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Are S’pore’s initiatives to empower women in tech enough? Tech firms have a part to play too

women in tech

Singapore’s Information and Communications Technology (ICT) sector employs around 200,000 professionals. However, over the next three years — with the rise of digitalisation — it’s foreseen that another 60,000 are needed to meet the growing demand.

A survey by Amazon Web Services (AWS) found that by 2025, Singapore would require another 1.2 million digitally skilled workers to meet the demands of the economy – putting it at a 55 per cent increase from the present 2.2 million in the workforce.

It’s surprising that there is a continuous lack of manpower in the ICT workforce, considering that Singapore holds the highest percentage of women in tech in the world at 41 per cent, way above the global average of 28 per cent.

Yet, out of the 2,800 ICT university graduates produced each year, only 58 per cent of women who graduated with a degree in Science, Technology, Engineering, Math (STEM) chose to pursue careers in these fields, compared to men at 70 per cent.

This means that our domestic supply of ICT graduates are unlikely to meet our economy’s needs. Instead of outsourcing available jobs to foreigners, increasing our local women in the ICT fields could mitigate the looming issue at hand.

Why does gender matter in code?

Gender shouldn’t matter in code. Yet, we cannot ignore that creators of digital solutions are mostly men.

When algorithms are trained and developed on data that subconsciously contain gender biases, said biases are reproduced and amplified.

Take Amazon’s AI recruiting software as an example, which bases its automated selection process on company’s historical employment records. Ultimately, it was found to systematically discriminate against female candidates.

women in tech
Coding for women / Image Credit: Betterprogramming.pub

Having more women in tech adds to an industry’s dimension. Diversity and inclusion not only make business and community sense, but it’s a necessity to stay relevant. Diverse teams are also proven to outperform others financially.

Socially, having more female developers can help create safer digital spaces for other women and girls by filling tech roles that require a more emotional perspective.

Grace Chng, author and host of The CurIOus Podcast, reiterates how tech roles are not limited to coders, network engineers, or cloud architects. Emerging roles include game artists and designers, digital custodians for the crypto and NFT markets, and even digital marketers.

The key is to showcase role models by raising awareness of exciting opportunities in tech, and highlighting the successful female technologists to encourage a younger generation of girls to study STEM and join the tech industry.

– Grace Chng, Author and Host of The CurIOus Podcast

Building an all-inclusive tech industry

Singapore has acknowledged the need for a diverse workforce and encourages industry players and companies to play a part.

Recently, it introduced the Cross-Polytechnic Girls in Tech (CP GIT) Committee with an aim to nurture the interest of women in tech and further increase possibilities for digital businesses to demonstrate how girls and women can contribute to the tech ecosystem.

cross polytechnic girls in tech signing
Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signed between IMDA and five polytechnics in lieu of CP-GIT / Image Credit: SG Women in Tech

The Digital for Life movement also promotes digital inclusion, resilience, and adoption of tech for life. Since its inception, 22 projects have been funded with 43 per cent of project owners and advocates being women from STEM industries.

Currently, there are seven ongoing projects and counting, as part of the continuous effort to support women get digitally savvy and connected.

Stem First also provides female students between ages of 16 and 24 with support and mentorship in STEM with modules that cover AI, machine learning, blockchain, cloud, cyber security and data analytics.

Ms Indranee Rajah, Second Minister of Finance and National Development, acknowledged last year that “encouraging girls to develop an interest in tech from a young age will be an important step in bringing more women in the field as it will instil more confidence in them”.

With said initiatives and industry support, the number of tech professionals in Singapore has grown to more than 200,000 today with tech jobs, increasing about 10,000 annually in the last three years from 2019 to 2021.

Importance of levelling the tech playing field

Companies, especially tech companies, are in a position to lead by example in moulding the company culture and policy to help drive employee action, education and policies for a better represented business environment.

– Eric Goh, Vice President and Managing Director of Dell Technologies Singapore

It’s as simple as ‘if you can see it, you can be it’. If people see themselves represented, they know they too have a possible route to the top.

It’s truly up to industry and business leaders and the community to empower women and other underrepresented minorities with a clear path to develop their careers, giving them the confidence to overcome obstacles and upskill.

At the end of the day, tech is a driving force for the transformation of lives. It too can be a democratiser and help drive faster progress.

Featured Image Credit: SG Women in Tech

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