The lack of gender diversity — especially amongst Co-founders and Founders — usually elicits much concernation when brought up in conversation within, and about, the startup ecosystem.
One reason, posited by many, for the disparity between the amounts of men versus women in tech is a gender gap in STEM-based educational institutions.
In Singapore, 38 per cent of women (compared to 45 per cent men) achieve a tertiary education. Of that percentage, in STEM fields 34 per cent of graduates are women compared with 66 per cent men. This is according to a World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap report from October 2015.
And statistics aside, all it takes is a few months of networking and event attending to see the tech scene is a male-dominated field.
Promoting a STEM-based education cannot hurt, but there are other ways to improve gender diversity in tech. Self-education is extremely common amongst developers and many successful coders think it is a better track than a computer science course.
Also Read: 3 ways to empower more female leaders
The result is a rise of woman-focussed initiatives in Singapore. Some examples include SG Geek Girls, Coding Girls and Rail Girls Singapore.
Thanks to the initiative of Elisha Tan — who has a day job as APAC Marketing Associate for Facebook — a new programme was launched this week called TechLadies.
Tan is also a self-educated developer. Her love for technology came when she taught herself to code (starting from simple copy and paste and moving up the ladder) and eventually started a now-defunct company called Learnemy — a marketplace to find instructors and classes teaching anything from badminton to Chinese.
“Learning how to code and creating a product that people paid real money to use made me fall in love with technology. I firmly believe that programming is the new superpower, and technology can do good for the society,” Tan told e27.
The genesis of the program came when Tan was bouncing around the idea of having a group of programmers who code for NGOs. Her friend suggested that she tie her passion for NGOs with her love for coding.
Tan is also an organiser for Rails Girls so TechLadies is right up her alley.
TechLadies is an eight-week long programme which leverages the teaching sessions to build meaningful products for NGOs. It requires 10 hours a week of commitment and the pre-requisite is the participant should have previous experience dabbling in code and a desire to learn.
It is a free initiative but will require a deposit to be refunded upon graduation.
“TechLadies was started when so many people volunteered to help. It’s easy to give me all the credits because I’m the face of TechLadies, but really, it was the people who helped that inspired me to start TechLadies”
“The coaches who stepped up to commit more than eight weeks of preparation work and coaching, the NGOs who understood what we are doing and graciously joined in, the volunteers who put in their time in whatever capacity they can to support the event and activities. They inspire me,” she said.
The NGOs involved in the batch are the Asian Film Archive, Engineers.SG and Humanitarian Organization for Migrant Economics (HOME).
The Asian Film Archive wants to partner with the programme to build an information database, this includes a watch button, a flagging system and ticketing capabilities.
Engineers.sg says its biggest problem is the content is too centralised and delayed; so the goal for the project is to set up integrated mail chimp campaigns, build an events calendar and other self-administration feature.
For HOME, the project wants to improve the database it uses to track instances of domestic workers being abused by their employers. The organisation sees on average 2,000 workers every year and wants to be able to crunch data and identify trends.
“Being able to collate and crunch the data is important for us to influence public policy,” said HOME Social Worker Jolovan Wham.
Tan said she hopes after the programme some of the women can move on to build web products, grab an engineering job and break into the tech industry.
The biggest challenge Tan is worried about overcoming is long-term sustainability.
“Nobody in Singapore has done such an intensive program for free so I don’t really have insights to how long this can go on, or what model TechLadies should take to be sustainable,” she said.
Applications for TechLadies closes on January 30 and the event starts on February 15.
Time to put on those coding capes.