As we get ready to celebrate International Women’s Day, we are reminded of the importance and urgency of this year’s theme, which is #EmbraceEquity. In this article, female leaders from Foodpanda Thailand and SmartOSC share their insights and actionable advice for moving forward for change in the tech industry.
Within the tech industry, Southeast Asia has been seen as a force leading the way for change by steadily narrowing the gender gap when compared to worldwide figures. A collaborative report from BCG and Singapore’s Infocomm Media Development Authority released in 2021 showed that women accounted for 32 per cent of talent in the tech sector, slightly higher compared to the 28 per cent global figure.
When we zoom in closer to different areas within the region, we can see incredible work being done to boost the foundations for women in tech as well as increase representation.
While the Philippines has remained the best-performing country in Asia in terms of gender parity according to the Global Gender Gap Report, Singapore has the highest percentage of women in the C-suite, with 14 per cent female CEOs and 26 per cent female CFOs, as well as the highest percentage of 44 per cent of women in the overall workforce.
In Malaysia, we have seen the launch of MyDigitalMaker to increase the routes to society 4.0 in a fair and accessible way. Adding to this is Girls in Tech Vietnam, who are on a mission to eliminate the gender gap within the tech industry.
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Speaking about women entering the STEM industry on the latest episode of Commerce Talk with SmartOSC, Akanksha Rastogi, Head of Data and Insights at Foodpanda Thailand, said, “We’ve started to see a lot more force in terms of women starting to achieve great heights and literally proving their mettle, inspiring so many others behind them. It’s going to set off a chain reaction, a positively reinforced change, and we’ll see more and more women start to enter this industry.”
All of the strides for change have been good news stories and a step in the right direction. However, with the current market volatility, the tech industry risks losing the gains it has made, as evidenced by the disproportionate layoffs for women in tech compared to men, bringing about a rippling effect of loss on the hard-won diversity and inclusion efforts of companies across the SEA region.
Impacting future growth
In the midst of disruption, there is a cry out for sustained action, proving even more so that achieving better representation for women in the industry is more important than ever.
As many as 80 per cent of jobs in Southeast Asia will require workers with basic digital literacy as well as applied ICT skills by the year 2030, according to a report published by Dalberg. To meet this need, the report stated the necessity of harnessing the skills, abilities, and perspectives of the full working population — not just the male half.
Adding to this argument is research conducted by McKinsey, which states that advancing women’s equality in the region could help contribute to a US$4.5 trillion increase in their collective annual GDP by 2025.
To reap these benefits, organisations need to do more to attract women to tech jobs and to retain and promote them.
Speaking about the importance of women in STEM fields, Phan Thi Hanh Le, Deputy CEO at SmartOSC, states, “As the tech industry grows and technology advances, so should our understanding of how best to incorporate women into the mix. We want to make sure that whether they are working full-time or part-time, full developers or just interested in learning more about how to code, they need to be shown that they have a place to be inspired and work towards both their professional AND personal goals.”
Adding to this, Rastogi says, “We’ve started recogniSing the unique elements that women bring to even STEM fields. There is nothing in how our brains are wired that makes us less successful. As a matter of fact, it makes us probably more so likely to succeed in these fields. And now organisations recognise that. There are programs and scholarships that are helping women break out from traditional barriers and nurturing talent, and increasingly you see this across the space.”
Recognising the problem
When we look at the possible causes for the gender disparity in Southeast Asia’s tech industry, we find ourselves facing many of the characteristics that form what is known as a wicked problem. A problem that has many interdependent factors, making it seem impossible to solve. Factors such as cultural and traditional beliefs, unconscious and conscious bias, structural and educational barriers, and organisational culture come out time and time again.
Speaking about this, Rastogi states, “I think one of the primary reasons why we see a low percentage of women in STEM fields is simply because we have an unconscious bias, even as educated folks. We sort of tend to have these biases when we are even raising our own kids. While being well-meaning, we still sort of give that impression to kids that boys are very good at science and girls are great at art. This is a message that we sort of reinforce in our homes, in social gatherings, or even at times in schools and universities.”
“I think there are stereotypes that women are not as ambitious, or they’re going to leave soon, or they’re not as capable as men in certain fields, and I think it’s really important to challenge them.”
Moving forward and enabling change
Companies must take action now and continue to create a more supportive and inclusive environment for women. In a tech survey report conducted by Ivanti, the five most important factors to attract women in tech fields to a new role were the following:
- Equal pay and benefits (63 per cent)
- Clear and well-documented career progression opportunities (52 per cent)
- Flexible working policies (51 per cent)
- An all-inclusive culture (38 per cent)
- Mentorship programmes (23.5 per cent)
Nearly 75 per cent of respondents highlighted the importance of industry collaboration and partnership with schools and universities to encourage more women to take up STEM subjects, build the next generation of women in tech, and have more women speakers represented at high-level tech events.
Speaking about what companies can do to improve, Chien Le says, “The future of the tech industry lies in innovation and technology. If there was ever a solution to this problem, it would be for corporations to create new programs that address workplace culture and diversity. These kinds of programs would provide support and resources to women throughout their careers as well as business management training.”
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Adding to this, Rastogi says, “I think we need to change the way we view parenthood as well. It’s not just the mom’s job to take care of the child. It’s a shared responsibility, and we need to support that, both in terms of policy and culture. And I think, as companies, we need to be more mindful of the fact that women have different needs at different points in their lives, and we need to create an environment where they can thrive regardless of where they are in their personal lives. Because if you have a diverse and inclusive workplace, you’re going to have better ideas, better innovation, better solutions, better products, better everything.”
In Southeast Asia and around the globe, there is no doubt that we still have a long way to go regarding achieving gender equality. In order to keep moving forward, more conscious efforts need to be made to not only recruit women into the industry but also to give them the tools they need to stay.
By doing so, we can help to build a more inclusive and innovative industry for future generations and future success.
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