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Singapore's tech sector seeks higher female participation

Local tech companies say they are experiencing issues with gender diversity in their ranks, just like their counterparts in the United States.

SINGAPORE: Members of local travel accommodation site Roomorama’s product development team are all men, even though more than half of booking decisions are made by female customers.

Mobile applications company BST Mobile is facing difficulty in attracting women to its technical team here, but does not have this problem in its overseas offices.

These local tech companies are experiencing issues with gender diversity in their ranks, just like their counterparts in the United States.

Twitter revealed recently that only 30 per cent of its staff are female, while just 10 per cent of its technology-focused jobs are filled by women. Similarly, only 17 per cent of Google’s technology team workers are women, while the proportion at Facebook is 15 per cent.

It turns bleaker when women try to attract venture capital funding in the US. A Forbes article, quoting research firm Kauffman, said only 4 to 9 per cent of such funding goes to females.

Besides Roomorama, the local technical teams of BST Mobile and Carousell, which offers a consumer-to-consumer marketplace app, also do not have a single female member. This gender gap, said the firms, means they are not able to get a woman’s perspective when designing products for female consumers.

At Carousell, fashion and beauty products make up 70 to 80 per cent of its listings. Yet, it has resorted to unconventional methods to seek feedback from women, such as conducting surveys with them at flea markets.

Ms Teo Jia En, co-founder of Roomorama, said: “Our products are made by male engineers. Having a female engineer could bring more relevant and interesting ideas, as many of our customers are women.”

The companies cited a lack of awareness of the tech sector’s job attractiveness for the dearth of women in the industry.

Mr Quek Siu Rui, co-founder of Carousell, said: “Women who excel in these jobs, especially those in technical roles, should be highlighted. It will be helpful to have more Marissa Mayers in the world and for Singapore to have a couple of our own too,” he said, referring to the Yahoo! chief executive officer.

“We should help them get exposed at the community level to technology and pick up basic programming skills through workshops,” he added.

BST Mobile CEO Paddy Tan said his offices in Yangon and Bangkok, which handle software development and design of interfaces, respectively, do not have problems hiring women.

“A lot of the girls are very young, in their early 20s, and they are already doing hard coding. The women there try harder because they need more skill sets to get hired,” he said.

The lack of female representation extends to the tech venture capital segment. Female entrepreneurs in Singapore pointed to a lack of confidence that venture capitalists - typically men - have in them.

Ms Teo noted: “Every venture capitalist wants to know the commitment level of the entrepreneur … and when I was pregnant previously while going out to meet investors … one can understand how they view my commitment to the job.”

Female entrepreneur Mouri Aouri added: “I have heard many venture capitalists asking women about their families. They are not confident women can prioritise business over families.”

However, women in the industry are taking steps to tackle the gender imbalance.

Ms Aouri started an initiative in January to help women attract funding through venture capitalists and crowd funding by organising pitching events and providing mentorship as well as contacts.

An inaugural ASEAN Women INVESTING in Women Summit is being planned in Singapore and elsewhere. Its founder, Ms Anu Bhardwaj, said: “There is a lack of role models in many mainstream technology conferences, where the authorities in the industry are invited to speak. Structured mentoring programmes would be a way to assist women in gaining access to fast-track career channels for senior-level positions.”

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Australia PM denies closer Japan ties hurt China relations

Prime Minister Tony Abbott on Thursday said Australia's closer ties with Tokyo would not hurt relations with China after a successful and productive visit by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

SYDNEY: Prime Minister Tony Abbott on Thursday said Australia's closer ties with Tokyo would not hurt relations with China after a successful and productive visit by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

During Abe's two-day trip, in which he became the first Japanese leader to address the Australian parliament, major free trade and security deals were sealed, including the sharing of defence technology.

China is Australia's biggest trading partner and has been restrained in any reaction, although its state media hit out at Abbott's "appalling" speech to parliament.

During the address, he honoured the courage of Japanese submariners during World War II.

Abbott, who repeatedly during Abe's trip referred to their "special" relationship, said there was room for bilateral ties with both Japan and China to blossom.

"The point I make is that when it comes to international friendships, it is not a zero sum game. It is possible to strengthen a range of friendships simultaneously," he said when asked by reporters if ties with Beijing had been hurt.

"We want a better friendship with Japan, and I think pretty obviously we are getting that, but we also want a better friendship with China.

"We are working on a free trade deal with China, I am still reasonably optimistic we will succeed there. We want better friendships with everyone," he added.

His comments came as Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said Australia was not afraid to stand up to China to defend peace and the rule of law.

"China doesn't respect weakness," she said in an interview with the Sydney Morning Herald Thursday.

"So, when something affects our national interest then we should make it very clear about where we stand."

This tougher stance was on display most recently last month when Canberra backed comments by the United States accusing China of "destabilising" actions in the South China Sea, where it is involved in territorial disputes.

Bishop herself earned the ire of Beijing last November when she called in China's ambassador over the sudden announcement of an air defence identification zone over the East China Sea.

An angry China at the time said Australia risked "jeopardising bilateral mutual trust".

Abbott said Bishop's comments Thursday were "just reiterating what is the common sense position that every country has positions".

"Sometimes countries disagree, but it is possible to have respectful disagreements that don't in any way prejudice the friendship," he said.

Abe left Australia on Thursday for Papua New Guinea, a Pacific nation emerging as an energy source for Japan.

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