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21 Sep 2017

Equal Opportunities

What's next?

That's a key question addressed at Cloud Expo Asia Singapore 2017's 'Women In Tech' panel attended by Barbara Dossetter (CIO Connect) and Uma Thana Balasingam (Riverbed Technology's Vice President, Channels and Sales, Asia Pacific and Japan, and Co-Founder and Chapter Leader of Lean In Singapore).

Specifically, 'what's next' relates to the state of play in global IT, with respect to what can be done to accelerate the number of women's roles in this area.

?We have a huge talent shortage in IT globally,? explains Barbara. ?And we do not encourage people of the right intellect to come and join us. That is devastatingly expensive for the industry and for individual organisations.?

?For women in IT, we've been talking about this for decades, so now it's down to what we as individuals, and what we as employers do to move this forward. And although this is focused on women, it is about the wider issue of diversity as well. I will be asking the panellists: what are they doing now, and what do they want to do in the future to accelerate this.?

Uma will share her own personal journey in technology and will also talk about the work done at Lean In Singapore on supporting women to achieve their ambitions. ?These include understanding unconscious bias and steps women can take to help themselves, especially in a male dominated industry and what companies and men can do to progress the agenda on gender diversity.?

 

 WHAT CAN A DIVERSE TEAM BRING TO A BUSINESS?

Uma says that from the endless data available, the results show that diverse teams make better decisions. ?When we leverage the power of diversity, we know companies and teams perform better: They are more innovative and bring in more revenue and profits.?

The world of tech is no different. ?What amazing inventions, apps, or solutions to the world's problems are we missing simply because we're not tapping women?? asks Uma. ?Tech jobs enable people to have a profound impact on society by building new products that make the world smaller and more connected. Tech jobs are exciting, fast moving, well paid ? and fun. They're also wide-ranging: technology is important in industries from music to manufacturing.?

And there are a lot of them. As of 2015, Singapore's infocomm industry raked in S$189.4 billion in revenue and employed 192,900 people, with demand growing 17%. These numbers look set to grow, with the Government identifying tech as a key economic growth driver. ?Over the next five years, Singapore has committed S$19 billion for research, innovation and enterprise activities,? says Uma. ?It also has a vision to become a hyper-connected smart nation. Singapore's vision to be an innovative country will need the input of half the population.?

Following on from Uma's thoughts, Barbara points out that women have worked in the scientific and mathematical sides of computing for some considerable time. ?Nasa's early pre-computer and early computer users were women. Women worked on the code breaking machines at Bletchley park and there were many early examples of women on the science and mathematical side of computing.?

However, Barbara adds that there is conditioning, and that's where many of the differences and perceptions of differences come from. ?What the industry needs is a number of things. These include logical, fact based thinking; lateral, creative problem solving; and customer-centric thinking ? recognising that customers come in all genders, cultures and religions.?

 

WHERE CAN WOMEN IN THE INDUSTRY LOOK FOR SUPPORT?

?The first area to look for support is within ourselves,? says Barbara. ?Confidence in our ability to deliver, to take risks, to understand that we don't have to be that ?pretty princess' of our conditioning, and be willing to be ?not liked' by others. Setting our own standards and exceeding them.?

An important source of support is that of a mentor. Barbara says that every woman should find a mentor they admire (having discovered her own mentor by accident), and work with them.

?Women are usually better at sharing with their friends than men. Find someone (woman or man) who understands being a working woman within your organisation and spend some quality time with them. We recommend that it should be a business person to our clients, so they know how the business works. They can share IT knowledge and that makes it a win/win relationship.?

Uma agrees that while more progress is required in support for women in the industry (which ideally they should find from co-workers, managers, leaders of their companies, friends and family), organisations such as Lean In Singapore provide a platform to equip, inspire and empower women to achieve their ambitions. ?Our events and chapter, which includes a dedicated Women In Tech group, focus on bringing together women in the workplace to share their stories, learn together on what they can do differently, and form circles which harnesses the power of peer support.?

Uma says that the tech gender imbalance appears to start to develop even before women enter the workforce.

?The average age girls make a decision about STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) is 14-15 according to the Mastercard Girls in Tech Study 2017 where 2,270 girls and women aged 12-25 years old in six countries (Australia, China, India, Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore) in Asia Pacific were interviewed.?

The study found that STEM as a field of study and a career choice is one that is not only fulfilling, but one that has the depth and breadth to satisfy first job seekers. It also highlights some misconceptions by young girls and young women with regards to the pursuit of STEM: ?For example, they still believe it's a man's world in STEM and that the path is difficult. Some of the reasons they don't pursue roles is that STEM jobs have more men than women, women are less interested and society, and the media doesn't encourage girls to join STEM. 45% believe that they're not suitable for women and 46% believe that men are paid more for the same role.?

An example cited by Uma is that of the Nanyang Technological University, where female undergraduates make up only 27 per cent of the 2015/2016 computer science programme, despite accounting for half of all undergraduates across the institution. ?Similarly, the National University of Singapore (NUS) has a 50:50 gender split in the student body, but only 32 per cent of current undergraduates in its School of Computing are female.?

 

THREE OF THE BIGGEST CHALLENGES THAT WOMEN IN TECH FACE

Barbara says that there are three key challenges that women in the field of tech need to overcome. The first of these is that they must believe that they have the right to be there. ?Women don't have to be twice as good as men to get an even break. They don't have to be ?nice' to get there. They will get there because of their individual skills and behaviours.?

Statistics suggest that women working in IT positions report gender inequality at a higher rate than the overall average among employed women. ?Networking opportunities and promotions go to men in tech careers at a higher rate than to women,? says Uma. ?Company events and trade gatherings often provide settings where male tech workers exhibit sexist attitudes and behaviours toward their female colleagues. Meanwhile, employees in the work environment often question whether a woman has the ability to address and resolve technical issues. In Singapore, this is known as the "tech bro" culture.?

Uma argues that women in male-dominated fields such as IT can often lack self-confidence and suffer from feelings of inferiority. ?Women who do go into these fields often say they experience a negative workplace climate and feel isolated.?

The next challenge is that of achieving the right balance between work and family life. ?Women are still the managers of the family in most households. In Singapore we often have helpers, so there is far less to do in this area,? says Barbara. ?We need to take time off for childbirth and that is as it should be. Coming back to work may take some organising, but companies do need good talent so this should be possible. CIO's that I know, manage to be home for dinner with the family, and then sign on when the children go to bed as a final check for the evening. We can balance this and give adequate time to ourselves and our families.?

The right support is vital for female IT employees, who often report feeling as though they don't have the full backing of their co-workers. Picking up on Barbara's point, Uma says: ?They also feel a lack of support at home in cases where their family members and friends still embrace cultural biases regarding women in the workforce. Attitudes about the role of women at home often prevent female IT workers from achieving a healthy work-life balance. Also, new mothers often cut short their paid maternity leave as they feel as though they will lose their job or promotion because of their absence.?

The final challenge is to 'play the game'. Barbara explains that ultimately, women work for organisations that require the best performances, and with a need to network actively amongst peers and colleagues. ?Most hiring and promotion decisions at the senior level are made on trust ? who do we know that we trust? We need to step up, take the promotion, even if we don't have all of the skills, we can learn. Men will go after a role or a promotion if they have about 60%, Women only if they have 100%.?

?We need to push ourselves forward at meetings, support each other at meetings and learn how to play the game. Be willing to move countries for the right role in a big organisation or at least discuss it. Take the calculated risk.?

 

HOW CAN MALE COLLEAGUES PLAY A PART IN SUPPORTING THE DEVELOPMENT OF THEIR FEMALE COUNTERPARTS?

Stereotypes of men and women in the workplace should be challenged. Uma says that men are expected to be assertive and confident, so their leadership is welcomed. By contrast, women are expected to be kind, nurturing, and compassionate, so when they lead, they go against expectations and often face pushback as a result. ?Challenge these stereotypes by pointing out bias and supporting your female colleagues. Men have a strong incentive to make sure that women succeed in their organisation ? men who work well with women and tap the full talents of their teams outperform their peers.?

Uma explains that there are a number of counts on which equality between men and women in the workplace need to be addressed. These include challenging the likeability penalty. ?Success and likeability are positively correlated for men and negatively correlated for women,? says Uma. ?When a man is successful, his peers often like him more; when a woman is successful, both men and women often like her less. This trade-off between success and likeability creates a double bind for women.?

The next area to consider is that of a fair evaluation of performance for men and women. To achieve a fairer balance, Uma says that everyone in the work team must be made aware of the gender bias in evaluating performance. Specific criteria should be put in place to set out what constitutes excellent performance, and these measurable goals must be set in advance, and understood. Company managers should also make sure that women receive the credit that they deserve and seek opportunities to acknowledge their contributions.

The meeting room can be a potential source of inequality, as Uma explains: ?Compared to women, men tend to talk more and make more suggestions in meetings, while women are interrupted more, given less credit for their ideas, and have less overall influence.?

Getting round this problem, it's important to make sure everyone speaks up and is heard. ?Start by encouraging women to sit front and centre at meetings. If a female colleague is interrupted, interject and say you'd like to hear her finish. Openly ask women to contribute to the conversation. Be aware of 'stolen ideas' and look for opportunities to acknowledge the women who first proposed them. When you advocate for co-workers, they benefit ? and you're seen as a leader.?

 

WHAT NEEDS TO CHANGE IN THE INDUSTRY FOR WOMEN TO BE TAKEN SERIOUSLY IN LEAD POSITIONS?

While women are taken seriously in lead positions, Barbara says that a problem in many countries is that there are too few of them. ?We have a measure of leadership skills and competencies that we use with our clients for coaching and leadership training. They are the softer skills that IT people need to work at the more senior level. None of these have a gender bias. The industry is taking these softer skills more seriously and that is the change that will even the playing field across the genders.?

For women to be taken seriously in lead positions, in the industry, Uma agrees that there are steps that women can take themselves by understanding how unconscious bias plays out through the 'sticky floor' and 'glass ceiling'. For example, women should speak with authority. In the case when no support is offered, efforts should be redoubled. Women should also find their own unique selling point, and own that USP. And finally, if all else fails... ?blaze your own trail. If you can't find the way in the environment you are in, be bold and strike out on your own.?

Uma concludes that leaders must live by the values they espouse, and change must be supported by systems, policy, and programmatic efforts such as women's networks. ?If approached in that order, women in the company will be able to advance at the rate that they want to. And so will everyone else. The path to meritocracy is acknowledging that the path is still being built.?

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