Technology is transforming Southeast Asia. Economic, social, and employment opportunities are increasingly tied to the devices and digital capabilities that power the modern world.
In this technology-enabled landscape, digital talent has become an increasingly valuable resource. They are in high demand, and often limited in supply. Yet there is a remarkable opportunity to unlock additional depth in this invaluable talent resource — through boosting women in technology in Singapore.
Boston Consulting Group (BCG) partnered Singapore’s Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) and SG Women in Tech to assess the landscape of women in technology. This research revealed encouraging signs in engaging female talent, highlighting critical additional steps to build the benefits of a gender-balanced workforce.
Unlocking value through diversity
The Boosting Women in Technology report surveyed 1,650 women holding technology roles across Southeast Asia, complemented by interviews with key female leaders in technology.
The share of women in the overall workforce in Southeast Asia is 38%, 2% above the global average. Just 28% of technology workers are women globally, rising to 32% in Southeast Asia, equal to US, and higher than Australia and UK.
Southeast Asia also boasts strong performance in higher education, with women making up 56% of students. That’s equal to the global average, and ahead of major emerging economies such as China and India. In technology degrees, that share is 39%, 4% ahead of the global average.
Singapore has a proud history of technology, from the early days of the silicon wafer fabrication industry through to a position today as the second most digitally competitive country in the IMD World Digital Competitiveness Ranking. This goes some way to explaining why Singapore has one of the highest engagement rates for women in technology in Southeast Asia, making up 41% of the workforce.
The rise of technology has accelerated demand for digital talent. In Singapore, 5% of technology jobs were vacant in the first quarter of 2020 due to growing demand in a vibrant technology ecosystem. Boosting women in technology provides a valuable opportunity to meet that demand growth.
BCG research shows that gender diversity can make companies more innovative and agile, improving business performance. Those companies in which women account for more than 20% of the management team have approximately 10% higher innovation revenues than male-dominated peers.
In this landscape, the imperative to boost female engagement in technology is clear. Increasing female engagement generates even wider benefits through diversity. The more diverse a workforce is, the more compelling an employer is in attracting better digital talent. This diversity also pays dividends through improvements to customer service, and more positive brand image.
Moments of intervention matter
The Boosting Women in Technology report identified three key moments of truth that play a crucial role in supporting women pursuing long-term careers in technology.
The first comes through education. Inspiring women to pursue a technology major in higher education is critical. Fifty-six per cent of women across the region cited personal interest as the driver of this choice.
Soh Siew Choo, the managing director and group head of consumer banking and big data/AI technology at DBS Bank, told the report creators: “I chose to pursue a computer science degree because I had a keen interest in mathematics and logic, and I’ve always been interested in using logic to automate things. I chose to follow my interest despite my cohort having fewer than 10% women at the time.” She cites parental support as a key driver.
The second moment of truth comes in crucial first job selection. This is influenced both by personal interest, and a natural pathway from education. It is also clear that perceived difficulties or limits to a technology career path can discourage women at this stage.
The third inflection point comes from moments of continuation in a long-term technology career. These considerations are heavily influenced by compensation and benefits, career advancement opportunities, and that crucial work-life balance.
While higher pay and job responsibilities are of particular importance in Singapore at the start of a woman’s career, women in Singapore were highlighting the very high importance of women’s networks and role models throughout their education and career.
What’s clear is each moment of truth presents an opportunity to deepen female participation in technology.
A holistic end-to-end approach which spans these three critical moments of truth can help build a more positive ecosystem. This should incorporate companies, government, educational institutions, and crucially, women themselves.
Building a support framework
It is vital that companies establish structured and thoughtful diversity programmes to engage female talent. Approximately 80% to 90% of respondents who were offered these programmes noted they had personally benefitted from them, yet about a third of companies do not have such programmes in place.
Enterprises should also build talent pipelines creatively by looking beyond traditional technology roles. Technology continues to evolve, necessitating life-long learning that offers a perfect avenue to on-board new talent through non-traditional pathways.
Promoting woman leadership in technology is also important. Starting from the top not only boosts visibility, inspiring the next generation, but provides a route towards the many benefits of leadership diversity in your business.
Government and schools will provide an important foundation to engaging women in technology. It is important to start technology in a curriculum as early as possible, and ensure the environment is conducive for female students. This should include female educators to inspire and promote engagement.
Government also has a vital role in ensuring the right regulatory guidelines to support women in technology. This can include legislation around structural workplace benefits such as maternity and paternity leave, nursing rooms and childcare support. Promoting community awareness around gender diversity and opportunity is also crucial.
Orchestrating and establishing industry partnerships is another step that government should consider. This can help build strong women’s networks, and ensure best practices are leveraged across the sector.
Women of course will play the ultimate role in helping drive this change, hand-in-hand with the structural shifts outlined above. They need to be proactive in building both hard and soft skills for a future-ready technology workforce. Women can drive this upskilling through promoting internal company initiatives or engaging with outside opportunities or networks.
Role models also offer a real boost to this journey. Women in the technology workforce should aspire to successfully achieve their own ambitions, empowering them to then champion other women around them.
Finally, women should work to build allies in their male peers. Gender diversity is not solely a women’s issue, but a question of fair and equal balance that benefits all. Bring them along on this journey, so they can help support its success. Thankfully, the millennial worker segment reveals encouraging acknowledgement of this shared responsibility.
Gender diversity is a rare issue where the solutions benefit everyone. It offers the opportunity to add value and improve performance for business, while unlocking essential new workforce talent for Singapore. Most important of all, gender diversity provides an ecosystem where women can access and be rewarded with the opportunities they deserve.
Vaishali Rastogi is a managing director and senior partner at Boston Consulting Group. She is also the firm’s global leader for the technology, media & telecommunications practice.