學習「無印」只著眼於消費者的基本需求,剔除華而不實的功能,在開發產品前弄清楚用戶的確實痛點在那,再「對症下藥」,才是上策。

另一間實行「這樣就好」理念的企業,是休閒服飾設計、生產及零售商 - Uniqlo。

Uniqlo在個人服飾銷售行業中算是異類,其經營理念是「要生產和銷售適合所有人穿著的衣服」。在一個追求個性的服飾行業中,每個潮流服飾品牌都有其獨特個性,Uniqlo郤堅持「衣服是配角,人才是主角」,希望消費者通過自由配搭Uniqlo的簡約服飾來塑造其個人獨特個性。

創業者必然知道「以客為先」, 也會在開發產品前做不少市場調查,但事實是,由於資源和技術的限制,創業者往往難以同時「滿足消費者的要求」,亦能「發展產品的獨特性」,平衡兩者實不易。

Uniqlo正是一個很好的參考例子,去除了服飾的個性化,使消費者能按照自己的意願,任意配搭,來打造自我風格,真正達至所有創業者一直追求「消費者為主」的目的。

Uniqlo官網圖片

Uniqlo官網圖片

2. 親身觀察用戶,不僅是透過機器或大數據

從傳統製造業到資訊科技行業, 「如何了解用戶」永遠是個棘手的問題。

無印良品試圖透過不同的渠道收集客戶聲音,除了一般門市、網站、電話、試用及市場調查外,最值得一提的是其獨特的「觀察法」調查。

「無印」將不同背景的員工,如設計師、採購員及管理層等組成調查小組對客戶進行家訪,以不同背景的人,從不同角度觀察客戶如何使用產品。觀察後,
便與客戶傾談,從他們口中得知對產品的好壞評價,更重要是親身感受他們對產品的真實感覺。觀察對象最好是家人或親戚等比較親近的人,那就沒避忌了,更容易聽到真心話。在這個過程中,調查小組能在客戶身上觀察到產品的不同用法,甚至連產品開發者也意想不到、創新的使用方式,從而改善產品,令客戶更方便及滿意。

現今很多技術工具能讓創業者更容易取得客戶使用產品時的狀態及數據,但能否真正了解客戶,幫助產品開發及公司發展?筆者認為親身的觀察會了解到很多,這是機器及大數據所不能剖析的一面。

3. 斷絕不需要的東西,捨棄多餘的事物,專注核心業務

產品推出市場後並準備進一步擴展版圖時,創業者往往需要停下來檢討眼前發展策略。

日產汽車曾經跨界發展航空業,但2000年後,公司開始陸續出售這片「仍獲厚利的肥肉」,理由是想將全部資源集中於企業的核心業務﹣汽車生產,以保持其在全球市場上的領先地位。

與日產相似,零食製造商卡樂B專注只賣馬鈴薯製成的零食,一賣便是60多年了。為保持公司業務的精簡,卡樂B還會定期舉行「下架」會議,果斷結束被認定與企業發展方向不一致的業務。

除了一開始推出的產品或業務,不少創業者都會發展「副業」,以便雙管齊下,增加收入,然而這種做法很容易令企業偏離原本發展路向及理念。筆者建議創業者應學習日本「斷絕不需要的東西,捨棄多餘的事物」(斷舍離)的經營學,對於與企業未來發展方向不一致的業務,一定要果斷地、堅決地「壯士斷臂」。

說到底,通往成功之路並沒有特定既有的公式,但在通往成功的道路上,創業者既要向科技巨頭、成功創業者學習,也應從傳統「長青」企業身上學習,明白「少即是多」(Less is more) 的美學,以穩健、扎實的每一小步朝著大目標進發。

nissan

日產香港官網

(文章只代表個人立場)

Ping_proifle_pic2-1x-500x500

 

王嘉屏

EVENTION 行政總裁

香港互聯網協會 總監及創業小組召集人

 

原文刊於《信報2016年03月22日

3 things entrepreneurs should learn from established Japanese brands like Muji and Nissan(Tech in Asia 9.3.2016)

Entrepreneurs like to learn from the pioneers in the industry – they hunt for the key to success from the blogs of successful entrepreneurs like Tim Cook, Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk; they read books like Zero to One and The Hard Thing About Hard Things from end to end, regarding as bibles for starting up companies.

As an entrepreneur, I totally agree that it’s much easier to kickstart your journey on the shoulders of giants. But there is no single formula for success.

I recently came across several books and studies about Japanese companies with decades of history, and I found that these brands perfectly embodied the beauty of subtraction. From their design philosophies to management strategies, they seemed to be born with the power of building business lean. These are the 3 things entrepreneurs can definitely learn from them.

1. When developing your product, less is more

muji-body-fit-cushion-0

 

Photo credit: MUJIglobal

Tagged as “brandless brand”, Muji is a retail company selling no-logo household and consumer goods with minimalist design. The brand goes by the philosophy of “no flash, just functions” to indicate what’s appropriate for every day life.

This goal is manifested for example, in their development process of household appliances. When manufacturers from China and South Korea targeted the Japan-dominated market with a low pricing strategy after the 1990s, most manufacturers in Japan tried to reclaim the lost ground with a wide variety of functions. Muji steered the opposite way – developing products with basic functions so as to keep the quality and price competitive. The company believes that household appliances with basic functions are enough for most families. On the contrary, customers might get lost in the fancy functions which also bloat the price of the product.

This is also true when entrepreneurs turn ideas into products. Innovation-oriented market positioning often leads to fancy features that fail to meet the consumer’s basic needs. While Muji’s approach is to make something people want and need, but not more, “nice to have” functions should be eliminated. Entrepreneurs should figure out problems that need to be solved and develop corresponding solutions that touch on the right pain points.

Uniqlo, the casual wear designer, manufacturer and retailer, is another Japanese brand with a no-frills design philosophy. Uniqlo is quite the rebel in the apparel industry — producing and selling clothes designed for everyone. In an industry stressing on one’s personality and individuality, Uniqlo focuses more on customers than clothes, and believes that customers can develop their own styles by mixing and matching its simply-designed clothes.

Entrepreneurs must have read quite a few suggestions on putting “customers first” and done market research before developing their products. But the truth is that balancing customers’ needs and product differentiation is not easy, due to limitations in resources and technology.

Uniqlo is one example of a brand that takes away the personalized features of their clothes and enables customers to personalize their styles on their own accord, indeed reaching the “customer-oriented” goal that many entrepreneurs have long sought.

2. Observe users, and not just through big data

Here comes another thorny issue – how could I know what my customers want? From manufacturing to the IT industry, conducting customer research is never easy.

Muji tries to communicate with costumers through different channels, including service counters in retail stores, their website, through the telephone and from market research.

However, what inspires me the most is the way Muji observes their customers. Muji built investigation teams composed of designers, buyers and management-level staff for customer home visits, in order to observe customers’ usage behaviors from different angles with the team members from different backgrounds. After the observation, they would interview these customers, directly getting comments on products and a sense of their customer’s sentiments.

During the process, investigation teams would find out about how different customers use the same product, some in innovative ways the product designers had never expected.

For entrepreneurs, there are some tools in the market for analysing consumer behavior. Although these could be used to get insights on consumer preferences, it is important not to neglect the human touch in trying to understand aspects of people where machines fall short.

3. Be decisive, and stay focused on the core of the business

2016-nissan-rogue-cayenne-red-large-car

 

 

Photo credit: Nissan USA

After launching products and scaling, entrepreneurs would probably pause to review their strategies before progressing further.

Multinational automobile manufacturer Nissan once dipped their toes in the aviation industry. But after 2000, the company successfully sold this high-end profitable business, in order to hold the lead on the global automobile market with a centralized set of resources.

This strategy is similar to that of snack food manufacturer Calbee, which has persisted in only selling potato-based snacks for over 60 years. And in order to keep businesses lean, it holds regular “off-shelf” meeting for superfluous product lines.

Apart from the products they have initially launched, entrepreneurs would also invest resources in side projects, hoping to boost revenues along both lines. However, this approach may cause them to sidetrack and deviate away from their original intentions for the business. I would suggest never to linger on businesses that do not coincide with your future plans for your business.

In conclusion, there is no foolproof formula for success. But on the way, most entrepreneurs should not only learn from technology giants, but from traditional industries, understanding the beauty of “less is more” and chasing big goals with small, manageable steps.

The opinions expressed are solely her own.
Ping_proifle_pic2-1x-500x500

 

ABOUT PING

Female serial entrepreneur, CEO and Co-founder of EVENTION, her 2nd tech startup.Business development & marketing professional with >15 yrs’ exp in IT. Writer for HK & regional media.

 

Original article was published on《Tech in Asia》on 9 Mar 2016