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The real value of being passionately curious

The real value of being passionately curious

To celebrate the launch of Women in ICT Asia in Singapore, Channel Asia profiles the leading female technology leaders across the region

Wendy Koh (NetApp)

Wendy Koh (NetApp)

Credit: NetApp

Curiosity can be a powerful thing. Curiosity arguably stands as the single biggest driving force behind innovation today and, indeed, throughout modern history. It is no small thing.

“I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious,” Albert Einstein once said, marking curiosity as perhaps the core element in the development of one of humanity’s greatest scientific breakthroughs: the theory of relativity.

Along with relativity, curiosity has played a vital role in the discovery and development of much that we take for granted today, and it continues to be a catalyst for step-change technological and scientific development.

Curiosity has also been the foundation underpinning the pathway that led me to a lifetime career in the information and communications technology (ICT) industry.

As an electrical and electronics engineering graduate, I’ve always been curious about technology and how it could be applied in the real world; I’ve always been interested in how technology can be transformed to all industries and across each pillar of a business.

Over the years, I’ve learned to rely on that curiosity; it has kept me passionate about what I do and interested in how I can continue to make a difference.

It has also kept me striving to be the best at what I do and operate at the highest level, even if it has felt at times as if, as a woman, I’ve been the only one there.

Unfortunately, when it comes to the broader ICT industry, women have typically been underrepresented. When I started working in the ICT industry in the early ‘90s, there were only around two or three female engineers for every large group of men.

I continued to notice this imbalance while I progressed in my career. At every organisation I worked at, women represented just 10-20 per cent of the group.

I’ve observed that, there aren’t enough women - far less than it should be for equal representation and real value creation from gender equality.

However, I’m pleased to see that we’ve made great improvements in recent years, at both NetApp and in the technology industry at large.

Today, businesses around the world are beginning to realise how much value a more gender-balanced workplace can offer, especially among the leadership ranks. It’s particularly rewarding to me, that at NetApp we’ve been leading the way.

As a company, NetApp is very conscious of attracting new talent and in seeing female talent take on senior positions.

These initiatives are very deliberate, actively targeting highly-capable women to apply for roles in ICT, and they go hand-in-hand with the company’s ongoing efforts to reduce bias in the workplace.

These efforts are backed up by broader activities aimed at improving and supporting the representation of women across the broader ICT industry workforce.

This can be seen in NetApp’s Women in Technology (WIT) initiative, which provides a community of peers with which women can explore leadership, examine new ideas, support equality and drive diversity now and into the future.

Indeed, the maiden WIT session for the Asia Pacific region is set to take place at NetApp’s annual Sales Kickoff for FY20, further showcasing the company’s programs to empower other women to pursue their career goals in a supportive environment.

I’m also proud to share that very capable women make up around 60 per cent of my own team in ASEAN, which reflects the culture within NetApp.

However, I’ve come to realise that the support I personally receive and NetApp’s internal initiatives are a privilege, as many women in other parts of the industry and the world do not always have these same opportunities.

This needs to change, not just for women but for organisations as well, because gender diversity is good for business. Research now shows that women are very, very valuable in the workplace indeed.

A report released by management consulting firm McKinsey & Company in 2018 suggests that gender diversity bears a positive correlation with both profitability and value creation.

According to McKinsey, companies in the top 25 per cent in terms of gender diversity are 21 per cent more likely to have financial returns that are above the average of those companies in the bottom 25 per cent for gender diversity.

McKinsey also found that the highest-performing companies in terms of both profitability and diversity had more women in ‘line’ roles - roles that directly advance an organisation through its core work - than in ‘staff’ roles on their executive teams.

These findings reveal that one of the defining differentiators between high-performing and low-performing companies is women in leadership positions making core business decisions.

This is why closing the gender gap is not just important for women, it’s vital for business as well.

As such, companies need to implement more intentional and deliberate measures to better attract and retain female talent, just like NetApp has been doing for years, and continues to do today.

Were it not for my curiosity; were it not for my decision to follow my passions and interests regardless of the fact that they happened to centre on an historically male-dominated industry, I may not have followed the path I did.

And that would have been a shame, both for me and for the organisations I’ve worked for over the years.

That’s why I say to all women: be curious, and don’t let pre-existing expectations quash that curiosity. Instead, follow your curiosity, follow your passions and be confident in the value you can bring.

By Wendy Koh, vice president of Pathways, Alliance and Strategy across Asia Pacific at NetApp


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