Women in Malaysia's technology industry, a UK perspective - interview

Get out of the mind-set that STEM subjects are just 'for the boys,’ said Elaine Baker engineering director of a UK headquartered defence, aerospace and security systems provider during a recent Computerworld 'rapidfire' interview,

By AvantiKumar
Nov. 21, 2016

women-in-it-william-(IDG connect)

Photo (IDG) - Women in IT


In a recent Computerworld Malaysia 'rapidfire' interview, Elaine Baker, engineering director of UK headquartered defence, aerospace and security systems provider BAE Systems' Applied Intelligence entity gave her perspectives on women in Malaysia's IT and engineering industry.

"Get out of the mind-set that STEM subjects are just 'for the boys'. This industry could be the just place to build your career," said Baker, who had visited Malaysia earlier this year to help with the launch of the company's Malaysia Nerve Centre at its Global Engineering Centre.

In its original form, this interview feature was first published on Computerworld Malaysia on 21 November 2016 and is a companion piece to BAE Systems Applied Intelligence's Nerve Centre feature.

Elaine Baker_Engineering Director_BAE Systems

Photo - Elaine Baker, Engineering Director, BAE Systems Applied Intelligence

What are your impressions of women in Malaysia's IT and technology industry?

In Malaysia, we have access to a large pool of young, diverse and skilled employees, which makes Rishe's [Rishesingar Ramasamy, head of BAE Systems Applied Intelligence's Malaysia Engineering Centre] and my job a lot easier!

We are proud to have a 40 per cent female workforce, which for a company operating almost wholly within the STEM disciplines, is quite impressive.

In my visits to our Malaysian Engineering Centre, including the most recent visit to open the Malaysian Nerve Centre, I am always impressed by the professionalism and willingness to deliver. We have a thriving team that is mobilising and delivering for our clients across the globe.

From your time here, do you feel there is gender diversity in Malaysian IT?

Certainly when I look around our office in Malaysia, I feel confident that we have access to a good mix of genders and backgrounds when we are employing our growing number of employees. Certainly there is always more work that can be done, and for careers in STEM we must work hard at the school level to inspire young people and demonstrate just what exciting work there is to be done not just in our organisation but across our field. I can't speak for the rest of the industry however.
On a broader front, how could the Malaysian government better support more women in engineering and IT?

Internationally, there is a lack of women participation in the STEM field and the same can be said for Malaysia. According to LinkedIn's 2016 Global Talent Trends Report, women represent just 30 percent of the entire workforce within the technology industry and they are underrepresented across all STEM functions (only 23 percent of STEM talent globally are female).

The Malaysian government has identified STEM as a catalyst for transforming the country has set a national goal of producing one million specialists by 2020. In Malaysia, participation of girls in STEM has improved gradually in the last four decades in schools and in higher education institutions. However, the percentages of female begin to decrease at the working level and at higher postgraduate level.

This could be tackled with more support programmes that promote and foster the advancement of women in the STEM field. At BAE Systems, we engage with local schools through our Memorandum of Understanding with Cyber Security Malaysia, as well as sponsoring a number of Chevening scholarships for further education in the UK. The fact that 40 per cent of our current population are females is a success in itself in that we are promoting STEM.

It is my hope that we continue to stimulate and capture the imagination at a much younger age to get more people into STEM subjects.

What sort of challenges have you faced in your own career?

I have been lucky to have encouraging managers when working as a young consultant where my gender was not a factor in the consideration in supporting me - but, instead, my potential to develop in a growing market. In 2016, this should be should be the norm.

I have also worked in a global business with very strong female role models, in engineering, sales, marketing and business operations. Indeed in my experience working with India, the US and other countries, female engineering leadership is quite common and expected.

I am a big advocate for 'promoting diversity' in the sense that it covers the diversity of cultures, industry experience and sexual orientation, as well as the diversity of gender.

There is a lot of laudable work going on, but we need to start getting away from talking about 'women in technology and engineering' and more about women growing naturally in these roles.

We have a real opportunity to learn from doing international business in parts of the world- like here in Malaysia - where Boardrooms and workplace attributes are less stereotypical.

We're operating in increasingly globalised environments and our workforce should reflect this.

To wrap up, what would be your advice to women in Malaysia who are considering careers in the security services field?

To go back to my original point, I strongly believe we should be 'promoting diversity' in the broader sense that it covers the diversity of cultures, industry experience and sexual orientation, as well as diversity of gender.

We want a society where the conversation is geared around attracting and retaining diversity of talent to the industry and not just about gender. In 10-20 years' time, female Directors like me will be business as usual.

I like to stress to all young people, irrespective of gender or where they are located in the world is:

This fast growing industry offers variety, creativity and great international working opportunities.

Specifically in our business - we help support critical national infrastructure, combat financial crime and protect nations and their people from the bad guys in an increasingly digital world. It's noble work.

Get out of the mind-set that STEM subjects are just 'for the boys'. Are you creative? Are you good at maths or science? Do you like solving problems? Do you want to make a difference? There is a chance this industry could be the just place to build your career.