How Cher Wang, A Taiwanese Entrepreneur And Philanthropist, Made History
By Shelley Zalis
As many renowned faces appear throughout March to commemorate Women’s History Month, let’s also shine a spotlight on women making history now. One of those remarkable individuals is Cher Wang, co-founder and chairwoman of HTC. Wang, a Taiwanese entrepreneur and philanthropist was one of the first women to instate a tech business in the 90s, and in 2014 was listed as the 54th most powerful woman in the world by Forbes.
I recently caught up with Wang by phone to discuss how the tech world has changed for women since she began and how we can bring more women into its ranks.
What was the tech world like for women just a few decades ago? How has it changed? How hasn’t it changed?
Cher Wang: It’s undeniable that the tech world was largely male-dominated when I first started out in 1981, but even then, I found it wasn’t a challenge about gender so much as about entrepreneurship. I’ve always believed that if you are truly passionate about what you are doing, and have a clear vision on how you will benefit society, you can overcome almost all hurdles on the road to achieve your vision.
When I joined the APEC Business Advisory Council (ABAC) in 2009, there were 63 business representatives from 21 economies, of which only nine were women; by the time I left, that number had increased by two-thirds to 15. We started the ABAC Women’s Forum in 2010 to raise the profile of gender issues in business to APEC governments, and when we were talking about our own careers, nearly all of the women around the table – all senior executives in multinational firms or self-made entrepreneurs – said the same thing: that they had just worked hard for years, and had never considered their gender an issue until they got to the top and saw that women were disproportionately represented in their industry.
Can you share an anecdote from doing business in the 90s that really illustrates what the business climate was like for female entrepreneurs?
Wang: The 1990s was an exciting period of rapid transitions in technology from PC to smartphones, from wired internet to mobile, and also in semiconductors. I didn’t view myself as a woman in a tech environment, I saw myself as an entrepreneur, trying to make these technologies happen.
Today, we’re going through a similar era of accelerated technological change to another industrial revolution. The transition to the metaverse, artificial intelligence, quantum computing and more, is generating many more opportunities for future entrepreneurs to develop solutions to solve obstacles and drive progress. And that means many more opportunities for women.
Describe a moment in your career where you realized your potential. What sparked this eureka moment?
Wang: My first eureka moment was seeing the immense user interest in a PC motherboard I was demonstrating at an IT show at the Moscone Center in San Francisco in 1981. I realized there was a significant gap in the market for motherboards that enthusiasts could use to build their own custom PCs, so I set up a division at First International Computer, Inc. (FIC) to cater to those people. FIC became the largest motherboard supplier in the world at that time. Those were the days of floppy disk drives and no internet!
What do you think is the single biggest obstacle limiting women’s career growth in the tech field today?
Wang: Education is important – not only STEM subjects; all fields can contribute to our development. Debating can be important, too, learning to speak up and form robust arguments. Confidence comes from knowledge and experience. Knowledge can be gained from education; experience takes time. All these factors can increase a woman’s confidence to face their challenges in life.
What’s one example of how HTC is moving the equality needle — at work or in life?
Wang: Within HTC, several of our senior executive team are women, including our chief sustainability officer, and the heads of HR, marketing operations, software and commercialization. These women are smart, experienced, tech-savvy, market-savvy, receptive to new learnings and wholly confident in their abilities.
From a product perspective, our products are designed to level the playing field so that more people can access the benefits of the internet, whether it’s starting a business, educating themselves, or keeping in contact across the miles.
Name a woman who has inspired you in your line of work recently. What did she do and how did she do it?
Wang: I’ve always been inspired by the scientist Marie Curie, the only person to win two Nobel Prizes in different scientific disciplines. Her dedication to research and discovery was remarkable, but so was her determination to better the lives of wounded soldiers in battle through her creation of mobile X-ray machines.
A modern-day equivalent is Jennifer Doudna, also a Nobel laureate, working at my alma mater, UC Berkeley, on CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing technology. Every era has its advancements, some negative and some positive, but we’re always driving progress, and we have to accelerate the good to benefit humankind.
What’s one strategy you have for boosting self-confidence during moments of doubt?
Wang: I always look back at myself to see if the vision and strategy are correct and will benefit humankind. I’m a Christian, so I always go back to the Bible for inspiration – as it says in Psalms, God our Savior daily bears our burdens. My faith fuels my passion, and an unshakeable belief in my vision.
What’s giving you optimism about equality and the future of work?
Wang: I believe that technology has the potential to bring greater equality. When I started with PCs and the internet, we saw how the internet can empower all people, not just women but also those disadvantaged physically, ethnically or economically, to discover what’s out there and what’s possible. Technology has the potential to empower millions more people to participate in the global economy in a meaningful way, and it is the responsibility of our industry to make this happen.
Photo Source: HTC