Catching Up

3 M’sian Lady Bosses Tell What It’s Like To Be Leaders In The Tech Industry

  • Three Malaysian women bosses give their thought about their role within tech entrepreneurship and their advice for other aspiring female entrepreneurs.

Today’s tech industry in general is incredibly fast-moving, full of innovation, constantly evolving to introduce and adopt new trends. But despite so much talk of inclusivity elsewhere, there exists quite a disparity in the number of women leaders in the field. Even if few in number, there are still female tech bosses that have gone on to forge successful businesses and make names for themselves despite all odds.

So in conjunction with International Women’s Day, we’re featuring three Malaysian female bosses along with their views on what it’s like to be a woman striving to make it big in the male-dominated tech industry. Here, they tell about how they got started, about their strongest supporters, and what they think of the state of tech entrepreneurship for women in general.

Munirah Looi, CEO of Brandt International

Image Credit: Brandt International

Munirah is the founder and CEO of Brandt International, a leading business and customer experience solutions provider that employs over 750 staff in consulting, customer service, sales, and digital workforce solutions. In 2019, Munirah’s brand aims to hit a workforce of 3,000 and 5,000 by the year 2020.

Aside from running Brandt International, Munirah also wears many hats including being the founder and chairperson of Women’s Extraordinaire Foundation, the president of the Professional Women Network, Kuala Lumpur, a life member of International Business Leaders, as well as deputy president of the Contact Centre Association of Malaysia while also being the global market business lead for Outsourcing Malaysia.

What motivated you to begin in the tech industry?

Primarily, it was demand-driven along with the need for Brandt to have a sustainable business model to create a competitive advantage in the marketplace.

I started the company 15 years ago specialising in enabling clients to create a consistent customer experience throughout their touch points and gain a competitive edge against their competition. Based on the disruptive market environment and the need for “speed to market”, customers needed insights and enablers to deliver their brand promises. As such, Brandt started to build capabilities in big data & analytics, AI, and others to help our customers.

Who are your strongest supporters?

The first is key government agencies like MDEC. Through participation in their various programs like EPP and GAIN, we’ve gotten support in the areas of expanding capabilities, market access, and brand building.

There are also industry associations like OM & PIKOM, who have been providing insights on the GBS industry through industry and research reports, forums, conferences and networking sessions , and MATRADE, through their mid-tier corporate development programs. Not forgetting GBS Iskandar Puteri who have supported our expansion and near-shore strategies.

What are some of the difficulties you’ve faced in an industry dominated by men?

When you enter tech, you realise that there’s more men than women, you can’t deny that. But, I don’t think you should make that an obstacle—you can’t get deterred as a female founder knowing that’s the landscape.

You need to ignore the naysayers and surround yourself with investors who believe in you, believe in your ideas, believe in the market you’re going after, and believe in your ability to execute, most importantly. The challenge is be recognized as a ‘thought-leader’ in the industry. It takes more effort to influence to be recognised as such. Overall the industry is must kinder compared to interacting with bankers and VCs to raise funding for growth and scale.

Ever think of quitting?

Not in my vocabulary! The key is you have to be passionate with what you do and have laser-focused execution capabilities. I have adopted my personal strategies, using the 5Ps of life success—a clear purpose, a focus on what you are passionate about, persistence to achieve your purpose, which means always find means to overcome obstacles and challenges, perseverance despite doing something difficult, and patience.

Have you ever faced backlash from your friends and family?

Success will not come easy without the support from families and friends. Managing family members and ongoing dialogues helps to gain support in whatever your do.

What’s your definition of “Lady Boss”?

Being a lady boss to me means independence, confidence, and being in control. But personally, I do not like these gender-biased terms. A boss is a boss regardless of sex. We need to continue fighting against negative stereotypes while at the same time celebrating our differences.

Do we need more women in the tech scene?

We need more people in tech, period. Diversity does lead to better products and results. The growth rate for employment in this sector will continue to be on an upward trend, and the reason we need more women in technology is simply that we would have excluded 50% of an equally capable group. Women can bring just as much value to this field.

What are the advantages or disadvantages of having more women in an organisation?

Gender diversity and inclusivity is what we all should be striving for. There is no substantial difference between men and women at work, though the general perception is that women are better problem solvers, more trusted, use collaborative approaches and are terrific mentors.

If you had the chance to do it all over again, would you have done it the same way?

Yes, but at a faster pace.

What’s your advice to younger women who intend to venture into the tech space?

Go for it! Go where your passion lies and never be afraid to fail. Failure is an important part of your growth and developing resilience. Don’t be afraid to fail. Being a woman on a team of all men means that you are going to have a unique voice. It’s important to embrace that.

Natalie Sit, Acestar Sdn Bhd

Image Credit: Acestar Sdn Bhd

As the head of ICT services provider Acestar, Natalie Sit’s origin story is one of humble beginnings, rejection, and determination to overcome all challenges. She believes strongly in using education as a development tool, and invests heavily into educating both her clients and workforce to ensure both sides make informed decisions. “Working with Passion and Integrity” is the core value that she’s built Acestar on, and will continue to be the guiding path for future expansions of her business.

What motivated you to begin in the tech industry?

My first full time job was at a small IT firm in Ipoh 20 years ago. Even with no IT background, I felt the IT field was very interesting, and to learn it from scratch at such a young age was very cool and even put me ahead of my peers who knew all about the latest technologies, hence to me nothing is better than working in the tech industry.

Who are your strongest supporters?

My family, my beloved team of Acestarians, and my successful entrepreneur peers.

What are some of the difficulties you’ve faced in an industry dominated by men?

Well, I don’t really face any difficulties or get offended as a woman in the tech industry. I’m so grateful that most of the tech entrepreneur I’ve met have been very kind to share their wisdom and great ideas.

Ever think of quitting?

The most critical situation was when I started my business during the first three years.

I was doubtful of my capabilities and had thought like “business is not for me”, “I’m not a good leader”, or “I will never be successful”. I had all kinds of negative thoughts and felt like quitting, but my inner self kept pushing me to move forward, and go through the obstacles one by one.

Eventually as times went by, I realised that I didn’t give up but instead overcame them!

Have you ever faced backlash from your friends and family?

I am so blessed, that so far none of this has happened. Moreover, I am quite forgetful of unhappy incidences and forgive the people who didn’t support me.

I think complaints or fear shouldn’t be part of the “Entrepreneur DNA”.

What’s your definition of “Lady Boss”?

That sounds very bossy! But in traditional mindsets, most bosses are men, and in the old days this term (Lady Boss) was usually used to describe a wife of boss (man). I personally don’t like being called “Lady Boss”.

Do we need more women in the tech scene?

I would say we need more smart and great visionary people in the tech scene, and it doesn’t matter if they’re men or women—both genders carry different natural strengths and capabilities!

And I strongly encourage women that they should leverage their strength into their careers, and find out their passion— it doesn’t matter whether they’re in freelance, full-time employment or doing business. We definitely play an important role in job creation, the economy, and society.

The true fulfilment comes from knowing what you’re able to give, and when you give it!

What are the advantages or disadvantages of having more women in an organisation?

Haha, this is a very tricky question!

The advantages are that women are more caring, and are well organized. As for the disadvantages, be prepared if many women workers start taking maternity leave at the same time!

If you had the chance to do it all over again, would you have done it the same way?

Certainly! I am fascinated about my past, grateful for the present, and excited for my future!

What’s your advice to younger women who intend to venture into the tech space?

They have to decide first what type of business journey they would like to venture into.

The first is the conventional tech business that believes in making profits first. Here you should pay lots of attention to your profits and losses, invest lots into your people, generate productivity for the economy. But be prepared that it will take a much longer time to have any significant achievements—usually five to ten years to bloom. I call this type of entrepreneur the “Artist”.

The second type is the new tech business which focuses a lot on marketing, branding, and getting traction. You should have great pitching skills, and be able to shoot out very sexy business models in order to get high valuations. This can most probably happen within three to five years if you clearly know what you want.

I believe in both, but it depends on your vision and tenacity.

S. Saraswathy, Aetins Sdn Bhd

Image Credit: Aetins Sdn Bhd

Saraswathy—or Saras as she’s fondly known as—holds the position of COO and Director of Aetins, an tech-based solutions provider for the insurance and Takaful industries. She personally has more than 20 years of operational experience, and has been key in facilitating her company’s growth to now serving clients in over 13 countries around the world. Looking ahead, her company is now poised to venture into more international markets in the USA, Europe, Australia, Japan, and Thailand.

What’s your take on the industry you’re in?

Technology has been advancing at a high speed over the years in almost all industries. For the Insurance sector—which is a deemed as a very traditional business—the business model is changing along with the technology changes and it’s a pleasure to be part of the Insurtech field and be an enabler for Insurance companies to adopt technology.

Who are your strongest supporters?

My partner and all my peers in the industry.

What are some of the difficulties you’ve faced in an industry dominated by men?

In some markets it’s challenging to get the right attention, however once capabilities are shown, they tend to accept.

Ever think of quitting?

Yes, but I’ve so far been able to gear back up within a short time.

Have you ever faced backlash from your friends and family?

Not directly, but I also tend to miss out on things happening around me.

What’s your definition of “Lady Boss”?

Always strive to be the best in the field, and you have to be aggressive sometimes.

Do we need more women in the tech scene?

The more the merrier! But we should also look at capabilities and not just about having more women in the field.

What are the advantages or disadvantages of having more women in an organisation?

It’s certainly an advantage in a sense that women can multitask more than men, which means more work moves in parallel.

The disadvantage comes when they don’t get enough support from their family—this creates limitations on what they can achieve, especially for those with kids.

If you had the chance to do it all over again, would you have done it the same way?

Yes, but in a more planned out manner.

What’s your advice to younger women who intend to venture into the tech space?

Great opportunities await those who are ready to challenge themselves and achieve the new heights in their career.

-//-

The answers from the respondents in this article were compiled by the team at MDEC Global Acceleration and Innovation Network (GAIN), in conjunction with International Women’s Day.

Feature Image Credit: katemangostar @ Freepik

 

Subscribe to Vulcan Post Newsletter

Stay updated with our weekly curated news and updates.