COLOMBO, Sri Lanka: Microsoft introduced a worldwide community for professional women in Sri Lanka called Women Think Next, recently. The inaugural event touched on changing workplace roles of women, revealed how digital transformation provides them opportunities in emerging job categories and emphasized the importance of women entering the technology field. Over 30 female business leaders were there as part of the gathering; they listened to a panel of influential women—representatives of the tech industry—discuss integrating diversity and inclusion into the workplace to empower women to do and achieve more.
Chitranganie Mubarak, Chairperson at ICTA Sri Lanka gave the keynote address and shared some of her observations. “By now, I’ve grown accustomed to being one of the few women in the boardroom. I’ve gone to meetups and networking events that at times felt more like a brotherhood than a gathering of like-minded ‘tech enthusiasts’. This has to change because the industry is losing out on the skills, passion, diligence and perseverance that women bring to the table.”
“In recent years, digital transformation has created a new category of jobs which has opened up more opportunities for women. And it’s encouraging to see young women increasingly enrolling in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) related fields. In spite of this, a mere 26 percent of STEM graduates are women and not all of them opt to remain in STEM. They need us and we need to act now. We have to encourage them to pursue careers in STEM and combat the unconscious bias. Engaging young women in ICT sector work is not only the right thing to do from the point of social justice, it’s also smart economics,” Mubarak said.
Later, Michelle Simmons, Microsoft General Manager for Southeast Asia New Markets, led a panel that included: Kasturi Wilson, Managing Director for Hemas Pharmaceuticals and Hemas Logistics & Maritime Cluster; Lakmini Wijesundera, IronOne Technologies and BoardPAC Co-founding Director and CEO; Jayomi Lokuliyana, Co-founder and CEO for zMessenger; and Chandrima Rodrigo, Head of IT, Ceylon Biscuits; Helen de Fonseka, Head of IT, ACL Cables. The panellists spoke about their experiences as leaders in the local tech industry and highlighted the importance for employers to encourage diversity in the industry, and help women to remain in the workforce.
“Women need to define their goals without any influence or limitation imposed on them by society or tradition. We need to encourage them to set their goals high. After all, a woman's worth is no greater than her ambitions. At Microsoft, we recognise and value the role that women play in the industry. We believe that women are critical to innovation as they offer a different perspective, and an important part of innovation in technology is about identifying and incorporating diverse perspectives,” Simmons said.
Today businesses are employing more underrepresented groups than ever before. It is a trend that reflects an effort by leading corporations to both diversify the workforce and reach out to an increasingly varied marketplace. Economists agree that the business case for diversity and inclusion is related to growth in market share and the return on investment. Companies that have integrated diversity and inclusion have continuously shown a significant return on investment. According to a study published by McKinsey Analysis, gender-diverse companies are more likely to outperform others by 15 percent.
At the close of the event, panellists urged members of the audience to help young women embrace technology by instructing them on how to use and create technology to become drivers of innovation and growth within their communities. The panel also encouraged women seeking upward mobility to leverage their networks by having a support system in place and to support their peers’ ambitions.
Microsoft has a long track record of taking an innovative approach to encourage and engage more girls in the exciting world of technology. Microsoft will continue to drive a busy program which will introduce even more young women to coding through Hour of Code Projects. Sessions that provide an introduction to computer science and explain and show the importance of coding.
Empowering Women in Tech will continue to be a focus for Microsoft. Marketing and Operation lead for SEA New Markets, Rena Chai announced plans to reinvigorate partnerships with local customers, partners, and tech firms to continue supporting this initiative, while Education Lead, Yashinka Jayasinghe will aid the Ministry of Education on program and initiatives to engage young women in STEM education at an early stage.