Women at Work in SMEs – Stories from the Technology Industry

Women at Work in SMEs – Stories from the Technology Industry

1035 583 Shikha Sarkar

It is estimated that by the end of 2025, women would add close to US$ 12 trillion to the annual global output. Southeast Asia could gain up to 30% of its current GDP at the same time. Singapore alone could contribute US$ 26 Billion out of this sum if it escalates its women inclusion practices in business and employment. Information and Communication Technology contributes close to US$ 20 Million of this share in current times. And there lies the argument of women inclusion in the Tech SME culture of Singapore. In recent years, owing to various government initiatives like the ‘Back to Work Employment Credit Scheme,’ the situation has improved for women at work in SMEs. Here we are to discuss how the female workforce influences technology businesses of the 99% percent Singaporean SME economy.

Challenges for Women at Work in Singapore Tech SMEs

The Ministry of Manpower reported in 2017 that women are employed in technical and professional jobs more than men. At 1.027 million – female employees in the working across the country – women present a force which has yet not been tapped by the technology SME market. Despite being ever-growing stakeholders of the technology business, women do not enjoy as much entrepreneurial support as men.

Today top priorities of women-led technology SMEs, as suggested by various independent think tanks, include:

  • Financial support for digitization
  • Fair-pay opportunities
  • Moderation of commodity/service prices
  • Access to regulated markets
  • Reduction in entry-barriers to global markets
  • Fast-track government services for ease of doing business.

Cultural and Business Inclusion: Women-led businesses have always had a better chance at survival and scaling in economies where underlying entrepreneurial conditions, access to knowledge assets, higher-income bandwidth, and better technical infrastructure are prevalent. Despite checking all these points, the Singaporean Women SME Community has shown a decline in entrepreneurial activity index from 61.9% to 48.3%. Downbeat business confidence inspired by widening gender gap, cultural perceptions, and high rate of business failure were among the top reasons for such concerns.

Lack of global business opportunities: The undercurrent of businesses willing to expand globally is not as strong among men as it is among women. Barrier to entry in global raw goods markets, restrictive memberships in global business networks, and limited orientation of women-led businesses for partnerships with complementary foreign entities are among the reasons cited for low female early age entrepreneurial activity (7.2%). Fear of failure in business is recorded for women at a steep 40% while their intentions to go global are recorded at 85% (moderate inclination) vs. 25% (strong inclination). Women-led businesses with more than 3.5 years of experience on the market, when asked about their global orientation, showed that close 45% of them would like to have more than 25% of their customers be global.

Restricted access to Strong Credit Policies :Singapore has got the 6th best global environment in terms of technology enablement for women small and medium entrepreneurs; but it has the 39th global environment in terms of financial enablement for the same business groups. Countries, especially ASEAN nations have enabled their women entrepreneurs by providing exclusive financial packages to mitigate market conditions. In Bangladesh, 15% of total SME funds from all sources (allocated from tax collections and by financial institutions, etc.) are reserved for women led businesses, almost 45% of which is usually provided to technology startups.

Also, read the complete Dell’s 2019 Women Entrepreneur Cities Index here and find out more insights about the women entrepreneurship scenario worldwide.

Source: Google

The stereotype of female under-representation in the technology industry has been time and again challenged by some award-winning entrepreneurs. Against the limits of corporate models where business ideas from women were frowned upon, most of them have made an impact in adding value to the business community itself. From being a part of the industry, entrepreneurs like Gillian Tee (LinkAsia, Rocketrip) have come to empower new entrants in the ecosystem as accelerators and investors.

In the absolute lack of skilled talent for her tech SME startup Passion Peers, Kanika Agarwal started with remote working employees. She chose to meet the financial barriers head-on with retainer business models and profit-sharing projects. After 2 years of operations in 2018, the organization registered a 90% growth in turnover. The organization transitioned from new digital marketing management services to digital transformation enablement with services like setting up data marketplaces, logistics and e-commerce SaaS, etc.

Another success story is of Krystal Choo, featured in the Linkedin Power profiles for three years straight (2015-2018), was not always the profitable entrepreneur as she is today. In 2017 when Wander (global communication chat app) was finding it critical to reach breakeven, she continued to invest in the development of more tech products. With the implementation of natural language learning and AI modules in her products, she has been able to raise an overall US$ 1 Billion investment for her companies.

Entrepreneurs like Annabelle Kwok. (Neuralbay), Ayesha Khanna (Addo AI), Rachelle Lao (Precision Bit) have solved numerous riddles of the talent gap, policy changes, global slowdowns with solutions like pursuing greenfield businesses, creating indigenous technology marketplaces and consumer digital literacy.
It’s not uncommon in the technology SME space to find such stories of success. It is most evident that women-led entrepreneurial ventures succeed in times of professional peril where other tech startups don’t. Here’s how women in tech SMEs can make that difference.

Indicators of Success for Women in Tech SMEs

In comparison to the countries which have a greater financial market at their disposal, Singapore maintains its global position based on its technology and labor-intensive industry. The penetration of women in SMEs thus makes it an important factor for the overall growth of the industry and, thereby, the economy. What makes ‘Women’ our best bet for SME growth in the technology sector?

1. Skilled Workforce for Technology SMEs:

Women simply have more access to opportunities for assuming higher socio-economic responsibilities in Singapore. At 30.6% and 33.7%, the country has more female executives and senior management employees than the global average of 25.6% and 31%, respectively. In a country where women above 15 years of age own a higher share of technical jobs as compared to men, technology startups are bound to hire skilled workforce from relevant communities.

2. Ecommerce success among Women-led SMEs:

Women-led SMEs in Singapore are contributing 35% of online e-commerce revenue and 15% of offline revenue. Most of this success comes from their increased participation in the retail technologies and access to government digitization packages. The efficient usage of financial resources in technology markets among women is a trend that has caught up in ASEAN markets from 2014-15, especially in Singapore. Result: rapid technical improvements in e-commerce models run by women-led SMEs.

Read more about how Women-led SMEs are growing at a steady pace but are being shadowed by the swift improvement of other ASEAN/global cities.

3. Business technology adoption by women at work in Singapore:

Women in Singapore have been termed as more tech-savvy by the United Nations itself. Almost 90% of established businesses led by women in the country are employing new and latest technologies. Edge Computing, big data analytics, BPaaS (Business Process as a service) platforms, and integrated IoT modules are among a few opportunities which women have shown more interest in as compared to men.

4. Infocomm manpower trends for Women Workforce:

Information and Communication technology SMEs also speak of an undercurrent diversity-inclusion story. Women have shown an upward increase in primary work and related services for Infocomm businesses (training, investment, employment) since 2015, where men have shown a decline in owning or working in such businesses.

5. Initiatives to support Women at Work in tech SMEs:

Singapore SME, Ministry of Manpower, UOB Group, IMDA, Facebook, Singtel, and many other private institutions are keenly and deeply invested in promoting the efforts of women in the technology industry over the last few years. As an outcome, many women leaders have inspired common masses to come out of the conventional closet and pursue their entrepreneurial dreams in the field of technology and science.

Capital insurance facilities for disruptive initiatives in technology for women entrepreneurs is one way to go about it. Initiatives like ‘Fast‐Track Environmental and Water Technologies Incubator Scheme (Fast‐Tech),’ which co-share the risk of commercialization for ecological technology providers, is an example of how the government can bolster the confidence of women entrepreneurs in the tech industry.

6. Women Entrepreneurs Awards (WEA)

Supported by Singapore Digital and recognized by the Ministry of Trade and Industry, this initiative provides for women entrepreneurs to get featured for their work and achievements every financial year. Apart from the wide outreach and showcase that the initiative provides to rising women-led businesses, it also offers two dedicated competitive categories for SMEs only. So far, the WEA has identified the talents of technology industry stalwarts like CXA Group (AI based Health-tech company led by Rosaline Chow Koo), which raised US$ 25 Million in March 2019 from a total of 12 investors including the likes of HSBC Group and MDI Ventures. Chew Gek Khim is another one of their Supernova winners 2019 who has made her mark in the venture capitalist networks of Singapore SMEs and has helped many young tech startups for women find the right direction.

Also, read Interview of Rosaline Chow Koo on getting the InsurTech of the Year at the Asia Insurance Industry Awards to know about the potential of disruptive models in the technology industry.

7. Paypal Luminaries Programme:

Entrepreneurship starts early, and Paypal luminaries caters to the passionate young technocrats who wish to disrupt the tech industry in Singapore. While offering SDG 12,000 to offset educational expenses, the program allows young women in the tech industry to rise above the financial woes of starting a business. Apart from mere financial support, the program has also provided mentorship and exposure to global markets via its business channels. The program not only tackles the barrier of inclusion for women in the fintech industry but also accommodates the new adoption attributes of women in the tech industry. So far, the first batch of Paypal Luminaries is still to graduate. Still, their ideas have started to create ripples across the community, with some of them being featured in the Women Entrepreneurs Summit, Singapore.

8. Facebook “She Means Business” with Girls in Tech:

Community support is one aspect of a strong SME industry in any country. Within the fintech domain, due to lack of women business leaders, Facebook, with its #Shemeansbusiness initiative, has been trying to empower the community by providing them Marketing L&D (learning and development) tools.The program provides aspirational groups, and existing SME leaders access to women-only cohorts online. These online cohorts have provided ground for partnerships, technology sharing, financial assistance, most of which are common problems faced by women in the tech industry. With Girls in Tech, the platform can provide free online learning tools for CRM (customer resource management), digital marketing, and online reputation management to women entrepreneurs in the field of technology.

As Pocket Sun (CEO, SoGal Ventures) in her interview to the Strait Times in 2017 said – 

The ecosystem for women in tech SMEs is yet to reach an ideal stance.

Numerous factors support the time for women entrepreneurship in the technology industry of Singapore in this new decade. It is up to the business community to decide whether it’s going to be a subtle welcome into the big leagues for women, or will they have to go the disruptive model and challenge the ever-evolving stereotypes.

Shikha Sarkar

Shikha Sarkar, Director of Kit Kat Events & Marketing has more than 16 years of experience in international sales and marketing, and strong entrepreneurial skills, in-depth understanding of business, markets and customer needs. As the Ambassador of InterNations, a global expat network, Shikha supports a community of over 65,000 expats from 200 different countries living in Singapore. She loves adventure travel and wildlife photography.

All stories by:Shikha Sarkar
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Shikha Sarkar

Shikha Sarkar, Director of Kit Kat Events & Marketing has more than 16 years of experience in international sales and marketing, and strong entrepreneurial skills, in-depth understanding of business, markets and customer needs. As the Ambassador of InterNations, a global expat network, Shikha supports a community of over 65,000 expats from 200 different countries living in Singapore. She loves adventure travel and wildlife photography.

All stories by:Shikha Sarkar