The gender imbalance in the tech sector is a longstanding problem and an open secret.
Women make up less than a third of the talent pool in global tech giants such as Amazon, Facebook, Google, Apple, and Microsoft.
In Singapore, women make up only 30% of tech-related fields here.
Although it’s clear that there is an under-representation of women in technology worldwide, it does not mean that they aren’t making waves in the sector.
Here are 10 influential women in Singapore who are trailblazers in the sector.
1. Rachel Lim, co-founder of Love, Bonito
Love, Bonito founders Rachel Lim, Velda Tan (she has since left the company) and Viola Tan pioneered the blogshop trend in Singapore, back when e-commerce was still at a very nascent stage.
The trio invested only S$500 to kickstart the business, which quickly grew traction. They later rebranded and started designing their own pieces instead of bargain hunting for apparel in Asian markets.
After growing into a household name in the local fashion scene, they expanded the company overseas in Malaysia, Indonesia and Cambodia. In 2017, the firm’s revenue hit approximately S$10 million.
2. Tan Hooi Ling, co-founder of Grab
While at Harvard Business School, two Malaysian friends — Anthony Tan and Tan Hooi Ling — bonded over the idea of making taxis safer in Southeast Asia.
The pair went on to build a ride-hailing business that has since expanded its services to include food delivery, parcel delivery, mobile payment, hotel booking, insurance services, among others, to achieve its grand ‘superapp’ vision.
Today, the Singapore-based firm is the region’s most valuable tech unicorn and is reportedly valued at US$10 billion (S$13.6 billion) in its most recent funding round.
3. Pocket Sun, founder of SoGal Ventures
Chinese-born Pocket Sun founded female networking group SoGal when she was pursuing her Masters in the United States.
That university project has since turned into a multi-million venture capital firm called SoGal Ventures, with investments in over 50 companies. Its current portfolio has 19 startups, with investment sums ranging from US$50,000 to US$500,000.
At 24, the Singapore-based entrepreneur was one of the youngest people to grace the cover of Forbes magazine for being listed under Forbes Asia’s 30 under 30 in 2016.
4. Josephine Chow, co-founder of ShopBack
Launched in Singapore back in 2014, ShopBack is a cashback aggregator that unifies different merchants in a single platform. The platform makes it possible for shoppers to earn cash rebates from their purchases, which can range from food to airline tickets.
Ms Chow now heads the international expansion for the company, which has since grown its footprint to seven countries with a portfolio of more than 2,000 merchants.
ShopBack also has more than 8 million registered users on board, racking up an average of US$70 million (S$95 million) in monthly sales and collectively receiving over US$30 million (S$40.9 million) in cashback for their shopping.
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5. Gillian Tee, co-founder and CEO of Homage
Gillian Tee had spent the last ten years developing her career as a software engineer and startup founder in both New York and the Silicon Valley.
When the Raffles Junior College graduate returned home to Singapore in 2016, she noticed first-hand how much her mother had aged and that was when she realised that there was room for innovation in the eldercare industry.
This inspired her to start up Homage, which connects professional caregivers with seniors who need help. This also helps seniors age with dignity, unburdens family caregivers, and turns caregivers into micro-entrepreneurs, providing them with an opportunity to earn.
6. Roshni Mahtani, founder of Tickled Media
Tickled Media is a Singapore-headquartered company behind media sites TheAsianParent.com, AsianMoneyGuide.com, HerStyleAsia.com, and Nonila.com.
Over the years, Tickled Media has seen significant growth — from 1 million users in 2013 to a monthly user base of 12 million women today.
Last year, the media tech firm raised around S$6.7 million in funding to help fuel its expansion in the region, particularly in the Philippines, Malaysia and Vietnam; as well as develop two additional media assets that will also target Asian women.
7. Val Yap, founder and CEO of PolicyPal
Val Yap founded PolicyPal in 2016 after she experienced first-hand how convoluted the insurance space was when her family member fell sick, so this motivated her to make insurance protection simple and accessible to everyone.
Essentially, the startup serves as a digital direct insurance broker that enables individuals to buy, manage, and optimise their insurance policies.
PolicyPal is the first graduate from the Monetary of Singapore’s (MAS) fintech regulatory sandbox, and it has since raised a total of US$20 million(S$20.3 million) in funding. Ms Yap was also listed under Forbes Asia’s 30 Under 30 list in 2017.
8. Rekha Hari, co-founder of soCash
soCash is a Singapore-based fintech startup that allows people to withdraw cash pretty much anywhere by turning small businesses into ‘cashpoints’.
To withdraw cash, users simply need to key in the desired amount on the soCash app, select a nearby merchant, and pick up the cash at the outlet. This also helps small businesses earn extra cash by bringing more customers to their shop.
Since starting up, soCash has partnered with major banks like DBS, POSB and Standard Chartered; and has activated over 1,000 cashpoints across Singapore at supermarkets like U Stars, iECON and Haomart, cafes, 7-Eleven outlets and even provision stores.
9. Raena Lim, co-founder of StyleTheory
StyleTheory brings unlimited access to designer clothing for women in Singapore through its ‘Netflix for fashion’ model to solve age-old complaints of “I’ve nothing to wear” or “I’ve no time to shop”.
StyleTheory’s wardrobe is stocked with over 20,000 pieces of apparel and subscribers can choose any items they want, wear them, and return them to get something new to wear again for an unlimited number of times a month. It’s literally an extension of a woman’s wardrobe stored in the cloud.
StyleTheory has since expanded into a designer bag subscription service, which is a first in Singapore. Ultimately, StyleTheory highlights the key benefit of renting, allowing you to have an unlimited wardrobe without bearing the full cost of owning individual pieces.
10. Annabelle Kwok, founder of NeuralBay and SmartCow
Annabelle Kwok is only 25 but is already the founder of two startups. She first founded SmartCow, which builds hardware for artificial intelligence (AI) processes; and later left to found NeuralBay, an AI company that specialises in vision analytics.
As CEO of NeuralBay, she develops visual detection and recognition software for companies to help them perform tasks such as tracking window shoppers for marketing purposes. Its clients include aviation corporations, and the firm has even beat big boy competitors like the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for a project for an international chocolate company.
It’s not an understatement to say that Ms Kwok is a poster child for AI in Singapore, and the mathematics graduate is adamant about using tech for good as she wants to share useful technology with smaller businesses that may not have the resources to build it from scratch.
Narrowing the Gender Gap
While women may not populate the tech industry as much as their male counterparts, it’s clear that these strong female leaders are stepping up to the challenge.
While the industry as a whole still lacks in offering all women equal opportunity and representation, Singapore is emerging as the regional leader for tech in Asia.
Our Government is investing holistically in tech, startups and innovation through education programmes, startup funding and investment-friendly policies that have enticed global firms such as Amazon and Google to set up offices here.
Hopefully, these efforts can help to attract, develop and retain (more) female talent in tech because increasing women representation is the biggest opportunity we have at improving diversity in the workplace.