Fresh out of college and in her early days as a software engineer, Ms. Joanna Koh remembers dealing with colleagues who looked down on her work. She thanks her boss for helping her overcome these obstacles and believes that role models, as well as inclusive work environments, are key to ensuring more women can succeed in careers in tech.
Ms. Koh, 41, who is now a program manager at PayPal, is actively involved in empowering young female technologists. Recognizing the need for such support, she helps them access advice and guidance to better navigate their own journey.
When she graduated from college in computer engineering in 2003, it was rare for women to pursue a science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) discipline. Even her mother had asked her if she was sure about her choice, suggesting an accounting class instead.
Ms. Koh, however, yearned to follow in the footsteps of her older brother who studied electrical and computer engineering. She was also eager to see where a STEM degree could take her in her career.
This led her to her first job as a software engineer and the realization that, as one of the few women in the industry, she would have to deal with a significant amount of “unconscious bias.” “.
âIt was typical profiling. People didn’t think of women as software developers, so it was pretty hard to prove you could be a good person, âshe recalls.
âI discovered that I didn’t always have a voice at the table and that I felt marginalized. It really affected my morale and caused a lot of internal struggles, âshe shares. âI have often wondered if I am in the right industry.
Need strong support
She says she might have given up on a career in tech without the support of her boss, who was an indispensable pillar. He encouraged her to identify and build on her strengths as well as acquire complementary skills such as project management, which benefited her later in her career.
Mrs. Koh says: “It helped me understand that it was not about my lack of skill, but about a perception [that others held]. It gave me more opportunities to showcase my skills, including leading certain discussions, so that I was not just a passive participant in those meetings, which otherwise might have reinforced certain perceptions.
She also found inspiration in a female senior executive who was an industry veteran. âObserving leadership behavior in a male dominated environment has helped me recognize that it is possible to become a respected and credible female technologist. “
After overcoming initial hurdles, Ms. Koh progressed steadily in her career and joined PayPal nine years ago, where her current role allows her to manage programs for the US company’s Singapore Development Center and PayPal-based Innovation Lab. locally, one of three in the world and the first outside. United States.
She expresses her optimism about how things have improved since her early years in the industry, noting that female software developers are no longer viewed with skepticism.
âPublic perceptions are very different now and I’m glad the days of unconscious bias are over,â she says.
The change, she notes, has been gradual and required concerted efforts from different industry stakeholders, including government and business, coming together to create a more vibrant and enabling ecosystem that encourages women to join and stay in the tech field.
Such efforts must continue, so that more young people are motivated to consider a tech profession, Ms. Koh said.
According to a study published in April by United Women Singapore and Ipsos1, 41% of women, aged 16 to 25, planned to pursue a career in STEM, compared to 69% of their male counterparts.
The survey revealed an early interest of women respondents in STEM, with at least 60 percent of them having changed their minds about STEM subjects in their studies when they were 14 to 16 years old. It highlights the need to motivate young women from the start of their studies, so that they are encouraged to maintain their interest and consider a career in STEM sectors.
Ms Koh also cites the need to help young women better understand the growth potential of choosing a career in tech. She believes it takes a collective effort from the industry, where businesses, schools and governments need to come together to have a more meaningful impact.
âThe government has a good influence in rallying support and working with schools and companies like PayPal,â she notes. âWe can all start building the pipeline early, drawing on different sectors, so children can be exposed to STEM from an early age. When considering a career in technology at a later stage, then organizations can come in and offer the real job opportunities.
While there is now greater recognition and respect for female technologists, compared to her early days in the industry, Ms. Koh says it’s still essential for companies to step up efforts to expose more young women. to the possibilities that a technological career can offer.
She pays tribute to organizations like PayPal for paving the way for more inclusive workplaces that have enabled women tech professionals, in particular, to showcase their skills.
Inclusive workforce supporting a diverse audience
With its international headquarters located in Singapore, PayPal has a number of programs in place to nurture local tech talent and provide opportunities that help women realize their potential.
The digital payments company believes that a diverse workforce will better support a more diverse audience in the more than 200 markets in which it operates, offering a wider range of new ideas to improve legacy processes and better address customer issues. clients.
Among the various initiatives it manages, the PayPal Women Luminaries Program (WLP) is a comprehensive program for passionate undergraduate students to build a solid foundation for a technology career and develop the skills needed to become leaders in the field. domain.
WLP luminaries receive a one-time scholarship covering their tuition fees for one academic year as well as a six-month internship at PayPal, during which they will learn about the inner workings of fintech and have access to mentors, in-house technical courses, workshops, and networking events.
In addition, women may be offered opportunities to take on full-time positions at PayPal after graduation. This year, PayPal more than tripled the number of scholarships to reach more talented women in tech across all universities with eligible undergraduate programs in Singapore.
To further ensure that all of its employees have the support they need to thrive, PayPal invests resources to provide an environment that encourages diversity of experiences, thoughts, opinions and styles of leadership.
One such initiative is Unity, an employee resource group that brings together women and men to create more opportunities for their female colleagues at PayPal. The main goal here is to provide a platform and the tools for women to thrive in the tech industry.
Launched in 2007, Unity has grown into a core team with a presence in 35 PayPal locations around the world, including Singapore and India.
The international group manages various projects and initiatives, including events that provide women with access to industry knowledge on current technological developments, opportunities to develop critical and leadership skills, and career development programs that include observation of leadership. Employees can also hone their technical skills through knowledge sharing and hackathons.
The Singapore chapter of Unity, for example, has hosted various local events this year, including creative workshops with inspiring women who work at PayPal, and led discussions on the Male Alliance to Empower a Female Workforce.
Measuring and driving positive change for women
PayPal’s commitment to cultivating and supporting an inclusive workforce has resulted in positive change for its employees. The company’s 2020 Global Impact Report reveals that the promotion rate of women to managerial positions has doubled since 2018 and that women represent 27% of its technical positions globally.
It has also maintained 100% pay equity globally for the past five years and offers family-oriented leave policies to attract and retain its employees. Additionally, the Global Impact Report assesses the diversity of PayPal’s workforce at 56%, which includes women internationally.
The annual report measures the performance of the company across the key pillars of its environmental, social and governance (ESG) strategy, covering areas such as employees and culture, social innovation and environmental sustainability.
Ms. Koh adds, âIt is important that organizations scale up and create opportunities for women considering a career in the industry, so that they can be exposed to the possibilities, as well as those already in the business. sector. Businesses must continue to provide an enabling ecosystem in which they can thrive. “
To learn more about PayPal’s Women Luminaries program, click here.