With the ongoing dialogue around representation and diversity in tech in Southeast Asia, we come to realise that we do have a long way to go.
From more representation in the boardroom by women, as well as racial diversity in the workplace and creating corporate cultures that allow this to thrive.
One such topic that we find ourselves constantly discussing is gender representation in STEM fields. For those not in know, STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. All those programmers, engineers and technical roles that have always seemingly been ‘male-dominated’ roles.
We had to chance to speak to Eileen Yap, General Manager (Singapore and Malaysia) of RS Components, a global omni-channel solutions partner for industrial customers and suppliers. A former sales engineer, Eileen has climbed the corporate ladder and has now taken a place in the ‘boardroom’ so to speak.
We wanted to find out from her more about her journey and what she thinks is the future of female representation in engineering.
Equal opportunity is the end goal that the startup industry should aim for when it comes to gender diversity. We explore why more women in tech helps the entire industry.
Here’s what she had to share about her journey and what it will take to get more women in the STEM fields.
Could you share a bit about your current job and what you do at RS Components?
My role is General Manager, Singapore and Malaysia, at RS Components. As the country leader for both markets, I am responsible for the overall business performance, driving sales growth and ensuring high levels of customer service in our locations. I work closely with our local sales teams and the customer support teams to make sure we keep our focus on customers and their needs.
I’m also particularly passionate about building up talents on my team and take great joy in honing their leadership skills and further pushing them to grow.
Aside from being a mentor, I’m also a sales professional helping clients make the right decisions that lead to savings and added value to their business, by using data-driven insights and technology. My team and I help businesses adopt and implement best practice procurement strategies that optimise their processes, reduce costs, and improve efficiency and effectiveness.
What were some of the challenges you faced as a woman in the STEM industry in Southeast Asia?
Compared to where we are now, female representation in the STEM industry and gender bias awareness in Southeast Asia was lower when I was first starting out. Girls showing an interest in STEM from a young age encounter barriers like the lack of support from families who prefer a different career for their children, to the lack of attention from educational institutions and businesses who traditionally focused on promoting STEM opportunities to men.
There was a great need for female role models in STEM. Young girls needed women to look up to, and to debunk expectations on gender roles.
Societal expectations and the respect that we have for familial duties is also a contributing factor. In the past, women put their education or careers on hold to fulfil their duty to the family. Expectations today are different – which is a positive change. More women are pursuing higher education, although there are still fewer female STEM graduates than males in general.
While equity is hard to balance, gender imbalance is a constant issue faced in the STEM industry. Nonetheless, women like me face similar issues regardless of job nature. Striving to prove one’s capabilities is stressful at times, yet it is rewarding once the goal is set rationally whereby a career has no boundaries.
What do you believe are some of the differences between the challenges women face now compared to when you were building your career?
The power of data and technology transformed the challenges of STEM for women. Through data and research, we can identify possible reasons for the gaps. Having this kind of insight and understanding has led to greater awareness, more solutions, programmes, and resources to encourage more women to go for roles and opportunities that they are passionate about, be it in STEM or in other fields.
Today, across Southeast Asia, the gender gap in technology remains. Women are still playing catch up, but with more female role models and mentors stepping up, the gap is narrowing. I’ve seen more leaders encouraging women to join the STEM industry and shining a light on their capabilities to boost their confidence and self-belief. I have had the good fortune of having supportive leaders and mentors in RS and in my previous roles, and I strive to be like them – a leader that builds up and creates opportunities for younger talents.
Beyond mentorship, programmes supporting young girls venturing into STEM fields are becoming increasingly available across the region. While progress has been made in Asia towards the attendance of girls in schools and gender parity in education, there are some instances where gender inequality is deeply rooted and prevents students from having equal opportunities.
With more resources at their fingertips, more girls and women are better equipped to thrive in the highly digitised world we live in today and it’s important to ensure access to opportunities for upskilling and further learning, so that female professionals can keep up with the demand for various skills. For example, we know that the industry is moving toward automation and some tasks can now be performed by computers and machines instead of humans. Skills development and learning programmes prepare and equip women with necessary competencies to adapt to these changes.
That said, perceptions of gender roles are shifting, slowly but surely. We’re seeing more women in STEM, more mothers encouraging their daughters to venture into the field, and more women in leadership roles. Technology has played a part in helping women balance their careers and their personal lives.
What are some of the changes you believe we need to see in the industry in Southeast Asia that would ensure equal opportunity for women looking to enter STEM?
I think change needs to start and happen as early as possible, with lower education institutions to nurture interest and confidence in STEM-related subjects, even as early as kindergarten. Of course, this goes beyond educational institutions. Changing perceptions of young girls about STEM must also take place at home.
As a parent, I have always advised my children to pursue their ambition based on interest regardless of job nature. Job satisfaction should not be restricted due to perceptions that some jobs are more suitable for males. With the past as history, the future is in their hands as the world is evolving and gender-based jobs are fading. The glass ceiling for women no longer exists in most companies and how far younger generations can go depends on themselves.
Creating an inclusive culture at work – where people feel that they can be their true selves – and encouraging healthy dialogue among employees is also key. At RS, we support a number of programmes like International Women’s Day, and celebrate it across our offices globally with motivational training sessions and sharing stories across the organisation. We also have several employee-led networks to give people a voice and create communities where the conversation continues throughout the year.
It’s also important for companies to foster inclusion for all beyond gender and this is a core component of how we operate in RS. To innovate, create a good experience, and provide the best service for customers – who also have diverse needs and challenges – we need a team with different kinds of talents, ideas, and skills.
What are you doing at RS Components to ensure equal access to STEM roles
A big part of our efforts is in the education space, to make tools and learning resources accessible to children, teenagers, hobbyists, and seasoned engineers. Learning is for all ages and backgrounds!
We have various free resources on our platform and have extended the range of our educational resources and kits so young people can explore technology in the classroom or at home.
Our DesignSpark engineering platform offers free design software for both budding and seasoned engineers alike, along with comprehensive libraries, technology discoveries and community support. DesignSpark’s community support may come in handy for women in engineering as the space allows engineers to share, discuss, and help fellow engineers. They can network with engineers from all over the world who are more than willing to help them experiment and develop their skills.
In Asia Pacific, RS also supported a foundation committed to empowering STEM female talents and provided access to online courses.
What advice would you give women looking to enter STEM?
Embrace and chase innovation. Beyond that, empower other females in STEM as your mentors have empowered you. I would encourage all women to push past the gender stereotypes and allow their motivations and inspirations for the industry to propel them to achieve their goals. Look past the hurdles that lie in your way, and trailblaze for those who will follow your footsteps. There is no limit to any role; we create our own boundaries.
I am also inspired by a quote by author and entrepreneur Shiela Murray Bethel: “One of the most courageous things you can do is identify yourself, know who you are, what you believe in and where you want to go.”