Most Influential Asian and Pacific Islander Women in Computer Science
| Ashley Reid Updated on July 14, 2022
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The Harvard Business Review found women in STEM — including Asian women — receive gender-based comments. 37% of Asian women surveyed reported being told they should work less after having children, while 41% said they felt pressured to take on stereotypically feminine roles at work.
Despite the pressures of the male-dominated workforce, Asian and Pacific Islander women are making strides in computer science. Data from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) shows the number of computer science bachelor's degrees conferred on Asian and Pacific Islander women has continued to increase in recent years: 4,668 in the 2019-20 school year, compared to 3,943 in the 2018-19 school year and 3,206 in the 2017-18 school year.
Some of the most notable inventions, apps, and programs came from Asian and Pacific Islander women. Keep reading to learn about ten of the most influential Asian and Pacific Islander women in tech. Explore their groundbreaking research and activism below.
What Makes These Asian and Pacific Islander Women Important to Computer Science?
The women listed below have made impacts across different computer science domains, and their influence expands much further. Many advocate for diversity by promoting gender and racial equality in the technology sector. Some work with youth in Asia and the Pacific Islands, while others make computer science education more accessible in the U.S.
Still others have created foundational technology, laying the groundwork for modern advances. These influential Asian and Pacific Islander women have impacted all areas of computer science, from AI to computational biology.
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Pacific Islander and Asian Women in Computer Science
The following list includes ten of the most influential Pacific Islander and Asian women in the technology sector. The list — organized alphabetically by last name — includes women in all areas of computer science.
Some women highlighted here work exclusively in computer engineering, while others combine tech with other fields.
Sanghamitra Bandyopadhyay boasts a long list of accolades. She first completed her bachelor of science in physics in 1988. Bandyopadhyay then earned a bachelor of technology in computer science and engineering from Calcutta University. In 1994, she graduated with a master of technology in computer and information technology.
Bandyopadhyay received a Ph.D. in computer science from the Indian Statistical Institute (ISI) in 1998. After graduation, she started working as a lecturer — then a professor — at ISI. In 2015, she became the first female director at ISI.
Her extensive research includes fields like pattern recognition and data mining. One main focus of Bandyopadhyay's work includes computational biology and bioinformatics. In 2017, she received the Infosys Prize for her algorithmic optimization that helps analyze biological data. This work has global impact: Through advanced algorithms, for example, she found a genetic marker for breast cancer.
Bandyopadhyay acknowledges the existing gender stereotypes in India. She hopes that with role models like herself, more girls can explore what they like — including STEM careers.
Josephine Cheng grew up in a traditional Chinese home where girls were not expected to attend college. However, with support from her mother, Cheng completed her bachelor's in mathematics and computer science in 1975. Two years later, she earned her master's in computer science.
For almost three decades, Cheng has been a leader in relational database technology. She helped produce technologies like DB2 World-Wide Web and XML Extender for DB2. Cheng oversaw the China Software Development Laboratory and served as vice president of IBM China Development Laboratories. She has also worked as the vice president of IBM Research — Almaden.
Cheng has spoken about some of the challenges she faced in her career, including how to sell her ideas and deliver information about these concepts quickly. As someone working in emerging tech, she has learned to be persistent and persuasive.
Cheng has received numerous awards for her work, including Asian American Engineer of the Year in 2003.
Tracy Chou earned her bachelor's in electrical engineering and master's in computer science from Stanford University. After interning with Facebook and Google, she worked as a software engineer for Quora and Pinterest.
Over the past decade, Chou has received increased attention for her tech diversity activism. She has openly called out gender and racial inequalities in the tech field and endured years of online harassment.
These experiences led her to combine her computer science and entrepreneurial skills. She launched the #MovingForward social movement, which helps firms create anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policies. Chou also co-founded Project Include. This nonprofit consulting group promotes inclusion and diversity in the tech industry.
Today, Chou works as the CEO of Block Party, an app she founded to help create a safer online user experience. Block Party offers protection from online harassment. Chou has received multiple recognitions for her tech and activism work, appearing in Vogue, Wired, and the Forbes "30 Under 30" list for consumer technology.
At 16, Fei-Fei Li moved to the United States from China. She excelled in school and earned a scholarship at Princeton University. While in college, Li balanced studying and working at her parent's dry-cleaning business. She majored in physics but also explored engineering and computer science.
After graduation, Li attended the California Institute of Technology. While there, she earned master's and doctoral degrees in electrical engineering. Today, she co-directs Stanford University's Institute for Human-Centered Artificial Intelligence.
She has earned widespread recognition for her AI research. In 2009, Li and her team published a paper on her machine vision invention, ImageNet. This image database improved computer accuracy and launched modern-day deep learning.
Li continues to make waves with her AI research and advocacy. She co-founded the nonprofit AI4ALL, which promotes inclusion in the AI field.
Jean Qing Liu
Jean Qing Liu learned about entrepreneurship and computer science through family ties. Her father founded the computer-making company Lenovo. Following in his footsteps, Liu co-founded the mobile transportation platform, DiDi.
She attended Peking University and earned her bachelor's in computer science. She then completed a master's in computer science at Harvard University. New York University later awarded her an honorary doctorate in commercial science.
Liu began her career in 2002 with Goldman Sachs. In 2014, she started with DiDi as the chief operating officer. Jean led the company to quick success, eventually buying Uber's business in China.
Liu advocates for a collaborative approach to business that connects the tech and automotive industries to better serve urban communities. She also established DiDi Women's Network, the first of its kind in the Chinese tech industry. It offers all female employees career development and empowerment opportunities.
Saryu Nayyar learned the value of hard work and education from her parents. They went to the United States to complete their Ph.D. programs. After returning to India, her mother broke workplace gender barriers by becoming an attorney and later a judge.
Inspired by her mother, Nayyar moved to the United States alone at 15. Several years later, she earned a bachelor's degree in management information systems while working multiple jobs.
An internship with The Walt Disney Company launched her cybersecurity career. After working for companies like Oracle and Ernst & Young, she took an entrepreneurial focus. In 2010, Nayyar co-founded the cybersecurity company Gurucul. She now works as the CEO. Nayyar has also published a book and shares her expertise as a member of the Forbes Technology Council.
Thanks to her innovative approach to cybersecurity, Cyber Defense Magazine named Nayyar one of 2021's top ten women in cybersecurity. Her other accomplishments include pending patents for technological inventions.
Poornima Vijayashanker earned degrees in electrical and computer engineering and computer science from Duke University. Her tech career began at Synopsis, where she worked as a research and development engineer.
Vijayashanker left a master's degree in computer science program at Stanford University to co-found Mint, a personal financial management application. She then continued her entrepreneurial career and founded BizeeBee, a management software for small businesses.
In 2007, Vijayashanker also began an engineering blog, where she wrote about her journey as a female engineer in a male-dominated industry. That blog turned into Femgineer, an educational resource for the tech community.
Through Femgineer, Vijayashanker guides tech professionals toward successful careers, teaching them to build software companies and improve their public speaking skills. Over the years, she has spoken at businesses, universities, and tech start-ups.
Cher Wang comes from a high-profile Taiwanese family: Her father founded the Formosa Plastics Corporation, valued at $23.45 billion as of June 2022. Wang planned to pursue a music career, but set aside her dreams and graduated from the University of California, Berkeley with an economics degree.
Her first job involved selling motherboards for First International Computer, Inc. Based on customer interest, Wang created a division that sold motherboards for custom PCs. Her decision led to the company becoming a leading motherboard provider in the 1980s.
After her success at First International Computer, Wang founded VIA Technologies in 1987, which provides innovative AI solutions and motherboards. In 1997, she co-founded HTC, a global leader in smart mobile devices.
Inspired by innovators like Marie Curie and Jennifer Doudna, Wang works to overcome gender stereotypes in her career by focusing on her entrepreneurial goals rather than her position as a woman in technology.
Wang believes technology can help promote equality. As HTC's current chairwoman, she states that HTC products help more people benefit from technology. She also works as a philanthropist, providing scholarships and technology to low-income Asian communities.
Jeannette Wing has been a computer science leader for several decades. Her specialties include AI and data science.
She attended the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In 1979, she graduated with a bachelor's in computer science and engineering and a master's in electrical engineering and computer science. Wing then completed her computer science doctorate in 1983.
Her work history includes prestigious research and teaching positions at Microsoft, Carnegie Mellon University, and the University of Southern California. Wing began working for Columbia University in 2017, directing the Data Science Institute. More recently, she became the first Asian American woman to work as the school's executive vice president for research.
Wing's research has significantly impacted the computer science field, with her findings making contributions to programming languages, cybersecurity, and AI. Her essay about computational thinking helped transform education by showing the benefits of applying computer science's problem-solving approach across all fields.
Although Tania Wolfgramm does not have a computer science background, she uses technology to support the Māori and Pacific peoples.
Wolfgramm received a bachelor's degree in psychology and sociology from the University of Auckland. She also holds a postgraduate diploma in psychology. Her doctoral studies explore Indigenous development and design systems.
She developed the HAKAMANA Integrated System of Transformative Design. This evaluative tool, based on Indigenous values, has an extensive reach. Wolgramm used it to partner with Smart Path, creating a cloud-based platform for patients and healthcare workers to communicate. Wolfgramm also co-founded the MANA VR collective, an initiative that uses virtual reality to preserve cultural and natural heritage sites.
As the executive director of the Global Reach Initiative and Development Pacific Programme, Wolfgramm works to close the technological gap in the Pacific islands. The team partners with Google and tribal communities to take 3D images that improve GPS and Google Earth data.
Common Questions About Influential Asian and Pacific Islander Women in Computer Science
Which groups are underrepresented in tech?
According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, traditionally underrepresented groups in tech include Black, Latino, Indigenous American, and Pacific Islander communities. The Asian community is well-represented in tech, though women — including Asian women — are underrepresented.
Why are there not many women in computer science?
According to analysis from the American Enterprise Institute, NCES data shows women in the early 1980s earned over 35% of the bachelor's degrees in computer science. That number has decreased to fewer than 20% in the 2015-16 school year. Experts do not have a clear answer about why the number has decreased. Some theories suggest women find more career opportunities in other sectors or feel discouraged from pursuing certain fields because of gender stereotypes.
How many Asian women are in computer science?
According to NCES data, Asian women earned 3,898 computer and information science bachelor's degrees in the 2018-19 school year. This equates to 4.4% of all bachelor's graduates that year, and 21.3% of women who graduated with computer science bachelor's degrees that year.
How many Pacific Islander women are in computer science?
NCES data reveals Pacific Islander women earned 45 computer and information science degrees in the 2018-19 school year. This means Pacific Islander women made up 0.05% of all bachelor's graduates that year and 0.25% of women who graduated with computer science bachelor's degrees that year.
Featured Image: ArLawKa AungTun / iStock / Getty Images Plus
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