Clearing Off Delusions about Women in Tech with Jessie Xia of ThoughtWorks’ Singapore

January 26, 20178:49 am2905 views
Clearing Off Delusions about Women in Tech with Jessie Xia of ThoughtWorks’ Singapore
Workplace environment at ThoughtWorks Singapore office.

The lack of female representation in key tech roles and boardrooms is a global issue, impacting the growth and progress of the women workforce. It is difficult for talented women, not just in tech but other industries as well to break the glass ceiling and challenge the stereotypes, while clearing the air about misconceptions strongly held about women in technology disciplines.

In an exclusive conversation with Ms Jessie Xia, Managing Director of ThoughtWorks’ Singapore, we at HR in Asia question the gender pay gap and divide, challenges to women representation in leadership roles in tech, and what should companies in Singapore do to break free of the diktat by empowering women to herald an era of change and equality.

  • What are the reasons for lack of female representation in the tech sector in Singapore?

The lack of female representation in the tech sector isn’t specific to Singapore – it’s a global issue. A key reason for this is the misconceptions about technical roles that are deeply entrenched within the industry. For example, there could be perceptions revolving around woman’s abilities in engineering and mathematics, which are certainly false and unproven. For women, there’s also the stereotype to deal with, that tech roles are biased towards men and uncreative. This is simply not true.

Ms Jessie Xia, Managing Director, ThoughtWorks’ Singapore

Ms Jessie Xia, Managing Director, ThoughtWorks’ Singapore

With the tech industry poised for growth, particularly in Singapore where the government has committed S$19 billion for research, innovation and enterprise activities, the current under-representation of women in tech could mean women missing out on great career opportunities.

  • How many tech companies according to you have been heralding change to promote women growth in tech, in Asia?

Many tech companies recognise the issue of female under-representation in the sector. Globally, women make up for about a third of the positions available in the tech industry but this is only true in companies that strive to make this change as shown by the Anita Borg Institute. In reality, for many companies the numbers are much lower.

This trend is also reflected in Singapore. ThoughtWorks, as well as the tech industry as a whole, is making concerted efforts to promote inclusiveness and diversity, and the situation is slowly but surely improving. It is a continuous process that requires focus and priority.

  • What are some of the common misconceptions about women in tech? How do you think companies in Singapore can break free of the common misconceptions?

To correct the misconceptions mentioned earlier, companies need to be more proactive about sharing what a real job in tech looks like – that people of all backgrounds have equal opportunities to make a mark for themselves, and that the gender gap is closing day by day.

In hiring women specifically, this has led us to look beyond computer science degree holders as those provide limited access to women we believe would thrive at an organization like ThoughtWorks.

Even if they don’t have a formal education in technology, we approach and engage with women who are involved in the tech community in a variety of ways. We have a number of in-house programs such as ThoughtWorks University, ThoughtWorks Academy, and the Women in Leadership Development globally to level up these individuals.

While baseline skill sets are important, we focus on the potential and passion of candidates who are willing to learn, want to learn and will challenge and grow. The ThoughtWorks culture is heavily focused on continuous learning, so this appetite to learn is a critical component when assessing potential ThoughtWorkers.

  • How does it feel to beat tech giants Google and Facebook to grab the top spot as the company for women technologists?

We are humbled to be awarded and recognised for our efforts in promoting diversity and inclusion. When it comes to championing women rights, every tech company has a part to play and this is a common goal that unites our industry.

See: Attitudes of Women in Tech: Challenges to Leadership and Growth

  • Was it a conscious effort to promote more women in tech or an ingrained recruitment philosophy since inception at ThoughtWorks? 

ThoughtWorks has always championed inclusivity, and prioritised creating diversity in the workforce.  It has been proven that diverse teams produce best results, so for ThoughtWorks, we strive to bring out the best for ourselves and for our clients. It is not an option but part of our philosophy and ingrained culture to have a diverse work workforce.

  • What is the percentage of women in leadership roles and boardroom within the company organization as of today? What are the efforts made by ThoughtWorks to encourage more women participation? 

In Singapore and Asia Pacific alone, women make up 39 percent of the ThoughtWorks workforce. The main programs and philosophies that have contributed to our progress include:

  • Looking beyond the computer science department for technologists
  • Purposeful onboarding and investing in all talent
  • Inclusive, open environment with a feedback culture
  • Women in Leadership Development (WILD) program launched in Asia Pacific in 2016 specifically to grow and nurture women talent within the organization.
  • How important is the role of men in senior positions of leadership to act as gender advocates and promote women leadership development?

It is critical for men in senior positions to act as advocates, as leaders shape the culture of an organization. In the same way, women leaders play an important role in leading by example, to demonstrate the impact and influence they have on an organization.

  • What are the challenges and barriers faced by companies in Singapore, towards embracing the idea and initiating necessary action to support women leadership in the technology sector?

The main challenge in the market today is limited talent pool. As regards to diversity, I believe most companies know that it is an area that requires focus. However, it is up to individual companies to decide and define how much effort to place on diversity and this can be a difficult decision.

Local tech companies, especially start-ups, have multiple important business and product goals to meet. The focus on diversity might not be as strong as they’d like, but most tech leaders know that diversity can help in meeting those business objectives, and do have it on their business agenda.

  • How do you think the role of women as tech leaders would evolve in the Asia Pacific region in the next decade? 

Society and perceptions are changing, and women will continue to have more of an impact and be influential. At ThoughtWorks, we already have a number of women leaders including our CTO, Head of Tech for North America, and Group MD for Asia-Pacific, among others.

This trend will continue so I think the future looks bright for women leaders.  An example that shows change in industry is the growth in number of applicants for the Anita Borg Institute award for Top Companies for Women Technologists. This shows that companies have prioritised and are increasingly focused on diversity and balancing the gender gap.

  • What is the projected future outlay for ThoughtWorks Singapore in terms of gender diversity and inclusion?

In 2016 we launched the Women in Leadership Development (WLD) program successfully, which was very positively received, so this is an initiative we will continue.

In 2017, we will be launching the Singapore Academy, an initiative and investment in growing the skills and talent pool in Singapore. We will be partnering with academic institutions to level up the skills of undergraduates through a hands-on program developed and run by ThoughtWorks.

A key focus of this initiative will be to bring in more women, who show passion for technology and help them build upon skills for successful careers.

Also read: Little-Known Facts about Women in Tech: Growing to Top Positions at 238% Faster than Men

Content rights: This exclusive interview content is produced by HR in ASIA. Any redistribution or reproduction of part or all of the contents in this interview is prohibited. You may not, except with our express written permission, distribute or commercially exploit the content. 

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