SINGAPORE - Minister of State for Manpower and Education Gan Siow Huang's background as an air traffic controller and later a general in the military strongly underlined her call on Friday (Sept 4) for more women to study and work in science and technology fields.
Women continue to be under-represented in the infocomm and tech sector, making up only about 30 per cent of the workforce in 2019, according to official data.
Drawing on her own experiences, Ms Gan told a Singapore Women in Tech webinar that a belief in the meaningfulness of the job was what attracted her to the Singapore Armed Forces and a career that spanned more than 25 years. "It has to be something you love to do," she said.
She added that studying the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (Stem) fields opens up a huge range of job possibilities.
"There are many applications of Stem. It can be used for saving lives, protecting the country, building the economy or helping the needy," Ms Gan noted.
"There are lots and lots of purposeful (applications), so it's not about Stem for the sake of Stem but how you apply it in order to help people. I think this is what will drive women to go into (Stem) more."
A highlight of Friday's webinar was the release of an inaugural list honouring 100 outstanding women in Singapore's technology sector, women Ms Gan described as role models and trailblazers who show what is possible.
The Singapore Women in Tech list was compiled by the Singapore Computer Society in partnership with the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) and Mediacorp.
The 100 women were selected from over 850 nominations and comprise professionals from the public and private sectors and academia.
They include Razer chief of staff and board member Patricia Liu, Nanyang Technological University associate professor of bioengineering Sierin Lim and ComfortDelGro chief technology officer Siew Yim Cheng.
Manpower Minister Josephine Teo is the patron of the Singapore Women in Tech movement, an IMDA initiative to attract women to the infocomm and technology sector.
Part of the challenge in closing the gender gap is that it's not fully understood why girls are not taking up Stem subjects, said NTU's Prof Lim, a panellist on one of the two dialogues held during the webinar.
"We don't know and that's why it's really important for us to understand the root cause of what is motivating them," she added.
"Only after that can we develop and design programmes that would fit with the narrative of why they choose Stem."
Fellow panellist Uma Thana Balasingam said unconscious biases from female tech professionals themselves can get in their way.
"There are biases I impose on myself - what I call the 'sticky floor'," noted Ms Balasingam, who is vice-president of partner and commercial organisation at American software company VMware and one of those on the top 100 list.
"So when women look at job descriptions, for example, they tend to feel they need to check all the boxes before they apply, whereas men might look at it and go, 'Oh, six out of 10, I'm absolutely going to rock this job.'"
A second component to enabling more women to join and excel in the technology sector is the role that managers and leaders play, she added.
"We know that most corporates today are run by men. They're part of the challenge, and part of the solution.
"Stepping into mentoring and sponsoring women is absolutely key. If men are not coming forward then there's only so much women can do for themselves."