Girl Talk: Shaping the Girls in ICT story through conversation

Speakers and attendees at Singapore’s Girls in ICT Day 2017, co-organised by NUS Enterprise, Angels of Impact and Female Founders

Singapore celebrated Girls in ICT Day 2017 on 20 April with a panel discussion involving influential female start-up founders and women who work in tech companies. The event was co-organised by NUS Enterprise, Angels of Impact and Female Founders.

We teamed up to bring together a diverse panel of technopreneurs and women who work in ICT (InfoComm Technology) to discuss unique situations that women face as they operate at the intersection of business and technology. Moderated by Angels of Impact Founder and technology veteran Laina Greene, and NUS computer engineering student Srishti Aggarwal, the diverse array of women — Atikah Amalina (Vice-president of Student Affairs, The Codette Project); Simrat Sawhney (Ad Tech & Publisher Solutions, Facebook); Yiping Goh (Founder Partner — Quest Ventures) Krystal Choo (Founder, Wander); and Rinita Vanjre Ravi (Co-founder, Bonappetour) — gathered in the cosy setting of campus incubator The Hangar by NUS Enterprise on a Thursday night.

The three entrepreneurs on the panel are among 15% of women who make up the Singaporean start-up founder community. In Singapore, only 3% of venture capital funds go to women in Singapore, shared Joanna Catalano, President of the Singapore Chapter of Female Founders. What drew these women into technology?

From left to right: Atikah Amalina (The Codette Project), Yiping Goh (Quest Ventures), Rinita Vanjre Ravi (Bonappetour), Simrat Sawhney (Facebook)

Technology as a leveler

For some, technology was a curiosity — for others, it was a necessity.

Technology is an enabler and platform for equal opportunity, where one can purely be evaluated by one’s abilities, not appearance. As a 12-year-old, Krystal taught herself to code HTML and Javascript, paying her way through school by designing websites for people in other parts of the world, and other virtual projects. No one would be able to make a “snap judgement” based on who was behind the computer, unlike in face-to-face meetings, where women find themselves discriminated against owing to their appearance. In a separate anecdote, Krystal shared how she chose to hire a physically imposing man (a “Scorpion King” figure) to accompany her into meetings to present her ideas — and his words would be more readily accepted because of his stature.

Today, technology is not simply limited to coding but permeates every sphere of life. For Simrat, who manages Facebook’s digital marketing campaigns, there is no distinction:

“Society has progressed such that everything involves technology — it’s not coding; it’s the whole ecosystem around coding. There’s no ‘tech company’, no ‘digital marketing’ — all companies are technology, and all marketing is now digital.” — Simrat Sawhney

ICT is deeply embedded all around us, affecting the way that we shop, call for taxis, order food, and communicate.

Women as enablers

Despite the discrimination one may face in the workplace for as a woman, standing out as the only lady in the room has its advantages. “You’re one in a room of other men — people remember you,” shared Rinita, recalling her first pitch for her start-up as a university student.

Just as technology is an enabler, women are enablers as well, allowing environments around them to flourish. “Women build families around them,” Krystal observed. With women actively leading in the workplace, “families” are no longer confined to the domestic sphere. Furthermore, through technology, women’s voices — in particular minority voices — are amplified, allowing women to influence and inspire others in ways they previously were not able to. “As a minority woman, you need to feel empowered,” shared Tudung-clad Atikah, who celebrates her own individuality within Malay-Muslim customs, and takes responsibility to impact the next generation:

“You need to see someone who looks like you to feel empowered…When you succeed as someone of a minority, it’s your responsibility to open more doors for other people.” — Atikah Amalina
From left to right: Srishti Aggarwal (NUS student), Krystal Choo (Wander), Atikah Amalina (The Codette Project)

Being a she-for-she

One thing that draws all the women together is grit, laced with elegance.

“Even if I start a business and fail, I can start again.” — Yiping Goh

Don’t be daunted by failure, said Yiping, who had learnt the ropes of running a business as the 8-year-old cashier of her parents’ hawker stall. Daring experimentation is not new to the Real Estate major-turned-entrepreneur, who embraced the NUS Overseas Colleges programme for its opportunity to travel abroad and later gained further overseas experience in Indonesia-based eCommerce platform Matahari Mall.

Unexpectedly personal themes came up in the conversation, ranging from how to dress from day-to-day to be taken seriously, to whether women need to play down their feminine side in business settings, to the question of whether females are less secure than men about making decisions. Ultimately, it is about being a confident person. “It’s about believing in yourself,” said Rinita, who had boldly ventured into Italy with her fellow female co-founder as young Asian university students attempting to test the market in the early stages of Bonappetour — their Airbnb for Home Dining.

Having fellow she-for-shes and he-for-shes are needed to encourage women to step out of stereotypes, and take charge. Out of curiosity and for her own learning, Simrat started communities within Facebook to discuss issues specific to women.

“Women need to support other women, and not feel like other women in the room are a challenge.” — Simrat Sawhney

By speaking up for one another, women can help erode gender discrimination in the workplace.

What made the GirlsinICT day panel memorable was the spontaneous conversations, laughter, and camaraderie across the panel, and even with the audience. May these significant conversations, which reshape the story of women in technology, continue for a long time to come.

This article is written by Joanna Hioe, and originally published on the ITU website. International Telecommunication Union (ITU) is the United Nations specialised agency for information and communication technologies.

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