Among the official themes for the 2023 International Women's Day celebration is ‘Digit-All Innovation and Technology for Gender Equality’, which emphasizes the importance of digital technology in the future of work.
Women having access to technology, in particular digital technology, lowers some of the barriers to equality and prepares them for the changing demands of the workplace. One effective way to accomplish this is by encouraging women to pursue STEM education.
There is much to be done, however. A ground-breaking UNESCO report from 2017, ‘Cracking the Code: Girls and Women's Education in STEM’, revealed that only 35 per cent of STEM students in higher education globally are women; differences are also observed within STEM disciplines. Furthermore, only 3 per cent of female students in higher education choose information and communication technologies (ICT) studies.
The low numbers are alarming as the same report highlights that “STEM careers are often referred to as the jobs of the future, driving innovation, social well-being, inclusive growth, and sustainable development”. Depriving women of the opportunities to participate and become leaders in high-growth sectors can bring negative impact on the entire organization. For one, gender diversity helps companies to approach problems from multiple perspectives, which can lead to more creative solutions.
In this special episode celebrating International Women’s Day, we invited Wendy Chen, Founder and CEO of Omnistream, to share her insights on helping women in STEM careers.
Chen knows the STEM landscape very well. She obtained a Bachelor of Applied Science (Honours) in Systems Engineering from the University of Waterloo in Canada, specializing in computational neuroscience and reinforcement learning.
She has accumulated experience in strategy design, risk management, and regulatory management, and has built tremendous expertise in setting up data-enabled businesses that turn automation into a competitive advantage.
In 2018, Chen launched Omnistream in Singapore as an SaaS provider for improving enterprise processes. Omnistream automates store-level planning for, say, grocery and convenience store chains for a substantial impact on profitability and customer satisfaction, among others. Working with a team of engineers in the company’s offices in Singapore and Australia, Chen employs dynamic optimization and various types of statistics to drive desired outcomes.
At Omnistream, Chen focuses on equity rather than equality—and for good reason. “Maybe it's controversial,” she says, “but I think equality implies everyone gets the same things. Equity is a better word because people should get what they need.” Equity, she emphasizes, is about making sure that every employee gets what it is that they need to be successful.
“If you need a taller chair to see above a wall, then you should get a taller chair. If you need a rope to climb the wall, then you should get a rope. Those two are very different things,” she argues. “It's like asking a giraffe to climb a tree if you're talking about equality.”
Chen admits that as a start-up, there are situations that they cannot cater to. “But we're also very upfront about that we will do, and support what we can where it makes sense.
“We hope that (they) can give as much as (they) can to the company; we give (them) as much as we can. It's like a relationship. You just have to be open and honest about expectations.”
The Portfolio Podcast is presented by YPO, Young Presidents’ Organization. A worldwide leadership community of chief executives with over 30,000 members in more than 130 countries, YPO offers access to rich learning programs, sharing of exceptional experiences, and lasting friendships.