Editor’s note: featured graphic photo is generated by Canva’s AI tool

International Women’s Day is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating gender parity.

In conjunction with International Women’s Day, TNGlobal talked to several female leaders in tech to learn more about their experiences and challenges. They also shared some advices and suggestions to women who are interested to join the tech sector.

Meraque Services Chief Operation Officer Suria Affandi at Area 57, MRANTI Park. She is one of the few female drone pilots in Malaysia.

TNGlobal recently met dronetech firm Meraque Services Chief Operation Officer Suria Affandi, one of the very few female drone pilots in Malaysia at Area 57, MRANTI Park.  She shared her “survival tips” to work in the more male-dominated DroneTech industry.

As the COO, she said she has to always think of the best way on running the operations of the company. Her passion in drones is one of the most important things driving her.

“It’s the passion. Sometimes you have to run the operations. You will have to think properly on how to do it,” she told TNGlobal in a brief interview. She advised all the ladies currently working or wish to join the tech industry to “follow your passion. Don’t stop to do what you dream of.”

Meraque Services is a Malaysia-headquartered dronetech firm which has a foothold in Indonesia, the Philippines and Cambodia.

TNGlobal also interviewed two other female leaders in the tech ecosystem – WORQ Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer Stephanie Ping and PolicyStreet Head of Strategic Operations Elizabeth Tay –  on the challenges they face and how they address these challenges. They also shared what are the policies and initiatives their companies implemented to encourage more female participation and promote gender equality.

WORQ is a Malaysia-based productivity community and flexible workspace provider while PolicyStreet is an insurTech group of companies providing digital insurance solutions to businesses and consumers in Southeast Asia and Australia.

Below are the edited excerpts:

WORQ Co-Founder

WORQ Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer Stephanie Ping

As a female founder, what are the challenges you face and how to address these challenges?

As a female entrepreneur, I have faced my share of subconscious bias. To overcome this, I have had to demonstrate my capabilities with hard core results, taking a longer time to prove myself.

The concept of co-working was also unfamiliar territory when we started, so as a team, we had to explain its purpose and benefits to potential customers and investors new to the idea.

This lack of awareness made securing funding challenging, as it takes awhile for the industry to see the vision that we see. However, we were fortunate to find forward-thinking investors and landlords who believed in our prediction and business model from the very beginning.

Recognizing potential beyond any gender bias, their early support played a crucial role in our success story.

Today, WORQ stands tall as one of Malaysia’s leading co-working space providers, boasting a profitable track record since our first launch in 2017. Many of them recognize that a long standing record of consistent profitability is the litmus test to building a long standing company.

Many have also told us how proud they are of us that a Malaysian company can emerge with a business model that work far better than those born in the developed economies.

They marvel that WORQ is able to turn profitable two months since opening its doors six years ago when many other players were struggling to do so. This journey exemplifies the power of Malaysian companies that can emerge as victors in the world stage.

Within the tech industry, what is the trend like? Are you seeing more female participation across the industry?

The tech industry continues to grapple with a significant gender gap – especially on the technical and leadership side.

While there have been positive strides in recent years, with more women entering the workforce overall, the percentage of women in tech roles remains concerningly low.

While women possess great potential to excel in the technology industry, their presence in the Malaysian workforce currently falls short. They make up just 35 percent of both the tech workforce and the digital economy, highlighting a significant underrepresentation.

Adding to this disparity, the gender pay gap persists, leading to women earning less than their male counterparts, even in identical roles. However, there are some encouraging trends. More young girls are expressing interest in STEM fields, and initiatives promoting coding and tech education are gaining traction.

Additionally, conversations around diversity and inclusion in tech are becoming more prominent, which is crucial for fostering an environment where women feel empowered to pursue careers in the industry.

At WORQ, we believe in fostering a supportive and inclusive environment for all entrepreneurs and professionals, regardless of gender. We actively participate in initiatives that promote women’s empowerment and leadership in tech, and we encourage other organisations to do the same. Bridging the gender gap in tech requires a collective effort, and we are committed to playing our part in creating a more equitable and diverse future for the industry.

Is the tech ecosystem more inclusive? How about the tech scene in Malaysia, based on your observations?

The tech ecosystem globally is striving for inclusivity and I am seeing pockets of progress, though systemic barriers and unconscious biases hinder full participation from diverse groups.

This lack of inclusivity limits opportunities for individuals and impedes the tech industry’s overall innovation and growth potential.

In Malaysia, the tech scene has shown positive signs of increasing inclusivity. Initiatives like the Malaysian Digital Economy Corporation’s (MDEC) #GirlsInTech program and various boot camps geared towards women are creating pathways for more women to enter the field.

Diversity-focused venture capital firms are also emerging, offering crucial support to startups led by women and underrepresented groups. However, challenges remain. Access to education, mentorship, and funding can still be more difficult for women than their male counterparts. Cultural norms and societal expectations can also play a role in discouraging women from pursuing careers in tech.

For WORQ, is there any particular policy to encourage more female participation and promote gender equality?

For WORQ, fostering a truly inclusive environment where everyone thrives regardless of gender is a core value. One initiative we have implemented to address specific challenges faced by working mothers is providing dedicated Mother’s Rooms in our outlets.

These private and comfortable spaces offer mothers the necessary support, alleviating concerns about childcare logistics and the lack of dedicated space. This aims to remove barriers that might hinder their complete engagement and participation in the workplace.

However, our commitment goes beyond physical accommodations. We actively strive to ensure equal opportunities for career growth and advancement for all employees, especially some segments which may be overlooked. In particular, we believe that returning mothers who have taken a time off to care for their children are a great demographic for us to support.

While needing some time to get used to working full or part time again, and having to catch up on the latest technology, we find that providing them with the support and patience for us goes a long way. We encourage a community workstyle which fosters helpfulness and inter-helping between our team mates, and even between companies in our spaces. This allows the returning mothers to ask questions, get help and get the supportive environment they need to get up to speed during their first few months of starting their careers again with us.

That said, we actively prevent any bias based on gender, physical appearance, or personal status such as having children. This ensures a level playing field for all candidates and allows everyone to compete based on their strengths and contributions.

Any suggestions and tips for women working in tech companies or those who want to work in tech companies?

The tech industry is a challenging yet incredibly rewarding field, and your contributions are vital to shaping the future of technology.

Here are some tips: the tech industry is constantly evolving, so staying up-to-date with the latest trends and technologies is crucial.

  • Surround yourself with other inspiring women in tech and work in a community workstyle, that is ask for help and offer help. Leveraging the power of communities is stronger than doing it in our own.
  • Building a strong network can open doors to new opportunities, provide valuable support, and offer a sense of belonging.
  • Be an advocate for yourself. Don’t be afraid to speak up and share your ideas.
  • Be confident in your abilities and actively seek opportunities to advance your career.
  • Additionally, be an advocate for other women in the workplace.
  • Support their professional growth, mentor fellow female colleagues, and work together to create a more inclusive and supportive environment. One vital thing is not letting self-doubt hold you back.
  • Believe in your abilities and potential. Remember, the tech industry needs diverse perspectives and talents; you have much to offer.

PolicyStreet Head of Strategic Operations Elizabeth Tay

What are the challenges you face when spearheading the Operations Team for a home-grown insurtech firm, and how do you address these challenges?

As the Head of Strategic Operations, effective people management and resource allocation are critical aspects of my role at PolicyStreet. In Malaysia, a common diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) challenge is our cultural inclination towards respect and tolerance, which can sometimes lead to self-silencing, even when we have valuable ideas or should speak up.

To address this, building trust among colleagues is essential when working with a diverse team. I encourage authenticity and open expression of thoughts among team members. When team members feel empowered to speak their minds, we can evaluate issues from various perspectives and find better solutions.

I believe personal growth is key to our team’s success. By ensuring my team members are committed to individual improvement regardless of gender and background, we can provide better input, take ownership, and problem-solve as a diverse but united team.

How is the trend within the FinTech and InsurTech industry? Are you seeing more female participation across these industries?

In the insurance industry, there’s a noticeable trend where the profession is predominantly female at the entry level. Yet, the representation decreases as you move up the ladder, with only 31 percent of C-suite positions held by females.

At PolicyStreet, we are changing this narrative. Gender diversity isn’t just lip service for us; it’s a core value that drives our innovation. We believe that diverse perspectives lead to more innovative solutions and happier teams.

That’s why we’re proud to say that we’ve achieved gender parity at the executive level since early 2023, and we’re committed to maintaining this balance.

Are FinTech and InsurTech companies more inclusive? How about the tech scene in Malaysia, based on your observations?

In Malaysia, we are seeing a positive trend towards inclusivity, with women now holding 30.6 percent of board seats in the top 100 public listed companies (PLCs) and nearly 25 percent of all seats across all PLCs on Bursa Malaysia. This shift towards greater gender diversity in leadership positions reflects a growing recognition of the value that diverse perspectives bring to organizations.

In my experience, both FinTech and InsurTech companies are making strides towards inclusivity. However, there is always room for improvement. As of 2021, the percentage of women in the workforce in Malaysia stands at 55.1 percent, but women make up only 35 percent of the digital economy.

In the operations field within FinTech, I observed a relatively equal gender distribution, but I understand that this is based on anecdotal evidence. The actual statistics may present a different picture, although the availability of statistics is limited.

For PolicyStreet, is there any particular policy or quota to encourage more female participation and promote gender equality?

At PolicyStreet, we aim to maintain gender parity at the working level, given that we’ve already achieved a 50:50 ratio in early 2023. To do this, we actively encourage and support female participation across all levels of the organization.

Our goal is to create an inclusive and supportive environment where everyone, regardless of gender, can thrive. We aim to continue celebrating the diversity of our team members and empower them to provide their unique perspectives, allowing us to innovate and problem-solve more efficiently.

Any suggestions and tips for women working in tech companies or those who want to work in tech companies?

My advice to women in tech or those aspiring to join the industry is to be your own biggest advocate. Be confident in your capabilities, and don’t underestimate your worth. Remember, if you never try, the answer will always be no, so believe in yourself and go after what you want.

Be authentically yourself whenever possible. While being kind and respectful is important, don’t shy away from expressing your opinions and ideas. The tech industry thrives on innovation, and everyone has something valuable to contribute. Stay true to your values, let your work speak for itself, and you will attract like-minded people that values you for who you are.

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