Powerful female changemakers spoke on technology in the 21st century and tackling gender barriers at the first Women in Tech conference organised by student group Yale-NUS Women in Business on 1 November.
Opening the event, President of Yale-NUS College Professor Tan Tai Yong noted how many young women still feel the presence of a gender bias and are reluctant to enter the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. “This mindset has to change and can be changed, and it has to start at the school level…Initiatives like the conference today or the Girls in Tech programme and non-profit organisations like Women Who Code are important steps in raising awareness and promoting diversity in traditionally male-dominated industries,” he said.
In her keynote address, Dr Nancy Gleason, Director of the Centre for Teaching and Learning at the College, touched on some of the barriers women face in entering the field, such as a lack of mentors, lack of female role models, unequal growth opportunities compared to men and unequal pay for the same skills, along with less quantifiable things like women’s perceived lack of confidence and aspirations.
An ensuing panel discussion saw panellists Ms Lucila De Pasquale, Product User Experience, Google; Ms Yvette Mulley, Technical Communication Services, Visa; Ms Wu Choy Peng, Chief Technology Officer, GIC; Ms Mavis Chuah, Cloud Specialist, Amazon Web Services; and Ms Janet Ang, Vice-President, IBM share more about the technology industry from their respective vantage points.
Ms Wu began by quelling misconceptions about the field, saying that contrary to what many think, being in the industry does require one to interact with others since projects rarely can be completed in silo, and there are indeed many jobs in the technology industry that do not require specialised technical skills.
Ms Ang, an NUS Business alumna agreed, allaying concerns from the audience about the possible loss of jobs brought about by technology and the confusion over which buzzword of the moment to pay attention to. “Whether you’re in agriculture, food processing, retail, financial services or any other industry, digitalisation is going to be a part of the work and it’s up to you to imagine the power that digitalisation can unleash to support you in being productive…For those of you who want to be specialised, we do need more artificial intelligence specialists and deep learning specialists to move into an era where we actually make things. But for every product made, there are many other jobs that are created — people that need to finance it, sell it, communicate it, market it, and so on,” she said.
The panellists also emphasised the relevance and importance of developing soft skills such as curiosity, a willingness to learn, communication skills, and knowing how to leverage the tools and resources available.
The discussion was followed by a series of breakout sessions where passionate young women from companies such as Bloomberg LP, Shopee and Uber led conversations on topics ranging from making global impact to data science and the future.
Final-year NUS Business student and NUS Overseas Colleges alumna Nicole Low, shared her experience working as an intern at fashion data analytics tech start-up StyleSage in New York and tech giant Apple, where she had the chance to wear multiple hats. She shared how she got to redesign the company’s website and their data analytics platform despite having no experience.
“The fact that they trusted me to do it gave me the motivation to learn more and perfect it. During the process, I also had the chance to work closely with engineers as well as front- and back-end people and it taught me the importance of communication and feedback,” said Nicole.
Year 2 Yale-NUS College student and recent Google Women Techmakers Scholar Chandler Beyer co-founded the Yale-NUS Women in Business student organisation to encourage greater representation of women in the technology, finance and entrepreneurship fields through industry exposure and professional development. “Through hosting the Women in Tech Conference, we hoped to expose young professionals to the importance of gender diversity across not only the technology industry, but all industries. We wanted to create an event that left the attendees feeling empowered and inspired by these incredible women on the panel," she said.
The conference was organised in collaboration with the Yale-NUS Data Science and Yale-NUS Global Emerging Markets student organisations.