By Gindelin Low
From ride-hailing giant Grab to popular design platform Canva, female-founded tech companies have made their mark in recent years. Despite this, it’s no secret that women continue to be underrepresented in the male-dominated tech sector. Here in Singapore, for instance, women continue to make up only 30 percent of the tech workforce.
In hopes of changing the status quo, the Singapore Women in Tech (SGWIT) initiative was launched last October 2019 to celebrate local heroines in the industry and build a community that can attract, retain and develop female talent in the infocomm and tech industry. To honour the inspirational women that have made significant contributions to the Singapore’s vibrant tech industry over the past year, SGWIT unveiled the inaugural Singapore 100 Women in Tech List in a webinar held on 4 September 2020—receiving over 850 nominations in the process.
Here are some of their remarkable stories:
Paving the path less travelled
In tech, gender inequality is almost as old as the field itself. While the world’s first programmers were women, at the time, computer programming was considered ‘soft’ work—comparable to clerical duties like typing or filing.
Needless to say, women who ventured into the tech industry at the turn of the century dealt with considerably larger obstacles and biases. In spite of all the odds, these talented women defied expectations and made great contributions to the sector. Today, these pioneers are leaders in their industry and serve as mentors to empower the next generation.
After 30 years in the industry, Ms Jamie Neo, Director of Engineering at HP Inc, admits that an “unconscious bias still exists in the industry today.” In fact, when she first stepped into her role at HP’s wafer fabrication plant, she was the lone female engineer. From initially being mistaken as an “admin worker” to heading the engineering team of HP Inc today, Ms Neo’s experience led her to invest her time and passion into mentoring female employees, young leaders and other engineers in the company.
Making tech accessible to all
Though much has been said about tech’s vast potential to improve lives, this can only be achieved if everyone can truly access these digital tools. By empowering underrepresented communities, advocates like Ms Nurul Hussain, Ms Leanne Robers and Ms Virginia Tan seek to overcome issues regarding access, opportunity and other societal barriers.
Ms Hussain, founder of The Codette Project, is a shining example of a technopreneur harnessing technology for a greater purpose. Given the limited number of tech initiatives aimed towards minority and Muslim women, Ms Hussain and her team at The Codette Project launched Tech for Good in 2018, Singapore’s first women-only hackathon.
Not only did the 2019 iteration of Tech for Good offer child-minding services, but the hackathon also provided vegetarian options, as well as a meditation and prayer space—finally putting the needs of minority and Muslim women at the forefront in tech.
While women make outsized contributions in the tech space, they also remain outnumbered. To give women a voice in an industry that still very much remains a boys’ club, Ms Robers and Ms Tan initiated the world’s largest tech start-up competition for women, known as She Loves Tech. Since its humble beginnings in 2015, the competition has funnelled around US$150 million to 2,000 start-ups in 30 countries.
Shattering the glass ceiling
In the Marvel blockbuster Black Panther, the enigmatic Shuri is the tech genius single-handedly responsible for creating Wakanda’s futuristic technology. But there’s no need to look to science fiction to find talented women who are changing the game in tech. In fact, you can find many of them in Singapore.
At 24, Dr Elisa Mo broke new ground at the DSO National Laboratories by being its youngest-ever PhD scholarship recipient.
Today, Dr Mo is one of the only three female programme directors at DSO’s Electronics System division, where she leads the development of advanced communication systems that help safeguard Singapore.
When it comes to outer space, Ms Lynette Tan, Chief Executive of Singapore Space & Technology Limited (SSTL),aims for nothing less than the stars. As one of the few female CEOs in her sector, Ms Tan is passionate about making the space industry—and STEM as a whole—more inclusive. Meanwhile, her work at the SSTL is a little more earthbound. Just this year, SSTL launched the Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief Challenge to drive innovations in space technology to solve real-world problems like disaster management.
Females at the frontier of tech
Just as pioneers like Ada Lovelace paved the way for programming in the 19th and 20th centuries, women are also driving new advancements in emerging fields like data science and artificial intelligence (AI).
Award-winning data scientist Ms Ang Ai Kiar, who is also an AI solutions developer at IBM Manufacturing Solutions, is currently developing the next-generation of acoustic technical architectures designed that can generate data from sound. This technology can be applied in everything from healthcare to classify different coughs and even in construction to identify building defects like cracks and hollow tiles. With cross-industry applications, Ms Ang’s work is set to open up a world of possibilities.
Meanwhile, AiDA Technologies’ Chief Technology Officer Dr Shonali Krishnaswamy seeks to leverage AI and machine learning to develop solutions for clients in the banking and insurance industry. Before founding AiDA, Dr Krishnaswamy was a prolific researcher, publishing over 100 peer-reviewed papers and leading the largest contingent of data scientists the Agency for Science, Technology and Research’s (A*STAR) Institute for Infocomm Research (I2R). As a testament to AiDA’s excellence, the start-up won the Bronze award for the Most Impactful Innovation at the inaugural SG:Digital Techblazer Awards in 2018.
Inspiration at the heart of IMDA
Amid all the impressive women to make the list, it’s also worth celebrating IMDA’s very own tech trailblazers. As Deputy Chief Executive, Ms Aileen Chia primarily oversees the regulation of the local telecommunications and postal sector. With Singapore on the cusp of rolling out 5G, you can also thank Ms Chia for leading the charge, having spearheaded IMDA’s recently concluded 5G Call for Proposal.
The entire list and SGWIT wouldn’t have been possible without Ms Jane Lim, IMDA’s Assistant Chief Executive for Sectoral Transformation. Tasked with the job of accelerating the digital transformation of Singapore’s industry sectors, it was her recent work in enhancing the pipeline of infocomm talent that led Ms Lim to initiate SGWIT movement last year. With the launch of the Singapore 100 Women in Tech list, her efforts are slowly, but surely starting to pay off.
Of course, there are far more stories of exceptional women in tech to tell. Find inspiration by checking out the full Singapore 100 Women in Tech list here!