Asia’s tech sector has a ‘missing women’ problem. Here’s what the industry can do to help them
Oranuch Lerdsuwankij says the male dominated start-up space and venture capital industry can do more to support Asian women in the technology sector
Even today, women struggle to be seen as equal to men in the workplace. The tech industry, in particular, is male dominated with most tech start-ups being run by men. According to recent figures from the World Economic Forum, in 2015, women comprised only 25 per cent of people working in computing, with Asian women making up a mere 5 per cent of this number.
If we compare Western developed countries with those in Asia, there are significant differences. Asia and the West do business differently. My home country of Thailand is a very dynamic, forward-thinking nation driven by a hardworking female workforce. This female succession has been shaped and encouraged by well-developed educational and entrepreneurial foundations that enable women to build their confidence and develop a strong business sense. In other Asian countries, however, gender roles remain very traditional, with cultural norms limiting female potential.
While Western women are making their mark on the business and tech industry, the male-to-female ratio in STEM fields worldwide remains an issue. A Unesco Institute of Statistics fact sheet shows that the under-representation of women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics is a global problem, with less than 30 per cent of researchers being women. More worryingly, only 23 per cent of researchers in East Asia and the Pacific are women.
New generations are changing this. Generation Y is producing more female programmers, scientists, strong entrepreneurs, product designers, user experience designers and tech-savvy women who are transforming various aspects of the tech industry and the female entrepreneur game.
Currently, some of the biggest technology firms in the West have cultivated programmes to support women in tech. Microsoft has extended its initiatives to include helping women return to work. These are women who may have paused their careers for reasons that range from starting a family to returning to university. Google has partnered with the Techmakers programme, for example, to organise a series of global events which provide tech-driven women with visibility, networking opportunities and a community.
Given their heavy influence on business, Google and Microsoft can be key driving forces globally in providing positive initiatives for women. In Asia, it would be good to see more collaborations between governments, academics and the private sector on actively supporting and encouraging women and consistently networking with corporate giants such as Google and Microsoft to create a unified tech industry.
I believe that the key to women entering the tech industry is having a strong creative skill set and developing inner confidence.
In Thailand, we have progressed significantly when it comes to female CEOs making their mark. For example, SEA, an online and mobile entertainment provider in Southeast Asia, has appointed Nok Maneerut Anulomsombut as CEO of Thailand in 2016. Maneerut, who has an MBA degree from Stanford University, worked her way up from a middle-management position to the top job. There are signs that Asia is finally moving in the right direction.
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If we look at the investment landscape and, in particular, the venture capital sector, it is still extremely male dominated. Venture capitalists are more inclined to invest in start-ups led by men, where the traditional business format and roles still apply.
Women still tend to be looked on as a riskier investment, as they may be viewed as not having the grit or staying power that the tech and entrepreneurship sector demands. In time, more women venture capitalists will emerge with a keen eye for investing in female CEOs and entrepreneurs, which will facilitate financial stability in women-led start-ups. We need venture capitalists who genuinely understand the challenges faced by female entrepreneurs.
In the future, it is crucial for conferences and platforms with a global, dynamic women-focused mindset to keep growing. Start-ups should keep an open mind when recruiting to balance out the skill sets that both men and women bring to organisations. They should enable women to gain real experience, boost their confidence and give them opportunities to achieve a more unified business landscape.
Oranuch (Mimee) Lerdsuwankij is the CEO and founder of Techsauce. The Techsauce Global Summit takes place from June 22-23 at Centara Grand, Central World Bangkok