Women scientists strengthen network in Lower Mekong
January 2017—My Bach, a biotechnology undergraduate student in Hanoi, is passionate about pursuing a career in science, but concerned about the low number of female colleagues in the field in Southeast Asia.
The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Economic Community’s expanding market requires skilled workers—especially in science and technology—to meet the needs of rapidly changing industries. With a large youth population, the region can tap into unused potential by better integrating women in the science, technology, engineering, mathematics + accounting and tourism (STEM+AT) fields.
“The number of women in the sector is still very small,” said Bach. “I have attended two international conferences where female scientists are few, and I am now the only woman in my research group at our university. I want to learn from other female leaders and use my skills in science and technology to contribute and be a leader in the field. It’s important that women help each other expand this network.”
A recent labor market assessment in the subregion supports Bach’s concerns, indicating that, on average, women are largely underrepresented in technical and managerial positions in STEM-related fields.
In collaboration with Intel, Cisco, Microsoft, the U.S. Embassy and the U.S. Science Envoy Program, the USAID Connecting the Mekong through Education and Training (USAID COMET) project brought together college-level women from the Lower Mekong subregion for a Women in Technology workshop in Vietnam in January 2016. Participants broadened professional skills, shared challenges and opportunities for women in science and technology, and strengthened their professional network in the region.
Chi Nguyen, the general manager of Mobext Vietnam, served as a mentor at the workshop. “This network of mentorship does not only benefit the young women—it helps us mentors to learn and get inspired from the youth as well,” she said. “It’s incredible what inspiration, determination and a bit of coaching can do to help young women fulfill their potential in science and technology.”
“I am very excited about the idea of ‘women-helping-women’ in the tech world,” Bach added. “The mentorship I received from the female professionals helped me engage with peers and role models, inspiring me to achieve more for myself.”
Leveraging partnerships between education institutions, industries and youth to foster innovation for a gender-balanced workforce is a key focus of the USAID COMET project.
“Before, I was unsure about how I can balance my life and career as a female scientist,” Bach said. “After meeting inspiring women, both the professionals and my peers in the neighboring countries, I feel like ‘women in tech’ rocks! I’m going to continue to help expand this network.”
The project is currently working with Wedu, a social enterprise focused on young women’s leadership, to establish leadership training and mentorship programs in higher education institutions in the Lower Mekong region.
The USAID COMET project is designed to equip youth with market-driven skills, promote gender-balanced employment in key sectors, and increase technology-based learning in classrooms. The workforce development project, which runs from 2014 to 2019, also supports universities and vocational schools to adapt their curriculum and teaching approach to meet private-sector demands in key growth sectors in the Lower Mekong countries of Burma (Myanmar), Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam.