Breaking down barriers: Women supporting women in tech
From Ada Lovelace, the first computer programmer to Tan Hooi Ling, co-founder and chief operating officer of Grab—women have been behind many of the tech world’s most notable accomplishments. Despite this, women continue to comprise only an average of 28 percent of the global tech workforce—meaning that true gender diversity in tech remains elusive for now.
To build an inclusive and diverse digital future for Singapore, the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) launched SG Women in Tech (SGWiT), an initiative focused on attracting, inspiring and developing girls and women to pursue careers in the dynamic infocomm tech sector.
This year, in collaboration with SGTech, SGWiT launched the first Corporate Pledge initiative, where over 50 companies pledged to create a conducive environment for existing women tech professionals, as well as to encourage more young women to join the field. Some of these pledges include rolling out mentorships, employee-led support groups, webinars and even coding workshops to young female students to spark their interest in the exciting world of technology.
Opening the SG Women in Tech Corporate Pledge Sharing Session on 1 September 2021, Minister for Communications and Information Mrs Josephine Teo shared the importance of supporting women in tech at the national, enterprise, and individual levels.
At the national level, she pointed out that Singapore has consistently worked to provide the best possible opportunities for women, so that they in turn could help the nation achieve progress. Minister Teo also stressed that businesses are hungry for talent—in particular, tech talent. To this end, women must be included to give enterprises access to the widest talent pool possible.
Ms Cecily Ng, Area Vice President and General Manager at Salesforce, remembers feeling too nervous to speak up at meetings and hopes to encourage young women to be unafraid and find their voices in the tech industry.
Finally, at the individual level, Minister Teo highlighted that providing choices to women and the opportunity to succeed is one of the hallmarks of a progressive society. She further called on companies to lead by example by creating conducive environments for young women to take up tech careers.
The event also saw Minister of Trade and Industry Ms Low Yen Ling and four female tech professionals from various pledged companies take the stage in a lively panel discussion that touched upon the highlights, challenges and learning points of their careers. Find out how they navigate the tech sector as women and how they strive to support fellow female talent.
No woman is an island
Even for women at the C-suite level and beyond, the road to success was paved with challenges. While better hiring processes and greater awareness have improved diversity since their initial foray into tech, complex challenges like unconscious bias and the risk of imposter syndrome remain.
When she first entered the engineering sector, Ms Cecily Ng, now the Area Vice President and General Manager of software company Salesforce, was far from confident. She recalled experiencing imposter syndrome, often being nervous to speak up during meetings. Fortunately for Ms Ng, she had compassionate mentors who encouraged her to share her ideas—a kindness that she now shows to other young women.
“Now that we are mentoring the next generation of young females, I realised that this is a common problem and we have the same issues,” she said.
“This platform is a powerful way for us to mentor the next generation of young females coming into the industry and facing some of the same challenges we faced.”
Ms Cecily Ng
While women in tech still often swim against the current, the tides are shifting in many organisations—which is why it is important to choose a supportive company to ensure personal growth. For example, as a working mother, Minister of Trade and Industry Ms Low Yen Ling, shared that she had to turn down an overseas posting twice. Despite this, her decision was met with understanding and trust.
“I had very enlightened bosses and management who did not hold it against me. Instead of sending me overseas, they gave me three very different portfolios to make up for the shortage of overseas experience,” she recalled.
The changing tide
As women continue to rise through the ranks, it is important to ensure education and encouragement is available for aspiring women in tech. As young women try to break down barriers and carve a path for themselves in Singapore’s tech ecosystem, organisations and leadership must meet them halfway by actively improving diversity.
For example, Executive Director of Technology and Operations at DBS Bank Ms Archana Manjunatha explained that in recent years, DBS has made a concerted effort to increase awareness and be a part of the solution with training initiatives and adjusted hiring practices.
For example, DBS has launched an unconscious bias training programme—where leaders focus on removing gender bias and reducing its impact on decisions. Additionally, to ensure a steady stream of female talent even amid the pandemic, DBS launched a women-only hiring initiative to fill over 140 positions.
As seen through the support for SGWiT’s Corporate Pledge initiative, companies must come together and amplify awareness to see a significant shift in practices.
“When these kinds of conversations happen and when several corporations come together, it creates a multiplier effect in the society. You see a corporation do it, you join hands and do your part. That is a step forward in the right direction and more cohesive action is needed.”
Ms Archana Manjunatha
Laying a fearless foundation
Apart from social change in corporate environments, Ms Lim Bee Kwan, Assistant Chief Executive of Governance and Cybersecurity at GovTech, highlighted the need for an encouraging school environment. To expand the talent pool, Ms Lim believes it is important to move away from stereotypes and nurture an interest in tech among young girls.
“We need to do more to allay some fears,” said Ms Lim. “Programmes like SG Women in Tech will go a long way to encourage them. Through active initiatives like mentoring programmes [young women] can develop an interest and ensure that they are able to look at technology as a career option.”
Similarly, Ms Connie Kwok, Chair for Women@Amazon SG Chapter, believes education and encouragement should be available to women at all ages. From young students to mid-career professionals, aspiring women in tech are hesitant to transition into a sector that is typically male-dominated. Ms Kwok advises that despite any insecurities, it is important to remain true to yourself.
“Be authentic to yourself,” she said. “As women, we might feel like we have to act differently—whereas, we bring so much of our grace and empathy. These are really good benefits and characteristics of women that are very undervalued and very useful in the workforce.”
Currently, women make up 41 percent of the tech workforce in Singapore—significantly higher than the global average. Through the corporate pledge, government initiatives and programmes launched by companies, great action and collaboration is required to continue driving diversity in tech.
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