Many see Asia as a continent of business innovation, where entrepreneurs have leapfrogged over traditional processes to create new systems, including digital banks and e-commerce platforms. However, it looks like Asia’s business ecosystem is at the onset of more novel change, namely a diversified tech workforce and the birth of new types of entrepreneurs who want to solve the world’s social problems. The Women in IT Summit Asia explored these themes and more.
Asia is leading the way in female tech representation, where certain regions sit above the global average. With some Asian governments actively encouraging girls to take STEM-related subjects, there’s much to learn from Asia’s tech ecosystem about encouraging more women into the sector.
But age diversity and purpose-driven business innovation also define the face of tech talent on the continent, which was explored in depth at the recent Women in IT Summit Asia. They informed the talking points of the first session entitled “Technology is fuelling a diverse Asian economic recovery”, which featured Grace Kerrison, Head of Sales Solutions, LinkedIn; Neha Mehta, Founder, FemTech Partners, and Gina Wong, Managing Director, Kyndryl Singapore.
Women in IT Summit Asia: tech innovations in APAC
Wong gave a background into Asia’s new stage of tech-based business innovation, where she said automation, such as contactless payments and digital banks, is reimagining the customer experience, meaning fewer touchpoints, adding that “everything is going online.”
She feels further use of capabilities such as drones to deliver food and medicine to sick people during COVID-19 is becoming more prevalent and is part of the so-called “fourth industrial revolution.”
Wong said the global sharing economy is another key segment of Asia’s innovation journey. She has seen a rise in shared mobility, offices and even healthcare and expects entrepreneurs will continue to develop businesses that feed into this.
But what of the future demographic of entrepreneurship in Asia? Kerrison thinks it will be defined by younger entrepreneurs creating purpose-driven businesses that will use tech to solve the world’s most pressing problems.
Younger, more purpose-driven tech talent
She gave an example of Indonesia, where the average age for an entrepreneur is around twenty-seven years old. From the trends she has already seen, she added that younger business leaders tend to see “the underserved” as their target. They use innovative technology to improve their experience, such as solar pay-as-you-technology enabling more people to get online and participate in the digital economy.
According to Kerrison, the influence of Asian social-impact driven tech will soon be felt beyond the continent in the next decade, where these concepts will be exported globally.
Countries like India are producing unicorn businesses at a startling rate, which Kerrison said is around three per month. But while the needle on business influence and innovation appears to be moving from west to east, she wants governments and financial institutions to play a role in supporting the growth of these social-impact businesses. In this regard, she added that green technology would be a big part of the region’s future.
Tech-driven businesses with a social conscience are one thing, but how can leaders ensure their businesses align with purpose and impact on the inside as much as in what they do? Kerrison said tech employers should look at the skills gaps and ensure these roles are filled with diverse candidates.
Wong said workplace diversity and inclusion would be part of a natural process that won’t require much action from leadership as younger job seekers want to work for firms that align with their values. They will be the ones to create the mission-driven, diverse, and equitable culture that will become part of future work environments.
Digital transformation was the next big topic at the summit. Most businesses have heard about the threat of a global digital skills shortage, with many are working hard to remain innovative.
Digital transformation and diversity and inclusion
Later on during the Women in IT Summit Asia, a panel session called “Top 5 actions to ensure your Digital transformation doesn’t fail” opened up the meaning of digital transformation, which according to one speaker, is part of a wider transformation strategy that goes beyond the digital and has diversity and inclusion at its core.
The speakers were Anna Gong, CEO & Founder, Perx Technologies, Juliana Chua, Regional Head for Digital Transformation, EssilorLuxottica, Kathleen Stubbs, Chief Information Officer Australasia, JLL Technologies and Manoj Bhojwani, CIO Private Banking and Wealth, HSBC.
Chua offered a clear example of when a firm needs to engage in digital transformation, such as when there’s a “digital divide” in large organisations and a need to upskill long-term employees who may have been in the organisation for a decade or longer than others.
Bhojwani added that digital transformation shouldn’t just come down to skills but sourcing the right talent based on different objectives.
He said getting teams to think of diversity and inclusion as a core part of the organisation is key, where digital transformation is one aspect of a wider transformation. He said finding the right talent is finding the right thinking and not necessarily the right skills.
He also said that when looking for roles, millennials and Gen Zs look for firms that practise what they preach and how that fits into their “cultural ethos.” However, he added that the current talent pool needs to be re-skilled and repurposed, yet the two talent pools need to coexist, and that good leadership is essential to making this happen.
Then followed a panel discussion called “Trends for developing talented IT teams of the future,” which explored the emerging skills in tech teams that are finally being taken seriously as they have the potential to create more innovative as well as inclusive organisations.
The speakers were Urvi Jobalia, Head of D&I and Talent Acquisition, SEA-India & Oceania, Ericsson, Tracy Quah, Vice President, Marketing, Asia Pacific & Japan, Informatica, Natalja Rodionova, Managing Director of IT Academy STEP Cambodia and Vietnam, Founder, Sisters of Code and Renu Jhamtani, Senior Manager, Software Engineering, Red Hat.
Diverse skills for IT teams
On the topic of what skills a talented IT team should have, Jobalia said learning shouldn’t be “a one-time activity but an ongoing journey.” She also said that soft skills are now called human skills and that understanding human skills such as learning about the psyche for managers is incredibly important.
Quah agreed that embracing continuous learning is essential for firms to stay relevant and resilient in the market. Jhamtani then joined the conversation and said while technical skills are essential for a project to be successful, adaptability is just as important, such as experimenting through trial and error, which sparks innovation.
Quah said cognitive flexibility, such as advanced multitasking, will be an essential skill for the workplaces of tomorrow, as well as digital literacy. She added that the subjective side of data analytics would also be essential in tech, where tech alone cannot replace this human element.
The conversation then moved to developing female leadership in tech teams, where Jobalia said there could be a mindset to “fix women” to become leaders in tech, which is due to unconscious bias.
She said to ensure women develop as authentic leaders, so they don’t have to fit into the male mould of leadership, that sponsorship is the solution, which she called “opening the door for talent and making things happen”, rather than mentoring, which is more of an upskilling activity.
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In this article, you learned that:
- The global sharing economy such as shared mobility, shared offices, and shared healthcare is growing.
- Over the next decade, we could see Asia become the innovator for social-impact driven businesses led by young entrepreneurs.
- Digital transformation is one aspect of wider transformation, such as having diversity and inclusion at the heart of a business, and hiring talent for the right thinking and not necessarily specific skills.