Women in Tech: How to Thrive and Lead in a Male-Dominated World
It’s an uphill battle, but patience, a growth mindset, and the strength to stand by your decisions go a long way
PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images
Much of the conversation around gender diversity and inclusion in the tech industry center on the business side of things and the benefits companies stand to reap, such as enhanced creativity and innovation, better customer understanding, and improved decision making.
But what is it actually like to be a woman in the tech industry, and how can women better thrive and lead in a world that is still predominantly male?
Says Barkha Jasani, director of engineering at Singapore-based blockchain start-up Quadrant, “It has been extremely challenging… [but] I followed my passion, [and] I have never looked back.”
Jasani moved to Singapore in 2016 from her hometown in Gujarat, India. It was a huge change, she says, but Jasani is used to facing challenges head on, having successfully built a career back home in India despite the odds that were stacked against her: the male-dominated world of tech in a small town far from the country’s IT hubs and her parents’ initial disapproval of her chosen profession.
Jasani, who even as a kid was always fascinated with computers, took up engineering in college and was one of only 15 females in a class of 70. After graduating, she got a job at one of the few IT firms in their town, and, in five years, went from earning the equivalent of SGD 60 a month to becoming a project manager making over SGD 1,000 a month leading multiple projects and teams.
Quadrant, then called DatastreamX, was one of the projects the company was handling. Quadrant’s CEO noticed Jasani’s work and asked her to formally join the start-up as head of research and development.
“Since it was [once in] a lifetime opportunity, I grabbed [it],” she says.
In 2017, she was tasked to handle the technical side of the company’s ICO despite having no background in blockchain, and she and her team had to master it within a short period of time. Their ICO went on to raise over SGD 17 million.
“It has been a very interesting journey, and everyday I am learning a lot,” she says. Here, Jasani shares what she has learned so far and her advice for women who aspire to work in leadership positions in the tech industry.
Back in India, Jasani says she was working with excellent, very knowledgeable team members, but, when it came to leading them, she faced some pushback because of the widely held mentality that IT was a masculine field.
“As a female leader, you will face lots of challenges,” she says. “I learned that I needed to build patience. I needed a lot of patience. I had to grow myself.”
Patience is equally important even within the more enabling environment that is the Singaporean start-up scene, she says: “If you have a million ideas, you can’t implement all of them, so you have to be patient, [and you also] want to be a good decision maker.”
Understand the business side, too
Being technically proficient is not enough. You need to understand the technology and also be able to “relate it to real life problems,” Jasani says.
“If you have the technical knowledge but don’t understand the actual business where you are in, you wouldn’t be able to address your customer’s problems and pain points.”
Constantly upgrade yourself, grab opportunities
Like a computer, “you have to keep learning, keep yourself upgraded, otherwise you will be nowhere,” she says.
Having a growth mindset also seems to have helped her immensely in her professional life, and she’s thankful for the obstacles: “They are improving me. I’m learning from them.”
This ties into her advice to grab the learning opportunities available to you and make the most of your resources. “In Singapore, there is easier access to resources, networking opportunities, and the like. It’s not the same when you’re working in a small company in a small town. If you want to grow, you will find a way, but the access to resources, networking opportunities, will be less.”
Stand by your decisions
“It was a huge mess,” Jasani says with a laugh as she recounts her parents’ reaction to her decision to go into engineering and, later on, to move to Singapore.
“My parents were ‘no, no, no.’ In our town, the mentality is that women are rarely in leadership positions. They are usually in administrative roles, or starting their own families. [They may] have a degree, but many prioritize starting a family… People were convincing me to change my line of work,” she says.
But she stood her ground, showed them what she could do, and, eventually, her parents came around. “It took time for me to convince them… I had a hard time convincing them, [but they] saw that I was growing, [and] now they are supportive.”
She adds, “You have to be strong to follow your dreams, to stand by your decisions. You will face so many challenges. I’m still facing many challenges, but I’ll keep standing by my decisions. This is how I am.”