Above all else, the culture of men and women working together is the most important thing to address
Thailand offers little government or independent research on women in the ICT sector. UNESCO, however, last year released a report that revealed that Thailand was way ahead of most countries in region relating to women working STEM (Science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields.
Compare, for instance, Thailand’s 53 per cent share of female researchers working in the fields of science, technology and innovation, compared to Japan’s 15 per cent or South Korea’s 18 per cent. Thailand is generally seen as progressive in this area.
Katherine ‘Kathy’ Aphaivongs, a Thai/American Managing Director for SavingsAsia (Thailand) Company Limited and Masii Group (Thailand) Company Limited, both B.Grimm joint venture companies, is currently tasked to launch Masii.com, a financial comparison portal, as well as grow the comparison platform into other ASEAN countries. Katherine told us she does see a trend in women entering the tech industry, saying, “Women are beginning to turn towards the tech industry more as the market begins to mature. As with any industry, there needs to be a demand.”
She explained that she believes that, “Tech has predominately been a male dominated industry because of the gender roles that we’ve been assigned since the generation of the baby boomers, i.e., men become engineers and women become nurses.” But she adds that with all evolution of ideas and beliefs, it takes time to see change happen. “As tech is still fairly new in Asia,” she says, “it will take some time for women to realise that they, too, can do reap the rewards of this industry. We can start seeing this from the number of women enrolled in tech related classes.”
She says that Thailand will definitely see more women working in tech. “It’s already happening” she says, although she explains that many of these roles are still related to sales and marketing roles. Nonetheless, she says she is, “noticing that more and more women are applying for the technical job postings I have out.” As examples of Thai women working in leadership in tech she gives the names of Shannon Kalayanamitr of MOXY, Aliza Napartivaumnuay of Socialgiver.com and Suphajee Suthumpun of Thaicom.
“Over the last 12 years we’ve seen a dramatic shift in who is applying for tech jobs, in the early days only 10-20 per cent of our applicants were female, last year the applicant split was 54:46, women-to-men.” Says Aware’s HR Director, Poungthong Thipdang.
It’s evident when being guided through Aware’s offices and manicured gardens that many of the higher level staff are women, something that might have been an aberration a decade or two ago.
“I believe a lot of our success in attracting female talent is down to a strong leadership team, which is now 19 ladies strong (vs 13 men), and we’ve been able to build a culture that attracts and nurtures female talent.”
Jirakorn ‘Dew’ Nai Fun has been working with Aware for the past 11 years and currently holds the position of business analyst. Dew studied industrial engineering at Chiang Mai University when at that time engineering faculties all over Thailand were populated mostly by males. “Fifty years ago,” she says, “women only studied in the nursing or teaching fields.” Now she says that has changed, and that Thai women study in a variety of fields. “When I studied engineering I think only 10 per cent of the students were women, but now I think it’s almost equal.” Gender doesn’t make such a difference anymore, says Dew.
And looking at the Aware team, which is 60 per cent (366) female, and 40 per cent (225) male, Dew’s words seems to hold true.
Varaporn Pongvilai also works for Aware in a position of leadership, working as project manager. She graduated in computer science. Varaporn also believes that the tide has turned and that Thai women have more opportunities than they did in the past. She grew in an all-female family with two sisters, living only with their mother. Both her sisters are successful, with one managing a large firm. Varaporn climbed the ranks of personnel at Aware, starting as a software engineer, moving to an assistant analyst to business analyst to finally project manager.
A change in attitude is needed
Unfortunately, the situation at Aware and Thailand is not indicative of the industry as a whole. Many reasons have been put forward as to why women are underrepresented in the global tech industry, or why so few women opt to take a computer science degree. Some of the postulations are that there is a lack of female role models in the industry, a lack of education in early development about opportunities in the tech sector, and that parenting is a major reason why some women leave the industry early.
Of course discrimination still plays a part in how women are treated within the industry, just as discrimination still exists for women in all walks of professional life. Some critics have said that women are stigmatised in the tech industry, and because of this are much less likely to attend networking events, social occasions, or even rounds on the golf course.
Kristen Nicole, currently editor of Silicon Valley-based tech media company SiliconANGLE, named by Forbes as a top influencer in Big Data, explained to me what she thinks about a woman’s role in the tech industry these days.
Nicole began her career in tech at what has become one of world’s leading tech blogs: Mashable. “I was the first full time employee at Mashable and helped pioneer a new career path in blogging that had been unheard of at the time,” says Nicole, “I was more often than not the only female and the only African American at most events I attended. I immediately stood out for those two reasons, and I took advantage of it to the fullest.”
She goes on to say that every place she’s worked for in tech, she has been one of the few females at the company. Nicole came from a background that did not encourage strict gender roles circumscribing her professional ambitions. She believes that women these days are encouraged to study what was once seen as a man’s domain, notably science and math. However, she says, “What still needs to be addressed is the attitudes of the workplace.”
In her experience, she says that females that haven’t pursued these fields because they had trouble with the subjects in school, or feel more comfortable in other subjects. But, she explains, “Beyond school, the workplace is the next challenge. Sitting in on meetings at work that are typically all male, I quickly get a sense of how differently males act when there’s no females around. And from some of the office jokes my husband shares from his experiences, I can see why both males and females often feel uncomfortable merging cultures in the workplace. I’ve also read reports indicating women are less likely to speak up in meetings, less likely to be aggressive in requesting equal pay or pay increases.”
One way to address this she says is to adopt more transparent systems within the office, perhaps one where everyone’s pay is public knowledge to all other employees. “But without such transparency, this goes back to culture clash, where a woman may fear being perceived as bitchy if her behaviour mimics that of her male counterparts. I personally feel that actions prevail – if a person can back up their words/requests/contributions with notable and consistent performance, then regardless of how they’re perceived, more importantly they’ll be respected.”
A positive, she says, is that more programmes are being launched specifically targeting females in STEM, teaching them to code and nurturing the entrepreneurial spirits. “The other good thing is that women already make up the majority of the workforce, and all industries are becoming more reliant on and integrated with the tech sector. So even if a woman didn’t study science or math in college, she very well may end up working in tech.”
How can we change the conception that tech is a man’s world?
Nicole, who has become one of the world’s most notable tech writers, says, “I think above all else, the culture of men and women working together is the most important thing to address. I’m not concerned so much with women proving themselves worthy coders or brilliant engineers as much as I’m concerned with their ability to earn respect amongst their peers.” She says she has never felt uncomfortable in countless tech business settings, as an African American raised in predominantly white culture she says being a minority is something she has lived with her whole life.
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She also points out that women working in tech often go under the radar, so in what seems like a man’s world actually there’s a foundation where women work along with men.
“There are so many women that already work with technology, even if they’re not programmers or CIOs, that get overlooked in these discussions about women in tech,” she says. “I know statisticians that have been crunching numbers for 20 years that should be applauded for their mastery of software in today’s data science environments. I know women that work as project managers on large scale construction sites and head the implementation of Oracle software for an entire global office network that aren’t counted as ‘women in tech’ because they work in what’s traditionally considered a non-tech department.”
Reports continue to indicate that the real issue is a cultural one, says Nicole. “I don’t think many people today would still consider the female brain less capable in science or math than her male counterpart,” she concludes. “So recognising the issue as a workplace culture problem could really propel us forward – expanding our concept of tech could really propel us forward.”
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Written by James Farrell, Author and Journalist, http://ift.tt/dSpFZd
Editted by Sean Allan, Digital Marketing Manager, Aware Corporation
This article originally appeared on Chiang Mai City Life.
The views expressed here are of the author’s, and e27 may not necessarily subscribe to them. e27 invites members from Asia’s tech industry and startup community to share their honest opinions and expert knowledge with our readers. If you are interested in sharing your point of view, submit your post here.
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