Breaking the Glass Ceiling

Women’s key role and struggle in Asia’s tech industry.

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Image via Pexels

Tech industry is growing rapidly all over the world, including Asian nations. The people behind this growth come from various backgrounds. Although most of startups are run by men, we cannot ignore the significant number of women who break the glass ceiling. Think of Hooi Ling Tan (co-founder of Grab, formerly GrabTaxi), Akiko Naka (Wantedly), and Qing-Ru Lim (Zopim), to name a few.

Indonesian women are not the exception. We’re sure familiar with Nabilah Alsagoff (Doku), Diajeng Lestari (HijUp), Aulia Halimatussadiah (Nulisbuku), or Cynthia Tenggara (Berrykitchen). There are also other women who have contributed in shaping the nation’s startup ecosystem for years.

As tech entrepreneurs, their goal is to tackle the problem most people have daily. Their businesses serve into many categories, such as online payment, culinary, health, or e-commerce. Even some directly address women’s issues like Female Daily Network by Hanifa Ambadar and Ovula (an app to track fertility cycles) created by Friesca Saputra.

Against all the odds

Every success story comes up with a cost. Not only they have to strive for their passion, but also to fight the odds that come with it. Subtle gender discrimination is one among the issues that most women entrepreneurs face. It is like a glass ceiling. You cannot see it, but it is there. Especially in most Asian countries that traditionally stick to patriarchal society, where only men are expected to rule.

According to Tech in Asia Indonesia, a study from MIT in 2013 reveals that investors are more likely to invest in businesses run by men rather than women, even if their businesses are alike. Also, according to Tech in Asia Indonesia’s list of Indonesian startup funding in 2014, there were only two startups run by women who won funding among 36 startups in total. (One of them has been listed twice, so technically there were three out of 36).

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Image via NegativeSpace

Regarding this matter, Meri Rosich, Founder and CEO at Quality Time Lab stated in all-woman discussion panel held by TIA in 2013, stated that it depends on the investor you speak to. If the investor is a good match for you, they will create a good connection and bring your business to the next level. Alexis Horowitz-Burdick, Founder and CEO of Luxola, added that the most important issue is to sell your idea and represent your startup well, and not an issue of gender when it comes to investing.

Another struggle was brought up by Dhini Hidayati, co-founder of crowdlending platform GandengTangan. She said that others would often give her the impression that she was insignificant just because she was a woman. “I don’t really want to think about that too much. But I was challenged to prove them that I had more in me than they thought,” said Dhini.

Tackling the stigma

Our duty as a part of the society is to provide a healthy and fair ecosystem. We can start by tackling subtle gender discrimination. As a start, women entrepreneurs (and working women in general) should not be seen as neglecting their families. Working doesn’t make women less womanly. Because taking care of the family is not only women’s responsibility, but also men’s. Companies should also pay attention to the policy regarding their employee’s rights, such as maternal and paternal leave.

It is not impossible to create such working environment. Hanifa Ambadar has applied flexible policy for the employees in her company, Female Daily Network. “We believed that work is a big part of life. Therefore it’s important to integrate personal and professional life,” Hanifa said. Take notes that flexible policy is not an excuse to laze around, but rather a challenge for productivity and to get things done.

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Women don’t need savior, women need support.

We should support more women who are passionate in building their own tech business. Women representatives in tech industry also encourage younger girls to do the same. After all, tech industry should not be a male-dominated area, but a diverse ecosystem.

In the near future, more and more people will be convinced that it is your idea and skill set that matter, not your gender or background. Everyone should be treated equally when it comes to pursuing their passion. Business is sure full of risk, but it is worth to dig if we are truly passionate about it.

Further readings are as follows.

  1. Freischlad, Nadine. 2015. 10 Entrepreneur Wanita di Indonesia yang Sukses Mendobrak Dunia Startup. https://id.techinasia.com/daftar-founder-startup-wanita-indonesia. Accessed on August 21st, 2016.
  2. 2013. Investors Prefer Entrepreneurial Ventures Pitched by Attractive Men. http://m.pnas.org/content/111/12/4427.full. Accessed on August 21st, 2016.
  3. Wijaya, Ketut Krisna. 2015. Here We Go! 36 Indonesian Startups Who Got Funding in 2014 (INFOGRAPHIC). https://www.techinasia.com/36-indonesian-startups-funding-2014-infographic. Accessed on August 21st, 2016.
  4. Goh, Emily. 2013. Women in Startups: Why We Need Them, and Why You Should Care (Live Blog). https://www.techinasia.com/discussion-panel-women-startups-care-live-blog. Accessed on August 21st, 2016.
  5. Freischlad, Nadine. 2016. Startup Advice from Four Female Entrepreneurs on ‘Kartini Day’. https://www.techinasia.com/startup-advice-female-entrepreneurs-kartini-day. Accessed on August 21st, 2016.
  6. Atarita, Annisa I. 2016. Female Daily Network: Tak Sekedar Women Friendly! https://id.wantedly.com/journals/121. Accessed on August 21st, 2016.
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