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Women Changemakers In Tech

A study has shown that in Southeast Asia, the Philippines and Thailand have the highest share of female tech graduates in the region. However, there is still a lot to be done to break gender barriers in tech.

For today’s #TribeTuesdays, we share stories of Audrey Pe, Steph Naval, and Angela Chen, female NGO founders in the tech industry.

Audrey Pe of WiTech

Please give us a background about yourself

Audrey: I'm the founder and executive director of WiTech (Women in Technology), a nonprofit based in the Philippines with over 20+ chapters that aim to educate, inspire, and empower youth to break gender barriers and use tech to make a difference in society. I started WiTech when I was 15, and now I'm an incoming junior at Stanford University where I major in Science, Technology, and Society with a minor in education.

What/ who inspired you to be an advocate for women in the tech industry?

Audrey: I remember growing up in Manila, Philippines, and just not knowing any women in tech. I felt so isolated in the field and needed role models, which led me to discover how massive the gender and accessibility gaps in tech are currently. I couldn't not do something, anything really, to help change that.

As a male-dominated industry, why should we have more female voices/perspectives in tech?

The more diverse our decision-making rooms are in tech, the more that those solutions being developed will represent a wide array of people. If we want our future to be built for everyone, we need to expand opportunities in tech to everyone, regardless of their gender or socioeconomic status.

Steph Naval of Empath

Please give us a background about yourself

Steph: I’m Steph Naval, Founder & CEO of Empath, a social enterprise that envisions accessible mental healthcare and psychoeducation for all.

What/ who inspired you to be an advocate for women in the tech industry?

Steph: I believe it’s the other women entrepreneurs I’ve been friends with along the way that have their own healthcare and tech companies as well.

As a male-dominated industry, why should we have more female voices/perspectives in tech?

Steph: I think it’s important for representation when it comes to building more valuable and innovative tech in society. When women’s perspectives are considered in further tech developments, this also opens new avenues on how tech can cater to the women sector as well and not just the men.

Angela Chen of Eskwelabs

Please give us a background about yourself.

Angela: I’m a Chinese-Canadian social entrepreneur exploring how to leverage tech to scale impact ventures in emerging markets. I moved to Southeast Asia in 2018 because my partner is Philippines-based. I’m currently the Co-founder, and CEO at Eskwelabs, a data upskilling school. We develop low-cost education to empower everyone from call center agents to stay-at-home women freelancers to succeed in the future of work through data upskilling.I’m motivated by making positive things happen for people, and I’m particularly interested in solutions for the 2 E’s: education and environment. Previously, I worked in capital markets and impact investing focused on conservation, the oceans, and the circular economy.

Data is the key skill today that can help people break down barriers—these could be barriers to promotions at work, better employment opportunities, etc. Eskwelabs started with immersive programs for data analytics and data science at a fraction of the cost of alternatives. Now we serve a variety of audiences: We have a mobile-based data literacy product for freelance home-based moms and we also have our learning sprint product for universities, government agencies, and companies. To this day, our mission has stayed the same, to democratize access to data skills education to help people thrive in the future of work.

What/ who inspired you to be an advocate for women in the tech industry?

Angela: Personally, I’ve been learning about building social innovations since the summer during university when I served as a substitute English teacher in the village school in China where my grandfather taught. This path led me to explore where my degree in finance could meet impact and I eventually became a co-founding member of a Toronto-based impact investing firm focused on sustainable food production in emerging markets. Doing due diligence through this work on the ground as an investor in Southeast Asia led me to discover opportunities to create new ventures that could scale impact. I have always believed that education is about breaking down barriers. My father was able to learn English in the late 80’s at a time when it was uncommon to speak it in China. That single skill changed the trajectory of his career. I believe the equivalent of language skills today is in data literacy or the ability to read, understand, create, and communicate data as information. We are in the midst of a data explosion – almost everything we touch and work with today generates data. So that means data skills are not just for technologists but for anyone working in an organization that wants to move from gut-based to data-informed decisions.

As a male-dominated industry, why should we have more female voices/perspectives in data science?

Angela: Algorithms are involved in big and small decisions in our lives, including what we see on our social media feed, all the way to whether or not we are approved for a loan. While 50% of the population are women, only 15% of data professionals globally who build these algorithms are women (Source: BGC. “What’s Keeping Women Out of Data Science?” 2020). AI algorithms are also susceptible to bias, so building them requires a team that’s diverse. For instance, when a recruiting AI was built by Amazon, it trained on data of past hires which were majority men. That led to the algorithm preferring male candidates and penalizing applicants which had words that associated them with women. In other words, the algorithm downgraded graduates of all-women’s colleges. Another example is that an image search algorithm might show us photos of CEOs that consist of mostly men, while a search for personal assistants will turn photos of mostly women. This unfortunately perpetuates perceptions that hold back gender equality. We need more women to become the creators of these algorithms and not just the consumers of them so we can challenge these biases. Eskwelabs is proud to have half of all learners across programs identifying as women.

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