Within the thriving ecosystem of vendors, distributors and partners competing for customer buy-in and market share across Southeast Asia, one common goal unites the technology sector - diversity.
Whether CEO of a large multi-national, or starting out at a local solutions provider, the industry shares a collective responsibility to support women in technology, taking shared action to create diverse and inclusive teams. Yet change can be challenging, creating the need for female leaders to ‘Pay It Forward’ to ensure a long-lasting commitment to diversity.
“Diversity is about everyone; all backgrounds, ages, ethnicity, experience and gender,” observed Vicki Batka, vice president of Partner Organisation across Asia Pacific and Japan (APJ) at Cisco. “When I think about diversity, I consciously think about how we should be inclusive to all and listen to all. At Cisco, we consider diversity to be very similar and our mantra even includes; ‘to build an inclusive future for all’.”
According to Batka - when addressing leading female executives during an exclusive Channel Asia virtual roundtable - ‘paying it forward’ is centred around the concept of championing women in technology, ensuring that knowledge and experiences are shared for the betterment of the wider industry.
“I have been very fortunate to have had many people contribute towards my long career in technology and I now think it’s important to carve time out to invest in others and support them as they build their own careers,” Batka added. “This requires time out for coaching, mentoring or just some basic career guidance through an informal conversation and sometimes even over a glass of bubbles or wine.
“At Cisco, in ASEAN, we recently ran a great internal program focussed on reverse mentoring. We are embracing learning from each other as we all need to adapt to the ‘now’ and not hold onto the past methods.”
Support and investment
In assessing how female leaders can help support and invest in fellow women within technology, Batka advised industry figures to “make the time to help someone”.
“Say yes more than you say no and start by helping just one person,” she advised. “Then go from there. You just need to start. For example, at Cisco, I sit in a chain of female managers - from two levels below me to two levels above - which I have never experienced before. So we effectively have female role models we can look up to and aspire to become, as we invest and nurture future female talent.”
Echoing Batka’s observations, Louise Co - regional alliance manager of Asia Pacific at NTT - acknowledged that the most valuable contribution from any leader is time.
“Having someone to talk to and relate to is powerful enough to eliminate the isolation and helplessness of fighting a difficult battle alone,” added Co, recently recognised as Highly Commended in the Rising Star (Region) category during the inaugural Channel Asia Women in ICT Awards.
“Knowing that there are people who experience and overcome the same challenges can be compelling for others to be brave and persevere themselves. Simply put, being available for someone can provide the strongest foundation for them to stand on so that they can reach their own heights.”
For Pei Lin Yeo - partner of Delaware Singapore - being open to sharing the “ups and downs” of the journey is equally important when encouraging the next generation of female leaders, in addition to those facing difficulties navigating the path ahead.
“Female leaders have experienced a lot to get to where they are and I’m pretty sure not all was rosy,” she said. “Therefore it’s important to put aside time to mentor or coach fellow women and generally be available to others.”
Delving deeper, the onus is also on individuals to communicate the need for flexibility, demonstrating to employees that they can balance both work and career ambitions with taking care of children or elderly parents.
“They also must lead by example and commit to building a human-centric workplace,” advised Marion Ryan, vice president of Channel across Asia Pacific at ServiceNow. “This has become even more urgent since the onset of the pandemic because women are nearly twice as likely as men to report that they will leave their workplace within the next year, and are 35 per cent more likely to report a significant negative experience during this time.”
Amplification is also mission-critical in creating a support framework for females, as outlined by Ween Sze Teoh, regional manager of Global PMO at World Wide Technology (WWT).
“Amplify a fellow woman in technology, amplify their ideas,” she said. “Speak their name and ensure their ideas and contributions are heard and credited for. Sharing stories is equally crucial - both good and bad - because learning through experiences and sharing is one of the best ways to make an impact.”
Meanwhile, Sala Muthukrishnan - chief solutions advisor at DXC - advocated for confidential advisory discussions within the business, advising female colleagues to form internal groups to discuss performance reviews and remuneration in a safe and supportive environment.
“Encourage women to become certified, initiate technology challenge programs and other learning and development initiatives at organisation and industry levels,” added Muthukrishnan, recently awarded Technical honours during the Women in ICT Awards.
Meanwhile in Indonesia, Caroline Gondokusumo - founder and CEO of D-Net - reinforced the belief that every person should share an equal right to succeed within the technology sector; “capabilities should determine success, not gender”.
“Studies show that diversity of all types increases an organisation’s productivity and innovation,” Gondokusumo outlined. “But many women still have a glass ceiling so we need to help one another to free ourselves from this belief. I consciously challenge myself to break free and rise higher.”
Speaking as head of Strategy and Operations across Southeast Asia at Google Cloud, Tiffany Choong advised leaders to become active in both the hiring and development aspects of talent development, fresh from taking home the Rising Star (Region) honours during the Women in ICT Awards.
“For hiring, building a strong pipeline is important to remove the variability of available candidates around the time of hire,” Choong said. “It's also important to give the market a consistent and up-to-date understanding of skills required and job scopes so it's great to stay open to do chats with potential candidates as a form of giving back.”
Building stronger networks
Unveiled to the market in October, the inaugural Women in ICT Awards recognised and celebrated female excellence within the ASEAN channel.
More than 160 individuals tuned in live to celebrate the achievements of a talented group of female front runners who have become influential technology figures across Southeast Asia, reflective of IDG’s increasing commitment to the region.
After receiving more than 150 nominations, 91 individuals made the final shortlist, spanning Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Philippines, Vietnam and Myanmar, representing more than 40 unique organisations at partner, vendor and distributor levels.
“Forums that help facilitate women connecting across different functions and companies are very valuable, like the one hosted by IDG,” Choong of Google Cloud added.
“Flagging top of mind global content and trends for discussion, especially around flexible working arrangements and challenges faced by women entering the workforce, seeking jobs or changing careers during Covid-19 will help us better understand what is needed to support diversity. People love to rally around a cause, so once a common interest is raised, it's much easier to build an interest group or network around that.”
As outlined during the virtual ceremony, Women in ICT Awards was launched to represent more than an awards program, evolving into mentorship, alumnae gatherings and executive networking sessions - designed to continually shine a spotlight on diversity and inclusion irrespective of company or location across Southeast Asia.
Leading this charge in ASEAN is Cherry Yumul - Commercial Director of Channel across Asia Pacific at IDG - building on similar momentum in Australia and New Zealand.
“I am so personally thrilled to see IDG investing in Asia and specifically in recognising women in ICT in Asia,” Batka of Cisco said. “This is a huge step towards setting up a cohort of women and elevating the amazing work that so many females have done in our industry over the past few decades and certainly paving the way ahead to create a brighter future for all of us.
“We also need to support each other. I think it’s important to mentor people outside of your organisation as it also gives you an important lens, a ‘real view’ of what is happening around us.”
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