Female entrepreneurs discuss women in technology
BDO speaks to tessaract.io CEO and founder Cherilyn Tan, KYC Hub co-founder Farnoush Mirmoeini and X0PA AI founder and CEO Nina Alag Suri on working in tech.
How did you get into tech?
Cherilyn Tan: I have always been in technology as I learnt coding as a child. My mum, although not a tech leader, has always emphasized the importance of using technology to improve productivity. She hired developers to build her own productivity tool in her own company to make processes easier.
Nina Alag Suri: For a long time, I actually wanted to be a doctor! But my passion was really in mathematics and physics. So, I studied electronics engineering and worked for one of the largest IT firms in its time. I love the black and white of mathematics, it is so objective and greatly helps in decision making.
Farnoush Mirmoeini: My mother was a computer scientist. When I was growing up it was the start of the Internet era. I was fascinated by email and computer networks. I went into engineering and subsequently started working in a FinTech [company], in quantitative finance.
What made you start your own business?
Farnoush Mirmoeini: I wanted to become an entrepreneur, but I thought I should learn about how companies work, so I joined a tech company. I got into quantitative finance, and I found financial markets fascinating, but I've always found big companies quite slow and frustrating. And I had this dream of entrepreneurship.
And I had this dream of entrepreneurship.
Cherilyn Tan: I read Forbes, Newsweek and only business magazines growing up in my teens till today, because I find business fascinating. The idea of the world made up so many companies selling the same things but in dissimilar fashion was intriguing to me.
Nina Alag Suri: I always wanted to be an entrepreneur, work my own way. I always wanted to create something as opposed to follow set rules or a limited job profile. I got an opportunity to leave the corporate world and start my entrepreneurship when I was pregnant with my second child and was told by my boss then that he prefers non pregnant women in sales role! The sheer audacity of that statement got me so enraged that there couldn’t have been a better time to do my own venture and set my own rules!
Why do you think there are so few women in tech?
Nina Alag Suri: There's a lot of stereotyping around tech. Everybody assumes it is difficult and very male dominated and that mathematics and physics are not for everyone. I think this is changing now, also the change needs to come from very early life from home, schools and society. This is fortunately changing if you look at the number of women computer scientists, but why they do not reach a leadership role is still an issue we need to address.
Cherilyn Tan: My mother was rare, and usually girls look up to women as young children. Generations of women who have been homemakers only knew the world they existed and operated in, and they seldom coincided with technology, or even systems thinking, on a day-to-day basis.
Farnoush Mirmoeini: You can have women getting tech jobs when they haven't been into science and technology when in school, so I think a lot of it is culture. Tech has a very white male culture. This is something that deters a lot of girls in the first place.
What can be done to increase diversity?
Farnoush Mirmoeini: Diversity and inclusion is a plus for a company that has D&I policies and negative for those that don't. I don't know how much private companies are doing this, but I'm hoping it would eventually have a ripple effect. Companies with these policies signal that everyone has to improve.
Nina Alag Suri: I think it's a two-pronged approach. One is start early, make sure you're removing the fear around tech. And then it is all about making sure there is a place for everyone and inclusion at every level. I do think the world needs to start removing biases around hiring.
Cherilyn Tan: I believe the market is already doing its best to increase diversity. Structures are put up to help more women get into the sector, and more role models are being promoted. However, I feel the efforts are isolated. Women entrepreneurs are not celebrated as much as male entrepreneurs.
Is there anything within your own business you are doing to attract more women into the sector?
Cherilyn Tan: Yes, internally within the team we try to keep a 50-50 gender split as much as we can. We actively seek out and appoint female advisors and get them involved in the growing with us. We support women-in-tech events, mentor women, and hire men who respect and agree with that.
We support women-in-tech events, mentor women, and hire men who respect and agree with that.
Farnoush Mirmoeini: We try to give opportunities equally to men and women. We won't have a reverse bias and hire more women. As a small company, we have limited tools for this, but what do is try to have a more female-friendly and equal and diverse workplace, and support people that work for us.
Nina Alag Suri: My previous company was an executive search firm. I realised how subjective the topic of hiring was. And so I started X0PA purely so that we could make hiring an objective, scientific process, as opposed to being subjective. The entire platform and technology is around removing biases.
Who do you admire in business and why?
Nina Alag Suri: I admire work around inclusion. That's my biggest focus, so anybody who talks a lot about that suddenly becomes my favourite.
Farnoush Mirmoeini: I can't zero in on one person, but I admire Jeff Bezos for being able to create a very interesting company and changing the world. In the end, I think everyone has to find their own path and see what things we admire in different people that we can model ourselves after.
Cherilyn Tan: I admire strategists in the market: Robert Iger, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs. For me, the ability to see through noise and just have laser focus in the things that matter makes a huge difference in how businesses are grown in the market. They are generalists and specialists at the same time.