General Interest

Breaking the bias: women in tech

International Women’s Day 2022 invites us to #BreakTheBias, to celebrate women’s accomplishments and imagine a world of gender equality. Beyond that, one of the themes is Women in Tech, which ‘champions women forging innovation through technology’. 

32% of the tech workforce in ASEAN is female, and although the industry is driving change there’s still a disproportionate number of men at all levels, and especially in senior roles.

For IWD2022 we are championing the Women in Tech who are making progress in breaking the bias, and advocating for gender equality. Each one has carved a career in technology, and despite facing challenges of bias and underrepresentation, they are thriving. What’s more, they are paying it forward by supporting other women in the industry. We invited five inspirational women Doris Zhao, Beth Evans, Caitlin Riordan, Alice Wong and Sunshine Farzan to share their views on the challenges and opportunities for women in technology.

Doris Zhao

— Senior PR Executive from an International Fintech Firm

What do you think are the biggest challenges for women working in tech?

Stereotypes still exist, but we have observed changes already. There are more and more women joining the industry. The key here is about a mindset change, as women bring different perspectives to the table. At the end of the day, technology is still about humans.

What advice would you give to women working in the industry?

 First, forget that you’re a woman, lose the limitations or how society positions us. We’re all individuals with different backgrounds, traits, and edges. We can be emotional, we can be masculine, we can be good at numbers, we can be anything. 

Second, remember that you’re a woman, like you remember where you come from or which school you went to. Gender is just one thing about us, together with all the other things, it makes who we are right now, and allows us to bring different things into our work and lives.

Last, I know being competitive is a good thing in the business world, but being cooperative is even more important. We need to lose the idea of competing, of pitching men against women. We need to lose the idea of helping “our kind of people”. Women can help women, women also can help men. It’s not just about gender. It’s about all the differences among humankind.

 What does International Women’s Day mean to you?

A chance to be heard, I’m also taking other interviews about the topic of women in the financial industry and female leadership; it’s good that we have a fixed date to do all these initiatives. Hopefully one day when gender equality comes, we’ll have International Men’s Day as well – they also need to be heard. 

Caitlin Riordan

— Head of Customer Success, Services and Support, Twilio

What are the challenges, and opportunities for women working in tech in Asia?

The tech industry has made great strides in its efforts to strike gender parity, but challenges for women still exist in Asia. There remains a disproportionate proportion of men across most roles, not just in leadership. In this environment, it can be difficult to role-model women building a career in Technology. 

The opportunity that exists for technologists in Asia is incredible. Nearly 60% of the global population reside in Asia today and they are at the forefront of digital technology adoption. As a result, we’re seeing a thirst for innovation in this region at a pace like never before. It is a melting pot of cultures and consumer demands, and therefore a hotbed for innovation. We have so much room here for passionate women to build their careers in technology. 

How can women help other women in tech?

The opportunity I see for us is to lead by example and encourage anyone with a curiosity to learn, experiment, build, and iterate to explore a career in STEM, even if their previous work experience and educational qualifications don’t necessarily fit the job description. There are many core competencies that are transferable across sectors, such as problem solving, effective communication and daring leadership that are especially critical for success in a dynamic and fast-paced industry like technology. 

Not to mention, plenty of technologists are self-taught. The curiosity and desire to learn is not limited to any specific gender. Learning materials are readily available online these days, some even completely free of charge. It is never too late to explore the world of technology, even if it is a completely new industry for you.

Employee resource groups are another way we can come together to support, promote and celebrate each other. At Twilio, we have the Asia Pacific & Japan Women & Allies Employee Resource Group which contributes to building a culture of lifelong learning at work while also empowering Twilions to think and operate more inclusively.

What does International Women’s Day mean to you?

It’s a reminder of how far we’ve come and the work that still needs to be done to ensure equality for all. I’d love to recommend a book in line with this year’s theme, #BreakTheBias. Written by Caroline Criado Perez, Invisible Women – Data Bias in a World Designed for Men explores the gender data gap and highlights the need for us to incorporate inclusivity across all facets of life. It’s a book that reminds me how important it is to break the bias in technology so that we can design and build for everyone.

Beth Evans

— ASEAN and North Asia Field Marketing Leader, Ciena

What are the biggest obstacles to equality in technology?

Traditionally, being a woman in tech in Asia usually means you represent a minority. With diversity a key goal of many organisations, they are now more open to hiring widely. However, inclusion and belonging are challenging even for the most enlightened employers because those require overcoming biases throughout the organisation, often subconscious. These biases can range from thoughts on what kinds of work women do, to hiring criteria that inadvertently favour attributes more statistically common in men.

Women in tech in Asia need to be aware of gender bias and deploy strategies to overcome it, to perform in our jobs and advance in our careers.

How can women support each other in the industry?

Mentoring and sponsorship are the most apparent ways women can help other women in tech and those who wish to enter the field. For example, with my own female mentees who aspire to work in tech, I’ve not only helped them prepare for interviews, but answered questions on my experience with the gender pay gap, providing practical tips on salary negotiation and how to look for employers who walk the talk on equality efforts. While men can and should mentor and sponsor women, a woman can incorporate the perspectives she’s gained from her personal experience..

What does International Women’s Day mean to you?

International Women’s Day provides an occasion for women to advocate for ourselves, keeping in mind women around the world who may face larger barriers to gender equality. To me, everyone should strive year-round to make our workplaces and world more gender diverse and inclusive, with International Women’s Day simply serving as a reminder to recognise and talk about it.   

Alice Wong

— Growth Marketing Lead Airwallex

What are opportunities for women working in tech?

As a woman working in a male-dominated industry, it’s easy to have doubts about yourself. You need to know your values and have the confidence to express your ideas. Your opinions matter just as much as anyone else’s.

At the same time, being part of an underrepresented gender group gives me the insights into what qualities and talents the industry currently lacks. This helps me define what I can bring to the table to make a difference.

Ultimately, tech companies are data-driven. No matter what role you’re in, you need to be able to make an impact to succeed.

How can women support each other?

Inspire and be inspired! At Airwallex, we have a strong community of ‘Airwallex Women’ with members from across our global offices.

We hold regular sharing sessions led by senior female leaders within the company. They are invited to share their stories of personal growth and career development as a way of giving back to the community and inspiring other women.

What does International Women’s Day mean to you?

International Women’s Day reminds me to recognise and celebrate the successes of other women. There are many inspiring female leaders within Airwallex and in the wider tech space. On a personal level, IWD makes me appreciate my mum even more!

Sunshine Farzan

— Group Head of Marketing & Communications, Tricor 

What are the biggest challenges for women working in tech in Asia?

Women face pay inequity, workplace gender biases and also a lack of mentorship in Asia’s technology sector. However, opportunities are emerging as companies adopt flexible work and double down on gender parity. Some Asian markets are already bucking the trend, such as in ASEAN where women account for 32% of the tech workforce compared to the global 28% average, according to Singapore’s Infocomm Media Development Authority.  

What are the most effective ways of supporting women?

Women in technology can support other women by creating industry networking groups, proactively creating professional development opportunities, implementing mentorship programs and most importantly proactively evaluating and closing gender pay gaps.

What does International Women’s Day mean to you?

This year’s theme of #BreakTheBias strongly resonates with me as I consider International Women’s Day a call to action to think about not only what we can do collectively to promote gender equality, but also individually. At the end of the day, we need to hold ourselves, our companies, our industry and our communities at large accountable for breaking down biases.