Investing in women: The recent outlook and ways to empower women in tech
17 August 2022 marks an important date for Indonesia, as we celebrate the 77th independence day of Indonesia. Independence day is highly tied to the celebration of freedom; and as we Recover Faster, Grow Stronger, we believe this freedom should also be translated into aspects of our lives, including the freedom of being able to express ourselves and being given the same opportunities regardless of traits that one have, which includes gender.
In discussing equal opportunities and gender equality, it is a long progress of betterment that involves many parties in its ecosystem. In the latest event of Women with Impact, East Ventures facilitated an insightful discussion and networking session on 16 August to help women-led startups in the tech ecosystem navigate their challenges and opportunities in the tech industry. The event was participated by investors, startup founders, and tech solution providers. The speakers provided different perspectives based on their background and experiences, especially on providing the commonly faced scenarios and practical key takeaways in the tech industry.
A 2020 study conducted by Boston Consulting Group (BCG) showed that Southeast Asia’s tech industry is quite diverse, with women accounting 32% in the tech sector workforce. However, it is no secret that only a small percentage of startups in the region have female founders. Moreover, the global fintech think tank firm, Findexable, only one percent of female fintech founders received venture funding globally in 2021.
As the first female founder in building the fintech unicorn in Indonesia, Tessa Wijaya, Co-Founder & COO of Xendit shared her experience and perspective of the struggle and learning of building a startup from the ground. As a woman founder, she realized that it was very hard for her to build the network in developing her business back then. Having networks plays an important role in helping founders to understand something as simple as making a deck, pitching, fundraising, or expanding the business. She found that female founders sometimes were a bit more left out compared to men founders, as there was no kind of a platform to facilitate women founders to share and learn.
She also mentioned that getting the mentorship is also another challenge, as only a few female leaders can be reached out to ask things related to fundraising, deck, and how to value your company. “The power of networking is very important. Without female support, I could not tap into colleagues and have legs to grow that business,” Tessa said.
Meanwhile, Veronica Colondam, Founder and CEO of Yayasan Cinta Anak Bangsa (YCAB) Foundation and YCAB Ventures agreed that networks and support from the peers are important to nourish the women founders, and help them to thrive the business. Therefore, she kept actively making impactful ways to help women entrepreneurs in Indonesia for 25 years. She followed her call to establish YCAB foundation and YCAB Ventures, joined as a Board in a mentorship program – Asian Venture Philanthropy Network (AVPN), and Independent Commissioner at the largest state-owned microfinance company (Permodalan Nasional Madani – PNM), with a focus on ultra micro-investment and women.
“Woman and impact is just the lingo between the two worlds, the impact sector, and the financial sector. It means that what you do is impactful, then that’s great, that’s your purpose. But remember the impact for the least of God’s people, for the people down to the bottom line. At the bottom of the pyramid. What you can do through your business to really move them up to their better welfare,” Veronica said.
Chiming in on the same topic, Nicha Suebwonglee, Venture Capital Business Development Manager, ASEAN, at Amazon Web Services (AWS), has a similar experience when she was a Co-Founder at a Bangkok-based OTT startup several years ago. She felt it was very hard to gain support, yet the situation did not make her feel inferior. Looking back, she learned that as a woman, there are times when we feel shy to speak up, which has resulted in drawbacks.
From the investors’ point of view, Avina Sugiarto, Partner of East Ventures, shared that it was scarce for a woman to serve as an investor in the early time of her career. However, she believes that the condition has been much improved nowadays but still requires a lot of work and effort to make progress.
According to the BCG study, more than 50% of Indonesian graduates are women, but only 32% of the workforce are women. Furthermore, only 18% and 15% are women in the senior management and CEO or board level. Therefore, she encouraged women to support each other, including getting support from the men.
Reflecting on the statistics, Avina mentioned that East Ventures currently has 25% of the active portfolios having at least one female founder. She believes that East Ventures will continuously support women’s empowerment and contribute to reducing gender inequality and improving diversity in the tech industry through the “Women with Impact” initiative ー platform to facilitate and foster the creation of meaningful connections among investors and founders.
“Through Women with Impact, we have three goals in mind:
We want to create a more inclusive and diverse workplace where women can work comfortably and don’t face gender bias.
We want to improve the networking funnel with female founders and investors.
We want to encourage more females to rise that ladder.
By this initiative, we want to encourage more women so that we can stay in the workforce, level up, and have decision-making powers in this country,” Avina said.
It is aligned with some findings from global surveys and data. The United Nations stated that investing in women will also increase the country’s GDP, better business performance, and help to achieve Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) 2030, including the social and environmental objectives.
Here are some highlights of the takeaways from the discussion that women can practically apply, both as general advice and especially in the tech industry:
1. Own your voice and go for it.
There are times that a woman has more questions and self-doubt in confirming herself, this is exacerbated by the micro-aggression that we experience in daily life. The key is to be confident and go out there. You are legit to be part of the ecosystem and qualified to have your voice out there.
2. Learn from other experiences
In some cases, whether in thriving the business, or fundraising, women founders tend to be reluctant in asking for help from mentors or other founders. That is a major drawback. Having a support system where you can learn, ask, and even discuss things you have always wanted to understand is very important.
3. Do not be afraid to be technical
In building a startup, or even in working or daily life situations, we are often discouraged by technicalities, which has led to disadvantages that set us in the same place. Be brave, there are many sources available for you to learn from; leap and learn.
4. Be more aggressive
Be more aggressive in various aspects of your life, state and define things that you want, including fundraising and growing your business. There has been a gap in the fund raised by startups led by men and women, therefore be more aggressive to get what you need.
5. Have grit and perseverance because passion only means nothing
Passion might significantly drive your success, but it must be accompanied by grit and perseverance.
6. Make men your allies in this journey
The discussion about gender empowerment involves men and women. As 50.5% of the population in Indonesia are men, we believe it is all about finding great collaboration among each other. It is essential to ally with each other, get support, and build connections. Thus, both perspectives can make progress towards a more inclusive future.
This article is extracted from the recent panel of the Women with Impact program, which is available on-demand on East Ventures’ YouTube channel. Click to watch the video below.