How does Malaysia encourage so many women in software?

 In 2003 I gave a talk in Malaysia. What I noticed immediately is that my audience was well over half women. This was really noticeable because they were all wearing brightly colored hijabs. Usually I scan the room and count how many women I can find – usually on my fingers even in a room of hundreds. Hijab-programmer-womanYet here were hundreds of women attending a talk about the economics of open source software!

I've wondered ever since what they do so differently in Malaysia that they get so many more women involved in software. Is it something we could do as well?

A recent study offers a theory:

in Malaysia jobs in technology
are seen as appropriate for women: Men do not perceive indoor work as
masculine and much of society stigmatizes women who work outdoors as
lower class. Computing and programming are seen as “women-friendly”
professions, with opportunities opening up since men are not
interested in competing for these types of jobs. “It’s a woman’s world
in that respect,” said Mellstrom.

So women that work in software are higher class. Where as in my experience it's often been insinuated in the US that if you are attractive or social, there are better careers for you. "You're a programmer?? You don't look like one!"

6 Replies to “How does Malaysia encourage so many women in software?”

  1. “You’re a programmer?? You don’t look like one!”
    It really sucks that most societies don’t progress away from this ignorant type of thinking.
    MLK said, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”
    Still, people tend to relate that comment to just skin color related issues, when it’s about being judged by your character.
    When you go in for a job interview, you’re judged based on your clothing, your hair style, your make up, the way you look, your sex, the way you smell, etc..
    It’s all rather annoying that people are still so ignorant.

  2. Lots of cool role models. Promote them.
    When you talk to 6th grade girls, they already think that saying they like math is a bad thing.
    I will never forget in 10th grade when I started a new school … they didn’t know what math class I should be in so they told me to go to both the first day. At recess another girl told me I didn’t want to be in last period math. Turns out that was the advanced class. I ended up in last period math and the girl became one of my good friends. I never talked her into last period math class though …

  3. Unfortunately the URL I had is no longer working. But I had some old data about it. It seems that back in 1986, the government launched a program aiming to push Malaysia to be a developed country. Among other actions, the Computers in Education started teaching computers to children at very young age. One thing let to another, like the increase of professional computer courses, universities and computer clubs, and by 1990, 45% of IT workforce was female.
    You may want to talk to Pia Waugh, first time I heard that was from her.

Comments are closed.