Gender disparity in tech is a universal problem. The author and serial entrepreneur tells us what needs to be done
In 2013, author and serial entrepreneur Aulia ‘Ollie’ Halimatussadiah published Girls & Tech for young Indonesian women aspiring to start a career in the country’s blossoming tech industry. The book highlighted the importance to have more women in tech, profiled high-achieving women in the industry, and shared pro-tip for aspiring female founders.
But she does not stop at writing books.
As Co-founder of Girls in Tech Indonesia (GiTI), a local chapter of the US-based movement, she recently launched business idea competition #WomenWin. In the event, 10 startup founders — all women — pitched in front of judges to win mentoring and technology development opportunities.
Coming out as winners are Vanda Yulianti with Indonesian Kids, a one-stop portal to promote Indonesian culture to kids; Nike Nadia with Help Nona, an online counselling platform for women; and Putry Yuliastutik with Kostoom, an online marketplace for tailors.
“To inspire girls to work in technology, there have to be more role models. So we don’t only talk about me, or Anantya [van Bronckhorst, Co-founder of Think.Web], or Shinta [Dhanuwardoyo, Founder of Bubu.com],” she says.
Ollie has published more than 20 books on fiction and tech business. Her love for writing led her to co-found self-publishing platform NulisBuku and online bookstore KutuKutuBuku, in which she holds the position of CTO. Apart from GiTI, she also runs Startup Lokal, monthly meetings for tech industry players.
e27 sits down with her to find out what Indonesian women need to do to get ahead in the game.
Here are edited excerpts of the interview:
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Since you published your book in 2013, what progress has been made by Indonesian women in tech industry?
Progress has been great. I don’t have the exact data, but when Dick Costolo [former CEO of Twitter] came here, he was very happily surprised because when he visited the Computer Engineering programme in University of Indonesia; there are already more than 50 per cent of women studying. Back in my time, the maximum was 20-30 per cent.
There are more female students coming to events that I am arranging, and they already have a clear vision for their future startup. I also see more girls, partnering up with boys, using the best of each’s skills to synergise. They have the nerve to come up to me, to pitch or ask for mentoring.
Is affirmative action still necessary? Do we still need an all-women incubator programme?
In a sense, yes. But women-friendly is more like it.
By far, I see that GEPI is the most progressive in this term. It is being led by a woman, Angelyn [Ardiwinata, Executive Director]. Many of its angel investors are women. They even paint the wall pink (laughs).
There shouldn’t be a separate entity especially built for women, but there has to be a balanced proportion between men and women.
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The government plans to introduce coding in school curriculum. Do you think this is enough to encourage more women participation?
In general, I consider that as a progress, not only for girls, but also boys. It’s great to help shape their logic, their thinking ability … to show them early on that coding is actually doable.
What often happens nowadays, girls — and even boys — are often reluctant to enter IT because it gives the image of being unapproachable.
You mentioned in your book that women sabotage themselves by believing that they can’t. How can they tear down this mental barrier?
Growth starts with a decision. To try, to be curious.
After a while, I began to develop a comfort zone. I used to do a lot of coding, but I haven’t done that in a while.
So I gave myself a challenge: Can I create a prototype of a mobile app in 24 hours? Turned out I can. By only using Google and YouTube to search for tutorials, I can came up with a prototype in about three hours.
As long as we have made that decision to move forward, we can.
I am particularly concerned about women who are in an abusive relationship. I want to create an app that includes several speed dials, so in an emergency situation, they only need to press one button and it’ll contact all those numbers.
It’s a very simple concept, and considering how one starts out not knowing how to build an app … Give yourself time, deadline, and you can actually do it.
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At a certain age, women tend to leave their career to take care of the family. What can businesses do — especially startups — in order to help them juggle work and family life?
It’s a bit hard for me to answer as I haven’t experienced it. But looking at my peers who had successfully done it, they do it by working flexible hours. Even if they go to the office, there are very decent nursing rooms with nannies available.
Giving women flexible time [to work], with stronger focus on results. And facilities such as nursery rooms. These are the things that really help.
People have different stages in life, and this is what women are going through in their life. I’d say there is nothing wrong with having a ‘down time’.
Women leaders receive criticism not only on their professional side, but also on personal side, such as when Marissa Mayer took only one month of maternal leave. How can women deal with critics?
Understand yourself and your values — that’s the most important. For me, my value is to be creative. To create something that’ll change people’s lives. If I had understand this well, then whatever people may say, it’ll not affect me at all.
If I don’t know myself, I would be insecure.
And for others, I’d advise them to not judge people.
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