Research suggests that despite a booming software industry in Vietnam, only a few women are found in the valued areas of employment
International studies show that women's representation in IT and software work is strong where the poorest employment conditions are to be found, whilst men have dominated in the more valued areas of employment, such as technical management; system analysis and programming (Wajcman 1991; Webster 1996; Gaio 1995; Mitter and Cecilia Ng 2005). Some recent research into the future of women in computing in Britain suggested that women's position in computing is not likely to be improved as some optimists have anticipated (Woodfield 2000). Despite these stark findings, there have been some inspiring views that opportunities for women in the field of computing will increase, in terms of both recruitment and promotion. This article that tries to explore the possible future of women in Vietnam's software industry is a compilation of data (collected during a research study).
The Vietnamese software industry
Vietnamese software industry is a new-comer in the global software industry. Most of the software firms, which are members of the Vietnamese Software Association, were only established in the early 1990s. The young Vietnamese software industry has experienced rapid growth, averaging more than 40 per cent per year during the past five years (Figure 1). By 2007, there were more than 750 software firms with 35,000 software workers. The government of Vietnam aims for the establishment of a private software sector with a strong emphasis on the export market.
The research experience
In 2004, the author carried out an extensive and systematic research on the software workforce in Vietnam. The research work covered 26 randomly selected software firms located in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City and attracting 1056 software workers, among which 787 were men and 269 were women. The research study tried to know the perceptions of software workers' (inclusive of all forms of gender) about women and their involvement in software work. Data were collected via both questionnaire surveys and in-depth interviews.
This paper has the data collected from questionnaires. Data collected during the course of the research study suggest that Vietnamese women have not had the same access to the young and rapidly growing software industry. In fact, women's participation in the industry is low and concentrated in testingi (quality assurance) activities, the task that is considered low skilled because it is seen as a woman's task. Women are discouraged from obtaining training, and are differentiated in terms of technical skills; and there are various challenges for women's advancement in software work (Pham Lobb, 2006; Wajcman and Pham Lobb 2007).
Does software work suit women or men better?
In a questionnaire survey, respondents were asked 'In your opinion, is software programming more suitable for men or women?' Three choices of answer were provided including (a) more suitable for women; (b) more suitable for men; and (c) no difference for women and men. The respondents were asked to select only one of these choices.
The responses suggest that only a very small proportion of men and women thought that software programming is more suitable for women; by contrast a large proportion of both women and men thought that software programming is more suitable for men (Table 1). More women than men considered that software work made no difference for women and men (Table 1).
Will women have a future in the software industry?
Participants in the questionnaire survey were asked several questions to try to gain an understanding of the software workers' views about the future of women in software work. The first question was 'The view has been expressed that the software industry will mainly involve women in the future. Do you agree with this statement?' Five choices of answer scaled from strongly agree to strongly disagree were provided and respondents were asked to select only one of these choices. About 67 per cent of men and 55 per cent of women disagreed with the statement that occupations in the software industry would mainly involve women in the future; another 18 per cent of men and 7 per cent of women strongly disagreed with the statement (Table 2). The proportion of women who agreed with the statement was significantly higher than that of men (10 per cent and 3 per cent respectively).
The second question was 'Are women the wrong gender for IT?' Five choices of answer scaled from strongly agree to strongly disagree were provided, and respondents were asked to select only one of these choices. Since a high proportion of both men and women did not agree that software work would be mainly for women in the future, one would expect that a high proportion of men and women would agree or strongly agree with this question. In contrary, 60 per cent of men and 65 per cent of women disagreed; another 9 per cent of men and 13 per cent of women strongly disagreed (Table 3). It is interesting to note that about 18 per cent of women software workers agreed and strongly agreed that women were the wrong gender for IT
(Table 3). Cross table data shows that these women were spread across different age groups including 25-29; 30-34 and 35-39; they were holding different positions including testers, software developers; software designers and team leader; most of them were married and had children.
So what is it about women that makes their participation in the software industry at a lower level than men? This question was asked with five choices of answer including (a) women's skills are not recognised; (b) a 'Glass Ceiling'; (c) women's lack of information; (d) women are not given the right tasks in which to excel and (e) women compromise their work for family. A five-point scale starting from strongly agree to strongly disagree was provided for each answer option and respondents were asked to respond to every option. Men software workers' responses are summarised in Table 4 and women's software workers' responses are summarised in Table 5.
The majority of men software workers agreed that compromising work in favour of family was the main reason that made women's participation in the software industry at a lower level than men; about 34 per cent of men agreed that it was because women were not given the right task in which to excel (Table 4).
A large proportion of women software workers agreed that women's participation in the software industry at lower levels than for men was because of four reasons including:
women's skills are not recognised; 'glass ceiling'; women were not given the right tasks and women compromising for family (Table 5).
The findings of the research affirm that Vietnamese software workers in general do not perceive that software work will be mainly a woman's domain in the future. There would not be much change to women's position in the software industry unless there is radical change in software workers' perception about women and software work. Men in general named 'compromising for family' as the reason leading to women's low participation in the software industry. Besides compromising for family, women recognised that lack of skills recognitions; the existence of a 'glass ceiling' and a lack of suitable tasks all contributed to their lower participation in the software industry.
ISIS, Manila, Philippines, is one of the premier NGOs working to create scientific spaces for women and buttress capacity-building among women. ISIS International launched a three-year and five-country exclusive research project named People's Communications for Development (PC4D) to explore the operational effectiveness of ICT tools in extending information and accessibility to grassroots women and to gauge the relationship between communication tools and empowerment within the lives of grassroots women in the developing South. The project embodies a three-year research study involving the participation of non-government organisations and grassroots women in Fiji, India, Papua New Guinea, Thailand, and the Philippines. The research study was executed in collaboration with four partner organisations: Aalochana Centre for Documentation and Research on Women in Pune, India; the Civil Media Development Institute (CMDI) in Bangkok, Thailand; FemLINK Pacific in Suva, Fiji; and HELP Resources Inc. in Wewak, Papua New Guinea and supported by International Development Research Centre (IDRC). The research study questioned the effectiveness of ICT-enabled framework in providing better modes of accessibility to grassroots women. Evidence from the research study shows that grassroots women in all the five countries viz. Fiji, India, Papua New Guinea, Thailand, and the Philippines, still prefer traditional communication tools like radio, television etc. to the new tools of communication and information interchange like Internet and cell phones. ISIS is currently promoting a book and a campaign on an alternative communication model that emanated from PC4D.