In the face of countless barriers, women in STEM are subject to a striking gender gap, now further set back by the ongoing pandemic, that may seem insurmountable to some. However, the future is bright for APAC women in tech as governments, businesses, and startups collaborate to enforce initiatives that break barriers, open pathways, and offer fundamental educational opportunities.  

There are undeniable barriers young girls and women face when entering the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields. The STEM gender gap is fueled by discrimination, outdated stereotypes, social norms and varying expectations women feel when deciding on a career path.

Girls and women in the Asia Pacific (APAC) region face gender discrimination and biases that prevent them from earning roles in STEM disciplines. However, some companies are trying to close the gender gap so APAC women can thrive in STEM-related fields. 

APAC woman scientist

Women in STEM in the APAC Region

A 2020 publication from UNESCO’s Bangkok Office sheds light on the rates of women who are scientific researchers in the APAC region. In South and West Asia, women hold 8.5% of research positions. In East Asia and the Pacific, women hold 23.9% of research positions. In Central Asia, women hold 48.2% of research positions.

The exclusion of women in STEM careers has a direct detrimental effect on the APAC region. For example, there is a loss of talent, ideas, and perspectives that could be revolutionary for these fields. 

Women who lack equal access to education, technology, or information and communication technologies (ICT) face more challenges in finding jobs within the sector. It is expected that by 2030, 80% of employment in the APAC region will require candidates to have digital literacy and applied ICT skills. Unless more work is done to close gender gaps in STEM, APAC women may lose out on potential job opportunities. 

A report from the Australian Academy of Science also captured some of the issues APAC women face in STEM and even considers the ongoing effects of Covid-19. The report found that the pandemic has deepened pre-existing inequalities in STEM and exacerbated job insecurity, making it that much more difficult for women to enter the workforce in APAC.

While the situation does seem discouraging for women in STEM in the APAC workforce, some bright spots are working hard to rectify gender inequalities in these career streams.

woman engineer

APAC Women Joining and Moving up in STEM Communities 

Studies show that US$28 trillion could be added to the global GDP by 2025 if women played the same role as their male counterparts in labour markets. Leaks in the STEM education pipeline need to be addressed, as encouraging young girls to pursue education can help them feel confident and ready to pursue these types of careers. 

Some organisations have implemented strategies to increase the number of women in STEM in the APAC workforce. Below are examples of programmes that are working to uplift women to climb the corporate ladder in these fields.

Code; Without Barriers

Microsoft and 13 APAC companies announced and launched Code; Without Barriers in September 2021. This programme aims to close the gender gap in the area’s fast-growing artificial intelligence (AI), cloud, and digital technology sectors. 

Code; Without Barriers works with 21 developer communities across the APAC region, including AI, data, Java, JavaScript, Python, and Women in Tech. So far, the initiative has developed 18 Women in AI certifications in eight APAC markets, trained more than 480 women, and certified 203 developers. 

Code; Without Barriers

The Asia Foundation and Zendesk Partnership

The Asia Foundation nonprofit and Zendesk, a customer service software company, partnered to launch a new social impact initiative to support women’s leadership networks in STEM in East and Southeast Asia. 

A central focus of the partnership is to fill information gaps around successful networks in Japan, Singapore, Indonesia, Korea, Malaysia, and the Philippines.

Chief Operating Officer (COO) Wendy Johnstone for Zendesk APAC commented, “We are proud to work with the Asia Foundation to support the advancement of women in STEM careers.”

Wendy Johnstone, chief operating officer of Zendesk Asia-Pacific

STEM Women Asia

STEM Women Asia launched in 2021 and is led by the Australian Academy of Science in partnership with the Association of Academies and Societies of Sciences in Asia (AASSA) and the InterAcademy Partnership (IAP).

STEM Women Asia will provide an online directory consisting of women in Asia and Oceania that work in these fields. The project links a diverse range of women with opportunities to speak at conferences, participate on boards and committees, earn nominations for awards, and talk to the media. Users can even message women in STEM directly.

These three programmes show that women in STEM in the APAC region have a promising future. With time, collaboration, and more initiatives, the gender gaps in the field will continue to dissipate. 

STEM Women Asia

A Growing Need for More Women STEM Leaders in APAC

The STEM disciplines play a significant role in managing and understanding the world’s complexities. Young students who learn STEM skills, such as critical thinking, problem-solving, analytical thinking, and evaluating evidence, are better equipped to meet the challenges and demands of an increasingly digital, technologically advanced society.

APAC women must earn a seat at the table and take on leadership roles in STEM fields. The future looks bright, so it will be fascinating to see the effectiveness of the initiatives listed above.

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