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Webinar Recap: Thoughtful Leadership - Addressing and Closing Gender Gaps in Education

Updated: Apr 27, 2022

On February 22nd, ClassIn presented its third event of the Thoughtful Leadership webinar series, setting eyes beyond what’s in the classroom to address structural issues in the education system, specifically gender gaps. Moderated by ClassIn’s Lingyue Zheng, the panel featured Ning Shirakawa, advisor at Waffle, and Jill Tang, co-founder of Ladies Who Tech.

The speakers contextualized the discussion in STEM education in East Asia – where are we in trying to reach gender equality in education? What are the key barriers that may or may not be unique to this region? And how are the speakers initiating changes, both with everyday practices and longer-term endeavors?

Addressing and Closing Gender Gaps in Education Event Poster

Japan’s Gender Gap in STEM Education: Planting Seeds of Hope

“Bad news, worse news, and some hopeful stuff,” Ning Shirakawa set the scene for her presentation on Japan’s gender gap in tech.

How is Japan doing in terms of gender issues? Shirakawa answered the question with hard-hitting statistics: Japan ranks 121st out of 153 countries in gender equality, and Japan’s wage gap between genders is the 2nd worst in OECD countries. Female students report waning interests in tech as they proceed in their educational journey, and by the time they reach higher education, only 7% of all female university students seek STEM degrees.

Coupled with the bigger picture of wage stagnation and a shortage of tech workforce, things are not looking great for girls in Japan who want to grow and realize their dreams in the tech industry.

Ning Shirakawa presenting data on Japan's current situation of gender equality

“Even with all those gender discriminations in society, the girls [in Japan] are outperforming the majority of the boys in other countries,” Shirakawa highlighted. “They are actually really really good at math, but they believe they are bad at it.”

Doing away with the bias that girls are not the right fit for STEM subjects, Shirakawa emphasized the importance of accurate representation of working in tech. “For example, visiting Google was one of the things we did at my previous startup, and a lot of boys and girls started to get interested in this field,” she reflected.

Shirakawa presenting statistics on Japanese girls' math performance

Closing the gender gap takes the efforts of all sectors, and luckily, things are in motion.

Shirakawa pointed out that “Getting as many female university students as possible in this path is beneficial for everyone in this context because japan is short of tech workers; corporations are wanting to step up, and everybody is trying to change.”

"Getting as many female university students as possible in this path is beneficial for everyone in this context because japan is short of tech workers; corporations are wanting to step up, and everybody is trying to change." --- Ning Shirakawa, Advisor at Waffle

Waffle, a non-profit organization, is a driving force in empowering and educating women in tech with curated programs.

  • Waffle Camp, two-day coding camp for middle school and high school students who identify as girls or gender minorities.

  • Technovation Girls, the Japanese chapter of the world’s biggest app making contest, where girls use apps to solve real-world problems.

  • Waffle’s Young Women in Tech Leadership Program, programming workshops and conferences, was selected for the Impact Challenge for Women and Girls.

“I know there are a lot of not very good news, but we are trying with the power of coding and entrepreneurship experiences…and the takeaway is that help us empower girls in Japan. It’s worth it,” Shirakawa concluded.

Shirakawa calling on everyone to help empower girls in Japan

Women in China’s Digital Economy: Keeping the Momentum Going

Despite the fact that women only make up 10% of the digital teams in China, Jill Tang kicked off her presentation with an optimistic tone – there’s a good foundation to push forward gender equality in tech industries in China.

“Now, they [the government] are looking at how they can advance women in STEM…From the corporates’ perspective as well as the government’s perspective, they have to look at what’s going on,” she stated.

Jill Tang citing data on China's current digital economy

In addition to a favorable environment, Tang pointed to more hopeful news: the number of netizens in China is almost evenly split between men and women, and access to digital skills learning is equally distributed across regions.

Women themselves are also exhibiting a strong desire to pick up more digital skills, according to a recent whitepaper published by Ladies Who Tech. Tang underlined that women are driven by both external and internal motives to study, which translates to a greater commitment of time and money.

“Actually, when women invest in digital empowerment, they can increase their work efficiency, and it can lead to economic empowerment as well…If they earn more money, they will pay more taxes, and the GDP of the country will also increase,” Tang emphasized. “That’s why everything is actually linked together. It’s not about the responsibility for a company, for a government, or for an individual. Everyone benefits from empowering women, especially in tech.”

“That’s why everything is actually linked together. It’s not about the responsibility for a company, for a government, or for an individual. Everyone benefits from empowering women, especially in tech.” --- Jill Tang, Co-Founder of Ladies Who Tech

However, uplifting women is impossible to be achieved by and should not fall on a single community. Tang advocated that “Especially in the tech industry, most of the middle and top management seats are still held by men. We really need to have more male allies to support and be part of the journey…More workplace policies should be designed and placed smartly to change the current situation. And in the end, everyone has a role to play in this cause.”

Tang presenting her call to action

Co-founding Ladies Who Tech, a social enterprise aiming to improve gender diversity and inclusion in STEM, Tang stressed that the organization focuses on four aspects.

  • Awareness and Inspiration: to present female role models to all girls.

  • Digital Upskilling and Reskilling: to help girls advance their tech skills or transition to tech.

  • Career Development: to showcase what careers look like in different tech industries and roles.

  • Inclusive Leadership: to educate leaders on why it is important to have inclusive leadership, and how they can create further impact within the company.

Panel Discussion and Audience Q&A

Following the keynotes, the speakers reflected on how their international backgrounds impacted their understanding of women’s roles in the workplace.

For Shirakawa, who moved to the US after high school, the misogyny and gender wage gap in Japan are evident through observing her female peers back home. For Tang, she pointed to cross-cultural experiences as the inspiration for founding her organization.

“We started Ladies Who Tech also because my co-founder was in San Francisco to witness a thousand women in tech at one conference - astronauts, data scientists, AI experts, and that’s really cool. And then we asked ourselves: why don’t we have this in China? So the following year, we started this community,” Tang said.

Addressing girls who are aspiring to enter tech fields, both speakers upheld the sisterhood not only as a great source of support but also a hub of information and opportunities.

“I’m super inspired by the sisterhood…but if I want to help girls in the future maybe in art or in tech, there is a gap between education and cultural backgrounds. Is there any advice for helping them?,” asked Echo in the audience.

Audience Q&A on how to help other girls in the long term

Shirakawa encouraged making changes in incremental ways. “Be the catalyst yourself and show them they can do it with small examples,” she said, suggesting referencing established facts and stats to correct existing bias.

Wrapping up the event on the topic of how to battle microaggressions, Tang foregrounded strategic moves in everyday communication: “One, empathy – to really understand their intentions. Two, we cannot change their ideas, but how can we smartly present who we are?”

“I think you can do one more thing, which is to educate people to have a better awareness…Share your experiences in hopefully a safe environment, and that actually will change the world a little bit at a time,” Shirakawa added.

Speaker profiles

Ning Shirakawa is a published author and the Global Innovation Catalyst. Co-Founder at Taktopia & Co, and keynote speaker on innovation. Through Taktopia, she mentored 15,000 students and worked with more than 200 schools. She also created HeroMakers, a teacher innovation program in collaboration with METI. In advising at Waffle and founding a series of programs and initiatives, she has pioneered in women empowerment. Her strategic focus is to help young professionals gain the confidence and skills to innovate, and in particular, to empower women and girls through entrepreneurship and tech education. She is featured in the MIT Bootcamp MOOC, “Entrepreneurship 102: What is your product?”. Her stories have been published by media outlets from around the world.

Jill Tang is a serial entrepreneur, community builder and Women in STEM advocate.

She is the co-founder of Ladies Who Tech, a social enterprise focusing on changing the status quo and promotes gender diversity and inclusion in STEM industry through offering digital upskilling education, career opportunities and community network. It connects more than 50,000+ members across all social media in greater China, South East Asia and North America. Jill is the finalist for 2016 Australia China Young Alumni of the year and top 100 Gen T in China by Asia Tatler in 2019. In 2020, Jill was awarded ’Social Impact Award’ at AmCham Future Leaders of the Year Award.

Related Resources

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About ClassIn:

Read more:

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*ClassIn is a leading edtech company that provides a one-stop solution for digital learning.

ClassIn software enables interactive classrooms, in-school social app, lesson scheduling, homework management, and school management dashboard, which start free and scale up to meet our customers' needs at any stage of teaching. Today, thousands of schools and institutions around the world benefit from ClassIn's powerful and easy-to-use tools to teach online and offline.

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