Education and technology can help level playing field for women's careers, says panel

(From left) CNN journalist Manisha Tank, moderator of a discussion organised by Standard Chartered Bank (StanChart) to celebrate International Women's Day, with panellists Mrs Josephine Teo, Minister for Manpower, Mr Simon Cooper, chief executive for
(From left) CNN journalist Manisha Tank, moderator of a discussion organised by Standard Chartered Bank (StanChart) to celebrate International Women's Day, with panellists Mrs Josephine Teo, Minister for Manpower, Mr Simon Cooper, chief executive for corporate, commercial and institutional banking at StanChart, Ms Deborah Ho, managing director and head of South East Asia at BlackRock, and Dr Ayesha Khanna, co-founder and chief executive of Addo AI.PHOTO: STANDARD CHARTERED BANK

SINGAPORE - When Dr Ayesha Khanna, co-founder and chief executive of artificial intelligence advisory firm Addo AI, meets clients, they often assume that the firm's other co-founder - a man - is the "techie" while she handles only the business aspects.

"They're often surprised when I start talking about algorithms," said Dr Khanna, a data scientist with a PhD in information systems and innovation.

In the male-dominated technology industry, it takes greater effort to ensure women are heard, she told a panel discussion on Thursday (March 7).

There is also a fear that women may be worse affected by technological disruption, but Dr Khanna believes that the opportunities and fears apply to all, and education can help to level the playing field.

Helping people seize the opportunities brought about by technology was one of the topics tackled by the panellists at a discussion organised by Standard Chartered Bank (StanChart) to celebrate International Women's Day on March 8.

Manpower Minister Josephine Teo, who was on the panel, said: "The whole effort is to try and see what more we can do to uplift people in every possible way, through education, through skills redevelopment, through redesigning jobs, through enabling them to find ways to move up."

Technology can also provide more flexibility for women to manage their commitments such as their families and work, which in turn can help companies attract the talent they need, panellists noted.

 

Ms Deborah Ho, managing director and head of South-east Asia at investment management firm BlackRock, said: "The technology is out there. These are tools available for us, and it's a matter of whether our employers, the companies we work in, choose to use it to enable people or not."

But flexibility should not be promoted as something that only mothers need, said Mrs Teo, as this can create division in the workplace.

Flexible work arrangements also benefit people who are pursuing training after work, or people who need to step out during the day to look after an elderly family member, she said.

Panellists at the event, held in a Raffles Place restaurant, also discussed how to improve the representation of women on company boards and in senior management.

Mr Simon Cooper, StanChart's chief executive for corporate, commercial and institutional banking, said that companies should set targets for the proportion of women in these roles, and ensure the process of grooming the talent pipeline is meritocratic.

"You make sure you're putting the right list into the process, that it is properly diverse... and you're challenging the output of that process and making sure the output reflects the list you put in," he said.

"And then at each stage of the process - when you're looking at pay, performance, bonuses - you're measuring, you're constantly saying 'Is there unconscious bias'."

Mrs Teo said there is a tendency for companies to appoint people to boards who have been "tried and tested" in other boards, often limiting the chances for more women to be selected.

With efforts underway to bring in new women to sit on public sector boards, she believes the experience they gain will make other organisations feel comfortable with hiring them.

She told the audience of about 80 people, including StanChart clients and staff: "If every one of you who has the ability to nominate someone in your board (is) prepared to try out just one or two more... then that gives that woman a little bit more of a track record and in turn that will help all the other women."