Technology can level playing field for women, says panel

Manpower Minister Josephine Teo (second from left) and CNN journalist Manisha Tank (centre), who moderated the discussion, with (from left) StanChart Singapore CEO Patrick Lee; Mr Simon Cooper, StanChart's chief executive for corporate, commercial and institutional banking; Ms Deborah Ho, managing director and head of South-east Asia at BlackRock; and Dr Ayesha Khanna, CEO of Addo AI.PHOTO: STANDARD CHARTERED BANK

Manpower Minister Josephine Teo (second from left) and CNN journalist Manisha Tank (centre), who moderated the discussion, with (from left) StanChart Singapore CEO Patrick Lee; Mr Simon Cooper, StanChart's chief executive for corporate, commercial and institutional banking; Ms Deborah Ho, managing director and head of South-east Asia at BlackRock; and Dr Ayesha Khanna, CEO of Addo AI.PHOTO: STANDARD CHARTERED BANK

The Straits Times | By Joanne Seow | Friday, 8 March 2019

It offers opportunities, and more flexibility for women to manage other commitments

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

"They are 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 yesterday.

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 discussed by the panellists at a discussion organised by Standard Chartered Bank to celebrate International Women's Day, which is today.

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 other 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 that when she was pregnant with her fourth child, her former boss gave her a Bloomberg machine - a data terminal used by traders - to use at home.

"The technology is out there," she said. "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 at 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 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... 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" on other boards, often limiting the chances for more women to be selected.

With efforts under way 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: "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."

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