Digital inclusion for all

This year’s International Women’s Day centered around “DigitALL: Innovation and technology for gender equality”, which is a wonderful theme. Much like the old saying, the best part isn’t the destination but the journey getting there. I started out in the communications and IT industry by accident after I graduated. Before joining Alibaba, I worked for various other tech companies, both in China and abroad. I later found an opportunity to join Alibaba as International President of Alibaba Cloud Intelligence, which has been an exciting place to work in the time I’ve been here.

I have been paying attention to the subject of female leadership for some time now, and I fervently believe that we should strive to give women more opportunities. It is my belief that when women are fairly represented in the work environment, we get closer to achieving the goal of having a truly diversified team. Because in the end, team work makes the dream work.

Furthermore, being a woman in the tech industry can bring about unique perspectives and insights to the field, which can lead to innovative solutions to problems. It also provides an opportunity to break down gender stereotypes and create a more diverse and inclusive workplace.

Just like Alibaba Cloud, many companies are actively seeking to increase diversity in their workforce, especially women in tech, which is something I look forward to seeing more of. Additionally, being a woman in a leadership capacity in the tech industry can inspire and serve as a role model for future generations of women who aspire to pursue careers in the tech industry.

Q: There is no secret that many women in the tech industry feel that their gender affects how they are perceived or treated. Have you ever been in a situation like that? How did you handle it?

Selina: I understand that many women in the tech industry have experienced untold biases and discrimination when it comes to opportunities due to  their gender. It is truly unfortunate that gender bias still exists in many industries, including tech. But with progressive initiatives surrounding International Women’s Day and the push toward gender equality, we can dismantle the mechanics of biases and discrimination.

Much like throngs of women worldwide, I think discrimination and biases exist, but the important part is what we can do extra value in our role, how we can support our customers much better and play more important role in the journey, that means we need to keep on studying and thinking more creatively, the more knowledge we have, the more value we bring to our customers and team.

Additionally, I found it to be quite helpful to seek support from colleagues or mentors who could provide me with the needed guidance and advice on how to navigate the situation I found myself in.

Another approach, in my experience, is to join or form a support group with other women in the industry to discuss and share ideas, experiences and to advocate for change. Ultimately, I found it essential to prioritise my own well-being while taking the necessary steps to address any instances of bias or discrimination in the workplace. 

Q: What advice would you give to a woman considering a career in the tech industry? What do you wish you had known?

Selina: The thing I like most about the tech industry is that it is constantly evolving at a breakneck pace. The industry is constantly turning over brand new concepts that were pretty much unthinkable just a few years prior. As a female industry leader, I feel that the ideas and perspectives by women shed a particularly helpful light when it comes to figuring out solutions to problems we encounter. The advice I would impart to young women is precisely what I wished I had known back then.

Firstly, believe in yourself. It’s vital to believe in your own abilities and know that you can succeed if you put your mind to it. Don’t allow imposter syndrome and negative stereotypes hold you back. Remember that your unique perspective and experiences can bring invaluable insights to the table.

Seek out mentorship. There are few NGOs in Malaysia that are doing great championing women in tech for example, Women In Tech Malaysia. It’s always helpful to have someone to turn to for guidance and support. Lookout for mentors who can offer up timely advice and are willing to share their experiences. Seek out mentorship programs and networking events to connect with others in the industry. Learn and never stop learning. The tech industry is constantly changing, so it’s important to stay up-to-date with the latest trends and technological developments. Take advantage of online courses, webinars, and conferences to learn new skills and expand your knowledge horizons.

Networking is key in any industry, with the tech industry being no exception. Attend industry events, join professional organisations, and connect with others on LinkedIn to expand your network.

Be open to different opportunities. The tech industry is vast and keeps on growing, there are many different paths you can choose to take. Be open and flexible in exploring different roles and areas within the industry to find the right fit for you.

Q: Do you think enough is done to help women get into the tech industry? If not, what would you recommend?

Selina: While I am glad to see that the initiatives surrounding gender inequality and discrimination are gaining more and more traction in the mainstream of things, more can always be done in order to combat the issues faced by countless millions of women globally. I would like to commend the great efforts from the government for introducing programs such as PeDAS, eUsahawan, eRezeki and GLOW initiated by the Malaysia Digital Economy Corporation (MDEC) to empower and upskill with a 54 percent women participation in digital businesses since a few years back.

The pursuit of equality for women is about removing systemic barriers and providing a pathway for women to self-determine and achieve their full potential. We are proud that women represent almost half of the Alibaba Group’s workforce, with female executives’ representation at 34%.

Increasing awareness on the issue is a start. Educating women and girls about the opportunities available in the tech industry and the benefits of pursuing a career in this field are vital. We have been fortunate enough to work with non-profit organisations to provide training and cloud computing resources for African women engineers, for example, to help them along their career paths towards engineering and other practical subjects.

Advocating for change in policies and initiatives that promote diversity and inclusion in the tech industry, such as gender pay equity, family-friendly work policies, and flexible work arrangements are all steps in the right direction.  A concerted effort is needed to create a more diverse and inclusive tech industry, and these points can help pave the way towards achieving that goal.

Q: What are some of the challenges or hurdles that stand before women in the tech industry today?

Selina: In my opinion it isn’t just the tech industry that we see such hurdles standing before women in their bid to climb up the ladder. These struggles occur in almost every industry including harassment and toxic workplace culture, unconscious gender biases and discrimination, lack of work-life balance and the lack of female role models and mentors.

The tech industry is still largely male-dominated, which can make it difficult for women to feel included and valued in the workplace. However, having strong female leads and mentors can help guide women in the industry, not just tech, but to progress towards creating a more inclusive and supportive environment for women as it is crucial in building a more diverse and innovative work space.

Q: What skills do you feel are necessary for young women to develop in order to pursue a career in the tech industry?

Selina: In order to pursue a career in the tech industry, young women ought to develop a range of skills that are both technical and non-technical in nature. Some essential skills for young women looking to build a career in the tech industry include:

Technical skills such as coding, database management, and programming languages like Java, Python, or C++ are vital to get ahead. They should also have a strong understanding of computer science concepts, algorithms, and data structures. Depending on what you want to major in, you will need different skills.

Problem-solving skills. As we all know, the tech industry is constantly evolving, and young women should have the adequate problem-solving skills needed to be able to adapt to new technologies, trends and the issues stemming from that. They should be able to analyse complex problems, identify the root cause, and find creative solutions in order to resolve them.

Good communication skills are also essential for any career, and the tech industry is no exception. Young women should develop the ability to clearly communicate technical ideas to both technical and non-technical stakeholders.

Collaboration skills and being a team player. Many projects require working together as a team; young women should be able to collaborate effectively with others. This includes being able to work in a team, actively listen to others, and contribute to the outcome of the project in a meaningful way.

Continuous learning is a must regardless of industry and young women should be committed to continual learning. This includes keeping abreast with the latest technologies, attending conferences and workshops, and pursuing training and further education where possible as previously mentioned.

Q: How and what are the best ways to develop the leadership skills needed to succeed in the tech industry?

Selina: Being in an industry that is as rapidly evolving and dynamic as tech, requires strong leadership skills in order to succeed.

Learning from experienced leaders and observing their leadership style helps immensely. Learn from their successes and failures and understand how they lead their teams. You can get around to this via attending workshops, conferences, networking events, or seeking out an industry mentor.

Take on leadership roles such as leading a project or managing a team. This will give young women the chance to practice their leadership skills and gain invaluable experience in doing so.

Communicating effectively is a critical leadership skill in any industry, particularly in tech where collaboration and teamwork are essential. Practice communication skills by being clear, concise, and respectful in your everyday interactions with others on your team.

Developing technical skills and having a strong understanding of the technical aspects of the industry is essential in effective leadership. Keep up-to-date with the latest relevant trends and developments and continue to build your technical knowledge.

Embracing innovation and being adaptable and open to new ideas will encourage innovation within your team who would then be willing to take risks and try new things, thus pushing the envelope of innovation.

Building strong relationships with team members, stakeholders, and industry professionals is equally essential in effective leadership. Take the time to get to know people and understand their perspectives and priorities. Knowing what makes them tick would only make you a better leader as you’re in the best position in delegating appropriate tasks to your team members.

Lead by example, because as a leader your actions speak louder than words. Lead by example by demonstrating the values and behaviors you want to see in your team and organisation.