Technology has long been touted as the great equaliser that is helping solve the world’s complex problems, bringing benefits to societies and communities, as well as helping businesses keep pace with the dizzying pace of change. Yet, much has also been said about technology being an exclusive playing field for men, often leaving out women from a seat at the table.
While I have faced my fair share of challenges as a woman working in tech for two decades, it has been encouraging to see the rise of diversity and inclusion as boardroom priorities for many organisations, not just in technology, but also across various sectors in Southeast Asia.
This is indicative of real, positive change being driven by generations of female tech trailblazers who have ignited conversations and lobbied for equality. It is now up to us, the contemporaries in technology, to honour and build upon these efforts in creating an even more equitable and inclusive future for the sector.
There is still much to be done. A recent survey by Singapore’s Infocomm Media Development Authority showed that women only account for 32 per cent of Southeast Asia’s tech workforce. Building an inclusive home for women in tech remains a long and arduous journey, and everyone has a role to play in re-evaluating and challenging preconceptions and biases, as well as sustaining ongoing conversations to effect meaningful change.
Closing the confidence gap
Having had the privilege of working closely with many illustrious female tech leaders at ThoughtWorks, and through strong mutual support including deep dialogue and sharing sessions, I have noticed that many of us continue to face an unfounded lack of confidence and self-belief, despite the depth of talent and expertise that exists. Yet, these leaders have still managed to find success by honing an internal fortitude to deal with negative voices and imposter syndrome.
Women in technology need to actively remind themselves to focus on their own capabilities, rather than compare themselves with their male counterparts. And this can all begin by internalising this simple truth: that we are here because we have proven that we are capable enough to be in this position.
Mutual support is important and it makes things easier too, and I was fortunate to be placed in a positive environment where constant, strong encouragement enabled me to learn and grow in confidence. It is critical that we provide robust internal support systems for female tech talent, where they can find solidarity, empathy and dialogue with trusted coworkers and mentors.
This is especially needed due to the lack of mentors and sponsors for women in tech, whose workplace challenges are very different from men.
Challenging unconscious biases
There are unconscious biases that we all have as human beings, and these can sometimes be more pronounced in the tech sector. Research has shown that men are often advanced based on potential, while women are advanced based on actual accomplishments. Women and men also both judge resumes with female names more harshly than an identical resume with a man’s name.
Dealing with these issues eventually just gets to be too much for some women and they leave. I resonate with ThoughtWorks’ belief in building awareness and sensitising people on topics like building equitable tech, challenging unconscious bias, dealing with micro-aggressions, being a good ally, preventing discrimination and harassment in our workplaces, and more.
Tech leaders should consider investing in practical unconscious bias training for all employees. We should not assume that employees from underrepresented groups will own these initiatives and programmes, unless they specifically express their interest. People working in tech must be encouraged to regularly question their own preconceived judgements and to recognise and curb their own biases.
Recognising the existence of biases and attempting to mitigate the negative consequences of biases are essential. We need to have open conversations about the issues surrounding gender bias, and we must commit to working to overcome that bias, even when it is hard or inconvenient. All this can be achieved through leading by example.
A home for women in tech
Inclusion is everyone’s job. It unifies us as a community, and brings out the best in individuals and teams. The tech industry has made remarkable progress over the years, but we are not done yet and there is plenty to do, with no single answer to the myriad issues at hand.
Ultimately, the move towards fairness and parity in tech should not be seen as simply implementing a set of company initiatives or programmes. Rather, it has to be about sustained, systematic shifts in cultural norms and mindsets at the workplace, where everyone can truly be themselves.
This will also mean closer collaboration with public and private sector stakeholders to set agendas at the national level, from driving awareness around diversity and inclusion, to developing training schemes supporting a greater understanding of fairness and equality.
As we carefully navigate a post-pandemic world that is leaving traditional norms behind, it is my hope that the tech industry will take the opportunity to reset and effect powerful, positive change, furthering conversations around diversity and inclusion to give people an environment to belong and grow, and to feel respected, safe and valued. A home to all: regardless of gender, age, ethnic origin, sexual orientation, religion, disability, background or identity.
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