4, 3, 2, 1… Lift off! Empowering women in tech

Last updated: 06 January 2020

Published on: 02 December 2019

By Kami Navarro

Historically perceived as a boy’s club, the tech industry is gradually trying to improve gender diversity among its ranks. There is definitely a long way to go—for example, only 22 percent of artificial intelligence professionals in the world are women, according to the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2018.

How, then, can women be encouraged to apply for tech positions and thrive in this industry? This was the focus of two panel discussions at the Women in Tech Breakfast Dialogue, held in conjunction with the SG:D Industry Day on 17 October 2019. IMPact News brings you key highlights from the session.

4 Es for more women in tech

The skewed gender ratio in tech is partly due to the displacement of women from their positions, the panellists said. Tackling the 4 E’s—employment, experience, education and engagement—could be the key to avoiding further displacement, they said.

For Ms Cecily Ng, Vice President of Enterprise Sales at Salesforce, support for women must happen at the very beginning of the employment process. “You have to demand that there’s a diverse pool of candidates to start with,” she advised. “We always hire the best, but the pool has to be diverse.”

But women face challenges long after getting hired. Psychological barriers like unconscious bias may prevent women from getting the same opportunities as their male colleagues, limiting their work experience. To overcome such barriers, companies must educate both men and women to recognise unconscious bias, urged Ms Feon Ang, Vice President of Asia-Pacific Talent and Learning Solutions at LinkedIn.

Women may also miss out on career opportunities simply because they do not know where to look. According to Mr Pang Heng Soon, Head of Venture Building at SGInnovate, companies should therefore foster active engagement with the women in tech community to keep them informed about job openings.

3 M’s to inspire women

For women’s aspirations to be seeded and flourish, the panellists went on to highlight a framework consisting of 3 M’s: models, mentors and magnifying impact. In a corporate context, role models must start from the very top. “It’s about building a culture,” said Ms Karin Nilsdotter, CEO of Spaceport Sweden. “In leadership, we have an obligation to set good examples and inspire others.”

Women in Tech Breakfast

Role models should also be complemented by corporate mentorship, said Ms Lum Seow Khun, General Manager of IBM’s Global Technology Services. Citing IBM’s tiered mentorship programmes catering to employees in entry-level positions all the way up to executive leadership roles, she noted that “managers will look at [a woman’s] career aspirations, and we try to match what they want ... with openings in IBM, and help them to move up the ladder.” 

Meanwhile, magnifying impact is not just about trusting women with leadership roles, but also how women can collectively amplify and nominate each other for leadership roles. Ms Stephanie Hung, Senior Vice President of ST Engineering, noted that this will not only help address issues of unconscious bias against women in the boardroom, but also instil confidence in women to aspire towards top positions in organisations.

2 Community initiatives to grow a network

During the panel discussion, Mr Tomasso Demarie, CEO of Singapore-based startup Entropic Labs, shared that “it really makes me angry that I’m unable to reach out to [female talent], because they would be fantastic additions for a company”.

There soon may be a solution to Mr Demarie’s woes: at the Women in Breakfast Dialogue, Ms Jane Lim, Assistant Chief Executive of IMDA, announced two initiatives to increase gender diversity in the workplace, namely MentorConnect and the SG Women In Tech Community Platform (562.73KB)

Women in Tech Breakfast

MentorConnect is a one-year pilot collaborative mentorship programme by IMDA, Dell Technologies, Salesforce and ST Engineering. Each organisation will contribute two mentors and 12 women mentees, all of whom will undergo group mentoring sessions. At these sessions, mentees can broaden their professional networks and benefit from a diversity of perspectives across the participating companies. More companies will be invited to join subsequently.

Meanwhile, the SG Women in Tech Community Platform, a joint initiative of IMDA and SGInnovate, is an online platform that aims to provide a supportive community for women tech professionals to share various resources and infocomm media opportunities.

1 Common Goal—better business through diversity

Women in Tech Breakfast

Ultimately, encouraging more women in tech isn’t just a matter of balancing the scales—it is a business imperative, said the panellists. According to McKinsey’s Delivering Through Diversity 2018 report, “companies in the top quartile for gender diversity on their executive teams were 15 percent more likely to experience above-average profitability than companies in the fourth quartile”.

Hence, tech companies that want to succeed in the long term can raise the probability of their success by making a conscious decision to bring more women into the fold. “Having more diversity in our workforce means we create better products, better services and, ultimately, better companies,” said Ms Jane Lim, IMDA’s Assistant Chief Executive of Sectoral Transformation.