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Women In IT

IT Malaysia, January, 2002

Fione Tan,
President & CEO, S/B

What originally led you to start working with the technology?

I've been exposed to the Internet while studying in US. In Malaysia, after 2 years in the Financial Services industry, I met up with some interesting partners and decided to leave my job and start my own company.

Do you think your work with new/future technology is ever dismissed as 'woman's work' or do you think working with technology actually helps to diminish the gender barrier? Is there a digital glass ceiling?

Technology has actually assisted in diminishing the gender barrier. Looking at many of the dotcom and technology companies, you will find lots of women involved, and even owning these enterprises as well. I wouldn't think that they is any 'digital glass ceiling'.The only barriers would be the one imposed by the individuals themselves.

Would you describe yourself as a cyberfeminist, or say that your work ( or some of your work) uses strategies of cyberfeminism? What does this term mean to you? Are you comfortable with it?

I wouldn't describe myself as a cyberfeminist (nor tech junkie) thus I'd not be comfortable with these gender-segregation terms.

Do you think women's approach to and/or use of technology to is different from that of the man? If so, could you give an example that you have witnessed? Do you believe this to be a moot point?

A woman's approach towards using technology is slightly different. For a woman, her sense of caring and sensitivity can still be felt from her messages. For instance, women are more likely to forward love, and cute stories via email to their friends.

What do you think the major challenges are for women as the Internet and its technology continues to mature and broaden? Do you worry that as systems become more standardized, opportunities for women may be lost within as 'old boys' network? Or do you think this is nothing but crap? 

Fione: To me, challenges to women can be reduced tremendously if we have more confidence in ourselves and aim for bigger roles. As the systems become more standardized, the opportunities for the women would be increased as well.

The position of CEO is far from entry-level. What would you say to young woman who has just entered the professional world and has dreams of attaining the high-ranking position of CEO?

To me, I would feel that to start off as a CEO right from entry level without prior working/business experience might not be the best idea. I've been working in a male-dominated industry (I was the youngest top woman achiever in my company). However, this does not mean that you can only be a CEO after working for 20 years. To me, results matter more. In the end it depends very much on your dreams, and what steps you take to achieve them.

Looking at the techno/cyber world, we have many rich and famous males personalities the likes of Bill Gates, Larry Ellison and Steve Jobs but very few female ones who have "made it". Do you think this is going to change?

Yes, we will see a better balance in the rich and famous personalities in a couple of years.

The Internet, as the moment is THE BIG THING. Do you feel that there is more space for women here than in the other communication technologies we've had so far and that as women, you can gain from it?

Fione: Yes, there are abundant opportunities, regardless of whether the woman is a working professional or a full time housewife. Women should take more active approach towards improving themselves.

What is the one achievement of which you are most proud of?

Fione: One achievement, which I am most proud of, was when I was invited to make a presentation in Asean Women Leaders' Convention in Singapore in 2001. Being the youngest of the presenters, I felt touched to be able to discuss my views with all those women from different industries and nations.

There must have been times in your career when you deal encountered sexism or harassment. How did you deal with this?

Fione: I see things in a more positive manner. There will always be people who look at you suspiciously, refusing to believe that you can achieve all this by yourself.

Looking back, is there anything you would have done differently with regard to your career and work? Is there a lesson you learned the hard way?

Fione: I wouldn't exchange any "hard" lessons for easier ones, because it is these obstacles, which have given me opportunities to improve myself.

Can the Web put a woman in Putrajaya and be the next Prime Minister for Malaysia?

Fione: Nothing is impossible. Just take a look around and you'll found many new woman leaders governing countries. With the power and expertise in the Web, the process can be even shorter than what we expect.

What will happen when women "take over" the Internet?

Fione: We will have higher Internet transactions, ranging from buying cosmetics to planning their daily online. More women Internet users, and more women entrepreneurs who can be role models for our daughters.

How will the Internet change women's lives?

Fione: Ample opportunities, with ongoing women support group online. Woman from various backgrounds can have a more exciting life. For example, in Vietnam, many girls watch international catwalk fashion shows to learn how to be a model. Without the Internet, these girls would not have such chances.

How can women empower themselves and their communities by using the Internet?

Fione:Stop worrying about capabilities, and start learning. After learning how to utilize the Internet, spread the knowledge to others and improve their lives as well.

How will the Internet help close the gender gap in technology?

Fione: In technology, there's not much preference on who's on the other end. Since there's less gender preference, women will actually be given more opportunities to excel.

How do you men and women differ in their use of technology, in general, and Internet technology, in particular?

Fione: Apart for work and business, both men and women use technology for their own passion. For instance, women are more likely to look up websites related to fashion, beauty and health, while men will use the Internet for automobiles, and equipment. I do not see much difference in their usage of technology.

Where do you see the challenges for girls as they stake their claims in cyberspace?

Fione: One of the challenges may be that girls do not have many successful technology role models to learn from. To overcome this, they can still learn from successful women in other industries.

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