Gender stereotypes one of the main barriers for women in 2024 – Lennise Ng

In this interview of Lennise Ng, CEO and co-founder of Borong, the focus was on women in the tech industry in Southeast Asia, particularly in Malaysia. They face numerous barriers and challenges. These include gender stereotypes, cultural expectations, and discrimination, which discourage women from pursuing careers in technology.

Lennise tells Business News that the lack of representation in leadership roles and limited access to education and training further exacerbate the problem.

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Additionally, work-life balance challenges, compounded by societal expectations regarding caregiving roles, make it difficult for women to advance in the industry.

Addressing these issues requires addressing biases in hiring and promotion practices, providing mentorship and role models, improving access to education and training, and implementing supportive workplace policies.

Here are the questions and answers.

Gender stereotypes

Business News: What are the key barriers and challenges that women face in the tech industry, particularly in Southeast Asia?

Lennise Ng: Gender Stereotypes, Cultural Expectations, and Discrimination: Traditional gender roles and stereotypes persist in Malaysia, which often discourage women from pursuing careers in male-dominated fields like technology. Cultural expectations may prioritise women’s roles in caregiving and domestic responsibilities over career advancement. Additionally, women in tech oftentimes face biases and discrimination in hiring, promotion and compensation practices. This can be shown in subtle ways such as being overlooked for opportunities or being subjected to microaggressions in the workplace. 

b. Lack of Representation: Women are underrepresented in leadership positions within tech companies and SMEs in Malaysia. The absence of female role models and mentors can make it difficult for women to envision themselves succeeding in the industry. Hence, choosing a profession in the tech sector would not be a woman’s first choice.

c. Limited Access to Education and Training: Socio-economic factors have often led to the limitation of women’s access to quality education and training in technology-related fields. This lack of access to skills development opportunities has hindered their ability to compete for tech jobs or start their own businesses. Globally, women are typically underrepresented in STEM fields and Malaysia is no different. The current global gender gap for women enrolled in STEM-related education programs versus our male counterparts is approximately 35%.

d. Work-Life Balance Challenges: Balancing work responsibilities with family obligations can be particularly challenging for women in Malaysia, where societal expectations regarding caregiving roles are strong. Flexible work arrangements and supportive policies are often lacking in many tech companies and SMEs.

e. Access to Funding and Resources: Women entrepreneurs often face difficulties accessing capital and resources to start or grow their businesses. Financial institutions and investors may exhibit biases against funding women-led ventures, leading to disparities in access to funding opportunities. These challenges could stem from various reasons from limited access to the right networks to different pitching and communication styles. In the end, more work needs to be done to bridge the gender funding gap.

Lennise Ng on Inclusivity

What diversity and inclusion initiatives have been implemented to address gender disparities in the tech sector?

● Women in Tech Communities and Networks: Various organisations and communities have been established to provide support, networking opportunities, and mentorship for women in the tech industry. For instance, Women Who Code chapters exist in several Southeast Asian countries, providing a platform for skill-building, networking, and career advancement for women in tech.

● Training and Skill Development Programs: Initiatives focused on providing training and skill development opportunities for women in technology are prevalent across the region. These programs aim to equip women with the necessary technical skills and knowledge to excel in tech-related roles. Organisations like Girls in Tech offer workshops, boot camps, and online resources to support women in building their technical capabilities.

● Promoting STEM Education for Girls: Efforts to encourage girls’ interest and participation in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) fields start at the educational level. Various initiatives, including coding camps, STEM workshops, and outreach programs, aim to inspire girls to pursue careers in technology from a young age.

● Corporate Diversity and Inclusion Policies: Many tech companies in Southeast Asia have implemented diversity and inclusion policies aimed at creating more inclusive workplaces. These policies may include initiatives such as unconscious bias training, flexible work arrangements, and mentorship programs to support the career growth of women in tech.

● Hackathons and Competitions: Hackathons and tech competitions provide platforms for women to showcase their skills, collaborate with peers, and gain visibility in the tech community. Some events are specifically designed to encourage participation from women and underrepresented groups in the tech sector. An example of such hackathons is Startup Weekend’s Female Founder Edition Hackathons.

● Research and Advocacy: Research studies and advocacy efforts play a crucial role in raising awareness about gender disparities in the tech sector and advocating for policy changes and industry best practices to promote gender equality and inclusivity. It is important to be able to keep track and have meaningful insights of women in tech in order for policymakers to implement the right changes and where needed. An example of this is UNCTAD’s eTrade4Women program that selects and works with Advocates and community leaders across Southeast Asia.

Women-led SMEs

How does Borong support and mentor women-led SMEs?
Borong conducts frequent training initiatives and programmes for SMEs and partners with women community groups and associations to provide more awareness and education to the importance of bringing their businesses into the eCommerce sector. Borong founders also individually participate and provide one-on-one mentorship to female founders via community groups and accelerators like Founders Institute, 1337 Ventures, Startup Weekend, and many more.

What are the challenges posed by limited internet access for women entrepreneurs, and how does it impede their involvement in digital financial ecosystems?

● Access to Information and Markets: The internet serves as a gateway to a wealth of information, including market trends, consumer behaviour, and business opportunities. Without reliable internet access, women entrepreneurs may struggle to stay informed about market dynamics and identify opportunities for growth and expansion. Limited access to online platforms can also restrict their ability to reach potential customers and access new markets. Today, more than 90% of the Malaysian population own a mobile phone irrespective of the state’s economic development and gender. However with the exception of KL and Klang valley, the rest of the states in Malaysia face challenges to meet UN’s SGD5 goals in bridging the mobile ownership gender gap.

● Financial Services and Banking: Digital financial ecosystems offer a range of services such as mobile banking, digital payments, and online lending platforms that can facilitate financial transactions and business operations. However, women entrepreneurs with limited internet access face barriers in accessing these services, which can impede their ability to manage finances, make payments, and access credit facilities. This can ultimately hinder their business growth and sustainability.

● Skills and Training: Effective participation in digital financial ecosystems often requires digital literacy skills and knowledge of online tools and platforms. Women entrepreneurs who lack internet access may also have limited exposure to digital technologies and may not possess the necessary skills to leverage digital financial services effectively. This can further exacerbate their exclusion from digital financial ecosystems and limit their ability to compete in the digital economy.

● Policy and Infrastructure Constraints: In some regions, especially in rural or underserved areas, limited internet infrastructure and connectivity issues may pose significant challenges for women entrepreneurs. Poor infrastructure and unreliable internet services can undermine the effectiveness of digital financial ecosystems and hinder women entrepreneurs’ ability to fully participate in the digital economy.

The role played by Borong

In what ways does Borong facilitate the entry of women into the tech and e-commerce sectors?

Borong works with partners across public and private sectors to bring awareness and educate women communities on the importance of joining the eCommerce industry. Eg: Borong initiated a DigitalNiaga programme that works with financial institutions, associations, and government bodies to educate and enable businesses, particularly women-led, to join the eCommerce industry.

6. What is the projected trajectory for the success of women in the e-commerce industry?

● Increasing Women Representation: There has been a gradual increase in the representation of women in the tech and e-commerce industries in recent years. More women are pursuing education and careers in STEM fields, and there is growing recognition of the importance of diversity and inclusion in these sectors. This allows industries to have input of unique perspectives from women’s standpoint. 

● Bridging Gender Equitability Gap & Benefits to Local Economy: Women entrepreneurs are increasingly leveraging technology and e-commerce platforms to start and grow their businesses. The rise of digital entrepreneurship has democratised access to markets and resources, enabling women to overcome traditional barriers to entry and pursue innovative business ideas. This allows women to earn a living and bring additional income to the standard Malaysian household which ultimately leads to a boost in the local economy.

● Cultural Shifts: There is a growing awareness and advocacy around challenging gender stereotypes and cultural norms that hinder women’s participation in the tech and e-commerce industries. Efforts to change perceptions, promote positive role models, and create inclusive work environments are contributing to cultural shifts that support women’s success in these sectors.

● Opportunities for Innovation: Women bring unique perspectives, experiences, and skills to the tech and e-commerce industries, driving innovation and creativity. As more women enter these fields and occupy leadership roles, there is potential for transformative change that benefits both businesses and society as a whole. 

Educating women in finance

How does Borong develop platforms and services to educate women about financial products and services, empowering them to make informed decisions?
At our core, Borong is a platform that digitally enables businesses to transform their wholesale trade and procurement from offline to online. Our mission is to enable SME businesses to buy and sell in bulk in an easier, better and smarter way. We’ve always built our platform and technology with the SMEs in mind – running multiple simulations, and feedback loops to test and iterate our solution to be adopted in the most frictionless way possible. 

On top of that, we provide frequent training and education sessions regarding digital adoption across SMEs and community groups.

What unique perspectives and contributions do women bring to the field of technology?

● Diverse Problem-Solving Approaches: Women often approach problem-solving with different perspectives and methodologies, contributing fresh ideas and innovative solutions to challenges faced in technology and SMEs. Their diverse experiences and backgrounds can lead to more comprehensive and inclusive problem-solving processes.

● User-Centred Design: Women tend to have a strong focus on user experience and empathy, which is valuable in technology design and product development. Their attention to detail and understanding of diverse user needs can result in more intuitive and user-friendly technologies and products.

● Resilience and Adaptability: Women entrepreneurs and professionals often demonstrate resilience and adaptability in the face of challenges and setbacks. Their ability to navigate obstacles, pivot strategies, and persevere in the pursuit of their goals is essential for success in the fast-paced and dynamic environments of technology and SMEs. In fact there are many studies that have shown that female CEOs outperform male CEOs during COVID19 period. 

● Focus on Social Impact and Sustainability: Many women in technology and SMEs are passionate about creating positive social impact and promoting sustainability. Their commitment to ethical business practices, environmental stewardship, and social responsibility can drive meaningful change within their organisations and communities.

● Role Modeling and Mentorship: Women leaders and entrepreneurs serve as role models and mentors for aspiring professionals and future generations of women in technology and SMEs. Their mentorship and advocacy efforts help empower other women to pursue careers in these fields, contributing to greater diversity and representation.

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