Tue, Apr 03, 2018 - Page 13 News List

Engineering social change

Australian tech entrepreneur Marita Cheng speaks to students at Taipei Municipal First Girls’ Senior High School on International Youth Day about the obstacles and opportunities for women in the world of engineering

By Liam Gibson  /  Contributing reporter

Marita Cheng, left, poses with Taipei Municipal First Girls’ Senior High School principal Yang Shih-ruey after her speech at the school last Wednesday.

Photo courtesy of Taipei First Girls’ Senior High School

Tsai Hsin-hsuan (蔡昕璇) wants to be an engineer, but her mother has other ideas.

“She thinks if I study medicine, I can marry a doctor and start a family,” says the Taipei Municipal First Girls’ Senior High School student. “But raising kids is too hard for a woman in engineering.”

Ten years ago, Marita Cheng’s mother also pushed her toward medicine. The robot inventor, tech entrepreneur and founder of Robogals, an organization that runs robotics workshops for high school girls in 10 countries, gave Tsai and her classmates new hope when she shared her success story at their school on International Youth Day last Wednesday. Cheng also addressed the challenges of being a woman in the engineering field and called for more female role models.

“Women hold up half the sky,” Cheng tells the girls. “Engineering is the driving force behind every great change in our world today; we need to get involved and be decision makers.”

‘A MAN’S WORLD’

Cheng says that girls studying engineering can get through high school and university with few hurdles, but the workplace is where reality hits.

“There can be a lot of ageism and sexism, especially in more established companies run by older men,” she says.

Women who’ve excelled academically often drop out of the industry because they aren’t respected or listened to in such companies and prefer to make a bigger impact in other fields.

“This is why so many parents tell their daughters, ‘Don’t do engineering — it’s a man’s world,’” Cheng says.

In addition, the biological clock and related social pressures mount for young women in their twenties, forcing them to weigh up career with family commitments.

“Girls want to know they are doing the right thing by everyone,” Cheng says. “There is importance placed on pleasing.”

Despite these challenges, Cheng is optimistic about the future of women in the industry.

Law and medicine were once male-dominated fields that have now reached relative parity, and Cheng says engineering is next. There are more opportunities in the field for female nowadays as they stand out from the crowd and are more likely to be considered for schools or companies looking to address their gender imbalance, she says.

WO-MENTORS NEEDED

Cheng idolized the founders of Google and Apple as a teenager, but she notes that there is a dearth of female role models in the field.

Yet, Cheng has found her greatest role model in her mom, who worked hard cleaning kitchens as a single mother to get Cheng through school.

“I inherited her ‘get on with it’ attitude,” she says. “Mom made me realize that whatever I wanted in life, I had to make it happen myself.”

Halle Shen (沈和儀) says that young women need more role models like Chen, who blazed her own path.

“I have a lot more opportunities now than she did at my age,” Shen says. “If she can achieve her dreams, then so can I.”

At least two students asked Cheng if she’d be starting a Robogals chapter in Taiwan. Cheng said that any group of three university students can start a chapter and coordinate with a university to do high school visits.

To learn more, visit www.robogals.org

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