In the last of our 4-part series, SpudnikLab speaks to computing and coding instructor and business owner Tay Hwee Shan about her experience being a woman in tech, and what can be done to close the gender gap in the tech field.
Hwee Shan graduated from the National University of Singapore’s School of Computing, majoring in Computer Science. “Prior to that, I always had an interest in computing but never took up any official programming courses. It was a leap of faith for me which worked out really well.”
In 2016, she co-founded one of Singapore’s first coding schools for kids and older students, Loshberry Pte Ltd. “We started Loshberry in 2016 at a time when coding lessons for kids were not as mainstream. Over the years we have worked with various organisations to bring coding education to audiences of all backgrounds, and branched out to reach older students in academic computing as well.”
Did you encounter obstacles in your career in tech, which might have been linked to being female?
“I guess I have been quite lucky to not have faced many obstacles that are gender-linked. But there have definitely been bumps along the way which I feel are more to do with experience rather than gender. I have always believed that you are valued based on your skills and what you can bring to the organisation, rather than for your gender. In all the organisations I have worked for, I was lucky enough to feel very much accepted and appreciated, even though quite often I was the only female in the team. I did not feel that I was treated any differently just because of my gender.”
Pregnancy & motherhood
“One major challenge I faced recently was pregnancy and motherhood, which has definitely impacted my career as I had to slow down my work while still keeping my company running. Getting back to work after maternity leave was also a constant balancing act which I am still trying to perfect. This is a challenge that is not unique to the tech industry and is faced by every working mother. However, being in tech can actually bring some benefits to a mother (or father, too) that other types of work might not. Tech work is naturally digital and largely online, hence it can be done anywhere and any time, allowing for maximum flexibility of working around your baby’s schedules.”
“Personally, I was also able to take advantage of tech to smoothen my transition in and out of maternity leave. The pandemic has induced a widespread acceptance of online learning, which allowed me to continue my work with minimal impact even as I was homebound with my baby.”
Is there still bias against women in the tech industry? And if so, what can be done about it?
“I get this question a lot from my female students who are contemplating a career in tech but are afraid of an arbitrary ‘glass ceiling’ for women. My advice to them is to simply trust themselves, prove their worth to the organisation and let their skills and experience speak for themselves. I know of many expert female programmers / women in tech who are great at what they do, but many of them stay under the radar and are not very actively involved in women in tech initiatives. This may give an illusion that females are not well-appreciated in the tech industry, but I have to say that this is probably not true.”
“My work at Loshberry Computing and as a Polytechnic Adjunct Lecturer has allowed me to reach out to youths in computing, and I think to many of the female students who may feel that they are the minority in class, having a female teacher may inspire them more and allow them to feel more comfortable. I enjoy mentoring youths, especially females, in helping them to find their paths, be it in tech or not.”
What are your thoughts on the issues women face in the tech field? What should be changed or rethought about current practices and systems in the tech industry to address the gender disparity and discrimination against women? We’d love to hear your perspectives on our social platforms.