Here Are Six Exceptional Women In STEM Who Are Pushing Boundaries

Here Are Six Exceptional Women In STEM Who Are Pushing Boundaries

The Peak has compiled a list of trailblazers in the field of Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) who are challenging norms and shaking up patriarchies.

Malaysia has been heralded by the United Nations for encouraging women to participate in the workforce with the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) seeing an encouraging show of intelligent, successful Malaysian women. The Peak sits down with some of our STEM stars to talk to them about their achievements, challenges and what more needs to be done to further champion women in Science.

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Nicole Tan

Country Manager, Facebook

What does your job entail and how would you describe your duties and role?

I think it is helpful to take a step back and also give context about Facebook’s mission which is to bring the world closer together. This is both a privilege and a responsibility and something I hold very close to my heart. We recently had our Earnings Call and we talked about 2.9 billion people across the Facebook family of apps, which is Facebook, Instagram, Whatsapp and Messenger, and 2.3 billion people who use the services daily.

Our mission and what we are doing here in Malaysia is to help businesses in Malaysia grow, help them drive socio-economic impact and help them with digital transformation and upscaling. There are a lot of programs we run that are focused around blueprint education and understanding how to utilise our platform to drive their business goals. I think one aspect is that there are now about 140 million small businesses that use our platform, and a majority of them are using it for free. It is really important that we help them via providing them with the digital skills to go further with their business.

We are also helping them improve their businesses as we know that small businesses are at the heart of many communities in Malaysia. My job is to lead the team in Malaysia and make sure we hit the mission of economic and social impact as well as ensure we help people connect with their moments, their friends, their families, their businesses and what matter to them.

Did this focus on SME’s begin when you took on the role at Facebook or was it an initiative that was already ongoing?

Helping small businesses and businesses in general thrive has always been part of Facebook’s mission. I lucked out being part of a company that focuses on using technology to improve lives. I think it’s more of the other way round, that Facebook is always focused on that and I had the opportunity to be able to work on it now.

Could you tell us more about your past and how you came into this role?

Growing up I was blessed to be surrounded by really strong, kind and resilient women. I grew up with women that were a force of nature and they really taught me a lot. I was also very blessed to have mentors from a very young age, and I myself am a big believer in mentorship. I started off my career as a secretary in an advertising firm and people took the effort and time to train, teach and have faith in me so I try to pay that forward wherever I go. I really believe that if you have faith, believe in people and take the time to be their allies and support them, you can help them thrive. My background and where I came from, starting out as a secretary and just kind of making my way up, is the product of the faith of people supporting me. It really helps you get to where you want to go.

Specifically, on how I got into Facebook and technology, I have always been curious about the power between humans and technology. One of the things that Facebook is very good at is that it is the technology that connects people and communities and businesses, so that struck a chord with me.

The field of Technology has only recently shifted to establishing a diverse workforce, did you personally encounter any pressures when entering the industry?

In any industry, not just in technology or communications or advertising, you are going to face challenges. They can come in many forms, some of them are stereotypes that you face, some of them are biases that people have and some of them are a legacy of thinking and ways of working. My lesson going forward has been to always break and overcome those barriers through a series of tools. First of is setting a clear vision for yourself. I have always been a big believer of visions and Facebook is as well. It is important to set your visions and understand what you want to achieve out of it.

Secondly, understand the power of impact. Know what impact you want to make and how you are going to get there so then the challenges that come in become steps for you to overcome to get to the outcomes that you want. Thirdly is the power of collaboration. In Facebook, we have this saying – Influence over Authority, and I really resonate with that. People won’t follow you or do whatever you want them to do because you have authority. They need to respect you, believe in and feel empowered by your vision and want to be sharing the same goals, then they are empowered to achieve the same things. I believe the power of collaboration really comes into play. The final tool is having allies. You build a team and you create allies around where you are going and you ask for support. There is nothing braver than asking for help.

Those would be my lessons, how to set a clear vision, how to focus on the impact, how to look at influence over authority and collaborate with people around you and how to form an allyship with people.

Having worked overseas as well as in Malaysia, did you find any big differences in the way the industry operated?

The ability to pivot, I think, is always important whether you are here in Malaysia or overseas. It is important to know how to adjust the sails to the wind. One of the things I have learned having worked in diverse companies and cultures is two specific things – managing bias and diversity and inclusion. Those two things are fantastically important, and I will explain why.

We as people tend to find people like us and that is the human condition. We tend to hire people like us, we tend to look for people like us and that is not always the best way to operate. It is not the best way to have Boards of Directors and it’s not the best way to have teams. It is because you are not encouraging diversity of opinions and we know that diverse teams are more successful.

So the first thing is how to manage bias. How do we break the stereotypes that we have in our minds and be open to different points of view, different cultures, different diversity of thought and Facebook takes that quite seriously. We publish managing bias publicly and internally have systems and tools to make sure that we are careful of our own bias, whether it is in our hiring or the way we view people.

The second aspect is diversity and inclusion. As mentioned, diversity of thought is where you can get lots of success as a team, so how do you create cultures within an organisation that encourages and includes diversity of opinions. The two work hand in hand, you have to have diversity but then you also need to create an inclusive culture so the diversity of thought thrives. Those are the two things we have to think a lot about.

Do you see this new decade becoming a more accepting time for women in the entrepreneurial scene and what do you think the future holds?

We are continuing to progress and that is great but there is always work to be done through managing bias and diversity and inclusivity. What has been interesting is that Facebook is now a place where women lift each other up, technology has created more economic opportunity for women.

When I was growing up, if I wanted to start my own business it would have been really difficult. The opportunity that technology has afforded women in this day and age is just incredible. The other thing is women mentoring and supporting other women. Research shows that women actually benefit from community and mentorship, and 3 out of 4 say they have a role model while 7 out of 10 say their role model is a woman.

We are now in a time and age where technology is helping women come up on the small business front and women are recognising that we can help build these businesses together. We talk about women founders and women leaders and it is increasing but I hope to see more as the work is never done. When women succeed in businesses we all hear they drive economic socio growth, they employ more women, they encourage diversity, they invest in their communities, they educate their children they give back to others. The multiplier effect of women running their business is powerful.

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