With more females entering the  tech industry than ever before, the gender gap within the industry appears to be reducing. . Though writing an article about women in tech in Southeast Asia on International Women’s Day 2022 may seem cliche, it is highly appropriate considering that the number of females pursuing careers and succeeding in the technology sector is gradually increasing. 

Historically, the STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) were seen as male-dominated areas, and while change is slow, gender balance is on its way. 

Addressing the gender gap

Recently, the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) found that for women to break through the glass ceiling in the technology sector, they need to push for their career goals early. They surveyed over 400 female tech leaders and 300 of their male colleagues to find out where the issues are and how more women can move to the top of the STEM career ladder. Findings revealed that having early “career wins” and support from the start of their journey in tech have the most significant impact on women scaling to the top in tech jobs. 

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Globally, women still only make up 28% of those working in the technology field, with Southeast Asia having the highest percentage at 32%. While this is increasing, it is still low, especially when you consider that almost half of the world’s workforce is female and still very few make it to the C-level in the technology world. 

Tech startup founders, co-founders, and managerial roles are predominantly male-dominated, with only a small percentage of women managing to break through to the higher echelons. Incredibly, in the Fortune 500 list of companies, only 41 CEOs are female.

Benefits of a more gender-balanced tech industry

The BCG study also looked at some of the pros of having females moving to the top of the tech game. They found that having one or more women on a company’s board can impact the return of assets in the range of 8 to 13 basis points. Having at least three women in the boardroom saw companies increasing their 5-year ROE by 11% compared to almost entirely male-centric directed firms. 

Bringing more women into leadership roles in tech companies also increased profits, with those with a quota of 30% or more females in management seeing a 15% upswing in their profitability. 

Having gender diversity in leadership roles allows for various viewpoints and voices to be heard and introduces divergent thought processes for problem-solving. With populations having an approximate 50/50 male and female split, the companies who ignore the voice of women are potentially closing off half of their consumer base.  

Changing the game

While one of the largest economies, the USA, has a low rate of around 17-20% of females in positions of influence in major companies and only 27% working in managerial roles in IT firms, things are changing more rapidly in the emerging economies of Southeast Asia. 

Thailand leads the way with 42% of the tech workforce female, with Singapore close behind at 41%, but the numbers are much more depressing for upper management and director roles in the sector. The Philippines has the highest number of females in upper management at 33% but only has a 13% CEO-level representation. Thailand again is first at 20% for women in the highest levels of tech firms, with Singapore the lowest in the region at 12%. 

ASEAN has a high level of unicorns, yet only three of the region’s approximately 30 startups to enter the $1 billion USD club are women-led. 

The good news is that things may change faster in the coming years, now that more companies have embraced working from home or hybrid systems thanks to the recent pandemic. When women can work from home and maintain a better work/life balance, they are more likely to progress in their careers. The move towards more flexible working situations makes it more feasible for many females to continue moving up the career ladder, even if they choose to have children. 

This change in work practices should ultimately level the playing field for many women in tech and encourage those who enter the STEM sectors to push for promotions and take the opportunities presented to them. 

With many venture capitalists and angel investors beginning to take note of the impact of women in startups, both culturally and economically, increased funding for companies with women in the top jobs is a likely investment trend. This change in how women are viewed in tech startups, combined with government-backed and privately-funded incentives, may be the catalysts required to close the gender gap in the STEM sector. 

Last year we looked at some of the women in tech in Southeast Asia who are making a name for themselves. This year, we are optimistic that even more successful, pioneering females like them will emerge to break the male stronghold in the world of technology.