Xtremax CEO on combatting and calling out bias, the three rules for women entering tech and what the next five years should look like for women in tech.
As International Women’s Day approaches, we see more and more noise and evidence surrounding the barriers for women in certain industries, and the trials and tribulations they endure to ‘make it’ and get that boardroom chair. We spoke with Denise Kee, CEO of Xtremax, a leading clouds solutions company, about her experiences of working in tech as a woman. She believes this is an issue surrounding many industries but is fortunate to be one of the lucky ones. Denise’s experience has been challenging for many reasons, but not due to being a woman. 32%1 of the tech industry in Asia is female, and she is proud to work in a sector where there has been significant change, certainly within the last 14 years since her career in tech began. Denise says the current day workplace is hard to recognise, and that’s a good thing!
Denise told us why she believes it is important for more women to join the tech industry and speak up, that women must never sell themselves short or doubt themselves because it IS their place to be seen and heard.
1. Do you think it's important for more women to join the tech industry?
Definitely! Among the traditional male-dominated sectors, the tech sector is where the shift in people’s mindset towards women has changed more rapidly. Over the past decade or so it’s become more widely accepted - and relatively easier - for women to enter the workforce, and into the boardroom in tech.
Women bring alternative points of view to the table, which is refreshing, and more importantly, these perspectives help to shape the organisations’ growth in several areas such as customer success, product/solution design and more.
2. Do you think the industry has changed since you joined it?
I certainly see more women in the industry now, compared to 14 years ago when I made the move into tech. An interesting observation is the kind of roles that women are going into. When I first joined the industry, women were mainly in sales, marketing, or back-office functions.
Today we see more female programmers, data scientists, developers, and analysts. I consider that a heartening sign and is exactly the direction I would hope to see the industry move in.
3. What advice would you give to women entering the tech field?
Rule number one, don’t sell yourself short; number two, don’t doubt your capabilities; and three, don’t be afraid to speak up. Women have so much to contribute to the diverse array of roles within the tech sector, and all too often, I see women taking a backseat simply because they feel it’s “not their place” to speak up or take on certain responsibilities.
4. Do you think enough is done to help women get into the tech industry?
In Singapore, it is quite straightforward for women to equip themselves with the necessary professional and technical skills. I think a more conscious effort needs to be placed in mentoring the women who are already in the industry – having clear training and development frameworks in place, formal and informal mentorship opportunities, getting female employees to join professional networks, and finally, cultivating a mindset among management where female employees are intentionally considered for greater responsibilities and promotions instead of ‘the next best option’.
5. In your experience, does being a woman in your profession come with additional challenges that you have to overcome?
Personally, I have been very blessed in my own journey – I don’t think I’ve faced any discrimination (none that I’m aware of at least!), and I’ve been treated with equal respect from male colleagues, peers and clients alike. I have of course seen and heard the struggles from other women where they’ve had to put in the extra effort to prove themselves. Another common gripe is the constant anxiety of balancing the need to speak up or say no, against the fear of being seen as overly aggressive or non-compliant. I think this is more pronounced in our region where the ‘Asian woman' stereotype persists.
6. How do you combat bias in the tech industry?
I don't think it’s possible to eradicate bias totally. We can only start within our circles of influence and when you look at that, there’s several ways we can all play a part. Standing up for and supporting our fellow female colleagues and peers, calling out biases when we see them, celebrating the successes of our female colleagues - no matter how small. These small steps can collectively help to change the behaviour of others around us over time.
At our company, Xtremax, we take intentional steps to influence this. For instance, making sure the women have a chance to speak up without fear of judgement, providing opportunities based on merit, ensuring women are not handed administrative tasks just because they are women… I believe my position as CEO has made this easier in shaping the desired behaviour. So, I’d definitely love to see more women taking the top roles within this industry in the next five years!