Why So Few Women in Tech? Digital Solutions Developer Niky Ayu Lestari Talks About Gender Expectations in Indonesia and Awkward Conversations with Males in the Tech Field


Why So Few Women in Tech? Digital Solutions Developer Niky Ayu Lestari Talks About Gender Expectations in Indonesia and Awkward Conversations with Males in the Tech Field

October 4, 2023

Why are so few women in tech? In the third of this 4-part series, SpudnikLab speaks to digital solutions developer Niky Ayu Lestari about the differences in society’s expectations for women in rural and urban parts of Indonesia and discrimination against females in the tech industry there.

Indonesian Niky Ayu Lestari, a digital solutions developer with SpudnikLab, is based in Central Java. Her previous role was with PosKota as a Full-Stack developer.

She observes that in the major Indonesian cities, people are generally more open-minded and tend not to conform to traditional gender stereotypes. However, in other parts of Indonesia, stereotypes about women’s expected life paths are prevalent, such as the expectation to marry by a certain age.

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People in Indonesia’s cities are more open-minded about women pursuing careers instead of merely marrying by a certain age, and taking on roles in male-dominated industries such as tech. PHOTO CREDIT: Umar ben for Unsplash
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Niky notices that women are expected to conform to traditional gender roles in other parts of Indonesia, such as villages she lived in. PHOTO CREDIT: Tyler Morgan for Unsplash

When she chose a tech engineering major in Informatics at the Islamic University of Indonesia because she enjoyed seeing how things work, both her parents encouraged her.

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Niky attending the Tech in Asia Conference 2022, in Jakarta.

The gender gap in college

“There were only about 30 women among over 150 people in my college cohort, and in my working experience, women were also the minority. Lecturers were of no predominant gender.

The male students mostly kept to themselves, in and out of classes. Some of them appeared nervous about speaking to girls during group assignments, which made our interactions awkward. I was often the one to break the ice when working with my male classmates.”

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Niky (forth from right) during the Sakura Science Exchange Program in Japan in 2019, in college. The 2-week program had the students from Thailand, China, Malaysia, Indonesia and Japan moving through Tokyo, Hokkaido and Sapporo based on specific activities. Besides learning programming, they visited a space exhibition, and learned about Japanese culture, like playing Japanese games during the winter.

Peer group responses

“I noticed my friends went from predominantly female to male during my transition into pursuing tech. Whatever their gender, they were all supportive of my choice of career studies.”

The male-dominated environment

“I grew comfortable interacting and forming friendships with boys when I went to a vocational high school after junior high school. This helped me navigate the male-dominated field in tertiary education and later at work.

Fortunately in my career in tech, I didn’t encounter any significant issues related to being a woman, even though I mostly work in teams predominantly composed of men. However, I must admit that at first, there was a bit of awkwardness trying to engage with male colleagues and be part of their workflow and communication for effective teamwork.”

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Interactions with male colleagues can feel awkward for the sole woman in a project group in the tech industry, if these men are unused to working with females. PHOTO CREDIT: Mimi Thian for Unsplash

Bias against women in the tech industry

“Gender bias and stereotypes persist in the tech industry, leading to the perception that women are less capable in technical roles. Some women in tech face a hostile or unwelcoming work environment, which may include instances of harassment, discrimination, or microaggressions.

In my opinion, it will always come back to ourselves, our responses, and our positioning in an environment. It doesn’t matter if you are a man or a woman, the focus should shift to mutual respect, shared goals and a collective drive for success in our projects.”

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Niky (standing, centre) in a web development training session during Business Environment Class, with her classmates, when she was at the Islamic University of Indonesia, 2019.

What can be done to improve things

“Encouraging diversity and inclusion, promoting equitable hiring practices, providing mentorship and sponsorship programs for women, and offering opportunities for skill development can help create a more inclusive and supportive tech industry for women. Additionally, raising awareness about these issues and actively challenging gender biases can contribute to a more balanced and thriving tech community.”

In our next and final post in the series, we speak to computing and coding educator Tay Hwee Shan about being a female entrepreneur and mentor in Singapore’s tech industry.

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