The quantum leaps made within the tech industry have brought about a lot of benefits to people across different demographics, all over the world. From agricultural workers to veterinarians, ride-sharing to meal delivery, there is now a smorgasbord of tech solutions that cater to the needs of any subset of the society — so much so that the tech industry has been dubbed as the ‘Great Equaliser’ as it allows smaller businesses to take their giant rivals head-on.
However, with all that said, a subset of the population is missing out on the ever expanding share of the pie in the tech industry — women — which casts a significant degree of doubt about the status of the so-called ‘Great Equaliser’.
Rama Ariadi spoke with Jenni Hirku, the founder of Women in Tech Conference, to gauge the benefits of exacting a cultural change in the male-dominated industry, as well as how creating new tech tigresses can benefit not only women, but also the growth of businesses and the betterment of society.
KT: If we were to take things at face-value — the fact that there are a lot of tech-based solution that are specifically geared towards women – we may hide the fact that the tech industry is still very much a male-dominated industry. In the US, women only account for less than one-third of the workforce, and the figure is bleaker in Europe, with females accounting for roughly only seven percent of the total workforce in the tech industry. Have you observed a similar trend across Asia?
Jenni Hirku: The problem with the region is that there are simply not enough large-scale research that has been conducted into the matter, despite the fact that this industry is one of the most researched industry in the world. In fact, one of the largest and most recent research on the matter was done by MasterCard, and although it didn’t really go into specific figures that could be used to gauge female representation in the tech ecosystem, it does provide an interesting insight — 45 percent of females surveyed still believe that the tech industry is, indeed, a man’s world. Although the playing field is theoretically level between men and women, there is an ingrained belief that jobs are somehow ‘gendered’, and that by virtue of being females, those who were surveyed believed that a career in the tech industry is not well-suited for females in general.
That said, the biggest challenge is to change the mindset of women themselves, and Women In Tech aims to do this by working with our partner organisations — in the case of Cambodia, e27 — to provide role models for other women, especially those who have made names for themselves through their own businesses and/or are working at the helm of a large, established company.
KT: How much growth potential is lost because of the current under-representation of females in the tech industry?
Jenni Hirku: Because of the lack of data, it is very hard to pinpoint an exact figure for the lost potential, but it is not hard to see the impact of the under-representation of females in the tech industry. The industry is experiencing a boom, and there is a definite need to meet the demands of this rapidly-growing industry. In Singapore, where Women in Tech is based, for example — computer science graduates are one of the sought-after talents by recruiters who are looking to meet this demand. Increasing the rate of female participation in the field is a solution — but the benefits of increasing female participation goes beyond labour market figures.
Numerous researches into female representation in the workplace have found that companies with a higher female-to-male ratio within their board — and this includes both blue chip companies as well as venture capital firms — are more likely to invest in companies that include females on their boards, which proves that there is a multiplier effect. In addition, researches carried out as recently as the end of last year found that Forbes 500 companies that has females on their board tend to outperform male-dominated companies by 42 percent in terms of revenues. The positive effect of female participation in businesses have been empirically proven by these researches. With these facts, what’s needed is a platform to enable entrepreneurs of any gender and background to harness and realise their full potential.
KT: It is interesting to see that Women in Tech choose a model that does not exclude males in its quest for empowering women in the tech industry. What is the merit behind the approach?
Jenni Hirku: This is something that I have to explain again and again — what Women in Tech aims to do is not to box ‘males’ and ‘females’ into different categories, because that is actually detrimental to the cause. Opportunity can come from anywhere, and a platform that is designed specifically for females could actually be bad for businesses. The goal is to empower women, to boost their confidence so they could take an equal share of the pie in the business, not to take the pie away from males in the industry.
We cannot implement change by pointing fingers and blaming dominant actors in society — it risks creating a backlash and this is probably why first and second-wave feminist movements never gained traction in the first place. Instead, we choose to lead by example — by showing females that there are women who have managed to make it big in the tech or tech startup industry.
This is a very important for everyone to underscore, because women do not like to be patronised.