WOMEN in South-east Asia are participating more in technology (tech) than most of their global counterparts, a study by the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) and Singapore's Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) has found.
The share of women in the workforce and in higher education in South-east Asia is in fact higher than the global average - surpassing even that in mature Western markets like the United Kingdom and Australia, said the report of the study, which surveyed 1,650 women in tech in South-east Asia.
In the workforce, women account for 32 per cent of the region's tech sector. The global average is 28 per cent.
While Thailand has the highest percentage of women in tech at 42 per cent, Singapore does not lag far behind. The city-state ranks near top among the six countries in South-east Asia; it has about 41 per cent of women working in tech. This is despite having one of the lowest share of female tech majors in the region.
This is likely driven by a booming tech sector, which attracts women from non-technology education backgrounds, said the report.
About 65 per cent of respondents in the study agreed that the tech sector does better than other industries in offering programmes specifically tailored to recruit, retain and promote women, it said.
However, despite these efforts, the tech industry still faces a challenge where women's participation in school and the workforce is systematically lower than in other industries.
Of tech majors in South-east Asia, for example, 39 per cent are women (compared with 56 per cent for all other fields of study). In the workforce, women account for 32 per cent of the region's tech sector, compared with 38 per cent of the total workforce.
The gender gap in tech companies in South-east Asia is an exacerbated symptom of the broader problems that women face in all industries. Yet the industry's rapid growth, need for talent and attractive career characteristics position it to lead in solving those problems, the report said.
More can also be done to retain women in key roles for increased gender diversity. The study found that across all industries, women often leave their job at key junctures of the career ladder in all South-east Asian markets. They also make up fewer than 15 per cent of chief executives and board-level positions in the region.
BCG's research has shown that gender diversity can make companies more innovative and agile and improve their financial performance. For example, companies where women account for more than 20 per cent of the management team have approximately 10 per cent higher innovation revenues than companies with male-dominated leadership.
To improve, companies and policy-makers need to take a targeted approach that focuses on the critical junctures in a career.
"There is a need to recognise the importance of education, and the choice of major, as a gateway for women to gain an initial footing in the tech world," the report said. It added that without the right educational resources, countries will have a hard time building a skilled workforce and companies will struggle to find talent.
To build on that, measures such as career counselling, awareness initiatives and outreach to a female talent pool can help these graduates move into jobs in the field.
Work-life balance, as well as potential learning and development opportunities also carry significant weight in boosting female retention. The study's findings highlight that these are important criteria in women's decision to join the technology sector. The absence of such training was cited as a key reason some women plan to leave their job.