The world today is on the cusp of hyper digitalisation, yet many women are excluded or lack access to technology despite making up half of the global population. According to the OECD’s Going Digital Summit from 11-12 March 2019, “A digital divide by gender sees women lagging behind in information and communications technology (ICT) professions, and more than twice as many young men as young women are able to programme. In some countries, the gender divide in Internet usage is still too high.”
In conjunction with International Women’s Day, MIA is delighted to share inspiring accounts of women leaders who are helping to push the accountancy profession’s digital frontiers. These women are proof that digital inclusivity is possible, with the right attitude and circumstances. Their sharing is especially timely as the government has recently launched the MyDigital initiative and the accompanying Malaysia Digital Economy Blueprint to counter digital inequality and steer the nation towards becoming digitally driven.
To support the nation’s digital aspirations and climb out of the middle-income trap, it is critical for Malaysia to reinvent itself as a digital economy. “For us to stay competitive and relevant, we need to be ahead of the game and propel ourselves in technology,” urged Lim Fen Nee, Council Member and Chairperson of the Digital Technology Implementation Committee, MIA who shared that 63% of the workforce in Singapore as the regional digital leader, are digitally skilled as of February 2021, according to a businesstimes.com.sg report. “In Malaysia, the high technology industries sector is considered of strategic importance and we as accountants need to be part of the journey.”
MIA is strongly advocating for digital transformation of the profession to support business continuity and economic sustainability, and MIA efforts are aligned with MyDigital initiatives. “MIA is already supporting our members in their digital transformation journey through the ongoing implementation of the MIA Digital Technology Blueprint that was launched in 2018,” stated Dr. Nurmazilah Dato’ Mahzan, Chief Executive Officer, MIA. “This will ensure that MIA members are prepared for the digital economy and its implications in order to remain relevant and useful to businesses as financial advisors and managers of value.”
Below, Dr. Nurmazilah, Fen Nee, Josephine Phan, Education Board member and Digital Technology Implementation Committee Member, MIA and Siti Rohana Haji Mohamed Amin, Executive Director, Membership, Technology & Operations, MIA narrate how they successfully embraced technology. They also share the steps and strategies that can help other women to do the same if they #ChooseToChallenge the digital gender divide:
Don’t fear the unknown and embrace change. “Technology is an enabler. They are tools that augment and assist human beings to play a better role in the spiritual, social and economic context,” said Dr. Nurmazilah.
Frame technology in a context that makes sense to you, for an authentic and personalised experience. Unlike IT or tech aficionados, Fen Nee is not an IT geek. “I am drawn towards the value proposition that technology has to offer. Personally, I like to explore ideas or tools that facilitate pragmatism and efficient outcomes.” Technology enables an organisation to advance its strategic objectives and enables an individual’s personal development. “Setting the target to be more productive and efficient, reducing cost in the longer term and shaping a sustainable business model, including a diversified IT workforce, are some reasons behind technology investments. The Return on Investment (ROI) depends on how you make good use of technology,” elaborated Fen Nee.
Stop perpetuating gender stereotypes. It’s time to stop thinking along traditional gender lines that define men primarily as leaders and women as caregivers, advised Siti Rohana. “This mindset causes women to lack confidence, especially in areas of technology in which men dominate.”
“In fact, women make better leaders as it has been proven that women multitask better than men, which is an important aspect in technology due to the complexity and multiple components involved,” she added.
Women are able to excel in science and technology in spite of these stereotypes and cultural barriers, pointed out Josephine. A recent trailblazer is BioNTech’s Chief Medical Officer, Ozlem Tureci, a German scientist who together with her husband, developed the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine last year. In 1961, Inventor Rear Admiral Dr. Grace Murray Hopper led a group of programmers to create a widely used computer programming language, COBOL (Common Business Oriented Language) for business and finance applications that runs on mainframe computers used by corporates and governments. In Big Tech, role models include Susan Wojcicki, CEO of YouTube and Marissa Mayer, former CEO of Yahoo!.
Women in leadership roles are in a prime position to influence gender positivity at their workplace.
MIA as the advocate for digital transformation in the profession ensures inclusivity across its initiatives and its talent. “The MIA Digital Technology Blueprint which guides our digital transformation initiatives is geared to everybody, without gender bias,” emphasised Dr. Nurmazilah.
Inclusivity also involves picking the right person for the role, man or woman. MIA has appointed several senior women executives to lead digital transformation. Other than Dr. Nurmazilah as the chief evangelist, Siti Rohana is in charge of technology transformation while deputy executive director Rasmimi Ramli heads the Digital Economy, Reporting & Risk Division.
As the partner leading the IT Risk Assurance practice in her firm, Josephine helps champion the culture of gender diversity. “Respecting the individual’s preference or priorities, I work with the team to ensure our women staff are not discriminated against when it comes to opportunities to work on engagements or participate in our digital upskilling programmes,” said Josephine.
At her workplace, Fen Nee chooses to motivate staff to explore new ways of resolving issues especially using data, trend analysis and analytics tools. “We don’t stick to one way or the traditional way of resolution. Adopting technology means spending time to learn and apply new knowledge although most current workforces would prefer the status quo.”
Furthermore, encouraging tech habits to stick for the long-term requires leaders to practise the following traits: “walk the talk, be transparent on key objectives, share the value proposition of technology adoption and communicate regularly on its impact on workforce and personal development,” said Fen Nee.
To encourage a robust culture of technology, organisations should also embed adoption of technology and involvement in innovation initiatives into the team’s performance measures or KPIs, she added.
A veteran of global technology MNCs, Siti Rohana adds that technology companies are making the effort to become more inclusive and provide support systems for women at work. “There are huge opportunities for women in technology,” she said, with the provision of on-premise day care, internal support networks, career comeback programmes, and flexible working arrangements supported by technologies that enable remote working.
Fen Nee concurred that many large companies are seeking inclusion and diversity, resulting in greater opportunities for a diversified IT workforce. At the same time, “it is critical that companies’ strategies and policies empower women to facilitate the growth of interest in technology.”
Early career exposure can be a game changer. Fen Nee related that she was first exposed to technology-related matters as a junior auditor, over 20 years ago. “I was involved in a pioneer audit transformation journey, including the adoption of technology and analytics to facilitate a more efficient audit. That experience was extraordinary as it allows me to adapt to new skills concurrently with exposure to traditional audit.” Subsequently, she was selected over other candidates (men and women) to help trouble-shoot technology-related matters.
Other strategies and policies that companies can adopt to diversify their IT talent includes recognising and celebrating successful women in tech, which demonstrates what women can bring to the table, recommended Fen Nee. Organisations should also consider setting targets on women’s representation and numbers in their IT workforce and leadership team to demonstrate commitment on inclusion and diversity, she added.
Josephine advised women who are keen on a career comeback to consider pivoting to cybersecurity services, which currently has a tremendous talent shortage. Since 2019, MDEC has collaborated with the Women, Family & Community Development Ministry on the “Comeback Career” scheme, specifically its “Empowering Women in Cyber Risk Management Programme” that includes on-the-job training attachments. Josephine also directed women to the various training programmes available such as “Women in Cyber Academy” and other back-to-work initiatives by tech companies such as Microsoft.
It’s not all roses. Siti Rohana admits that there are fewer women in technology due to the nature of work, whereby most technology areas have systems that are running 24×7. “There are perceptions that women may not be able to give the same commitment as men. However, this perception definitely needs to be realigned with technology advancement, as now people are able to utilise technology to work anywhere, anytime. This would enable women to fulfil their duties even from home.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has also accelerated the shift from on-site at the office to remote work from home. “Most organisations have now adapted to flexible work arrangements and performance is no longer measured based on time and material but on outcome. This would definitely enable women to work in more challenging fields such as technology,” concluded Siti Rohana.
Technology evolves at an overwhelming pace and people must be experimental and curious in order to keep abreast.
One tip: find inspiration in pop culture. Josephine has been keen on technology and science since childhood, sparked by a love of Star Trek and nurtured by supportive parents who encouraged her and her siblings to create their own gender-neutral toys. “Star Trek taught me that what was a figment of one’s imagination can be reality. To quote Captain Jean-Lu Picard, “Things are only impossible until they’re not”. I was thrilled by the use and potential of all the high technology, artificial intelligence, immersive virtual technology, and predictive analytics as depicted in the series, such as saving lives in the USS Enterprise sick bay, travelling at warp speed, and holograms.”
“Personally, I like to try new technologies and explore innovations to support my personal and organisational growth,” shared Dr. Nurmazilah, who chose to study the factors that influence auditors in the adoption of CAATTs (Computer Assisted Audit Tools and Techniques) or now better known as audit analytics for her PhD thesis. Interestingly, she applied psychology theories to better understand IT adoption behaviours among the auditors.
Gain more knowledge and certifications in technology to support your personal and organisational digital transformation. An innate researcher who is committed to lifelong learning, Dr. Nurmazilah likes to analyse case studies and best practices of technology implementation and recently acquired the Professional Certificate of Digital Leadership (offered jointly by MIA and APU) and the Certificate on Artificial Intelligence by IBM.
Meanwhile, Fen Nee earned a post-graduate qualification in e-commerce following her professional qualification as she predicted that the world is moving in this direction. “The challenge of technology is that it changes rapidly and continuous upskilling is essential for typical accountants like me.” However, knowledge and theory alone are insufficient as practical application is necessary.
Organisational expectations and leadership also set the tone for digital transformation. Josephine explained that everyone in her workplace is expected to embrace and continue to digitally upskill oneself; they benefit from training programmes that are designed for all staff based on their job competencies and skill needs, regardless of gender.
To ensure digital development of accountancy professionals across all segments, MIA offers a wide suite of inclusive digital and technology training programmes and certifications, in collaboration with expert speakers as well as leading digital education providers and brands. Do visit https://pd.mia.org.my/dashboard to find out more about MIA’s digital initiatives and training.
By walking in these women’s footsteps, you too can #ChooseToChallenge your limitations and embark on your own personal and unique journey of digital transformation.