One of the biggest challenges women have to face in their careers is when they return to work after taking leave for childcare.
A study by Boston Consulting Group (BCG) found that women make up more than 50% of university graduates across all industries but fewer than 15% of CEO and board-level positions in Southeast Asia. A work hiatus to care for a newborn and the family makes rehiring a significant challenge, especially in the tech sector, where everything advances at a rapid pace.
As a result, women tend to drop out and too often – permanently. The pandemic exacerbates this struggle – companies look to rightsizing their workforce and optimising operations during lean times when they could be doing more to retain talent.
One of LinkedIn’s recent studies suggests that organisations have a role to play in bridging the gender gap and ensuring equitable recovery for all in a post-pandemic economy.
Women and working mothers in Malaysia expect employers to implement policies to help them balance work and family – flexible work schedules top the wishlist with 32% looking to work from home, 30% expect reduced hours, and 27% would like part-time schedule options.
Continuing Disruptive.Asia’s series of conversations with women leaders in Asia Pacific, Corina Tan, Vice President, Global CSB (Consumer & Small Business) Business Operations and General Manager, SWTC Penang, Dell Technologies says, “As a technology company, we have had a front-row seat to the overnight digital transformation of our world. The unprecedented impact on economies and societies around the globe required all of us to pivot to new ways to keep progressing forward. For example, we have seen the rapid adoption of remote work arrangements and an emphasis on health and safety in every aspect of our lives.”
With over 20 years at Dell Technologies, Corina’s roles include supporting various Asia Pacific and global teams focused on customer care, tools enablement and project management.
“In my current role as Vice President of Global CSB Business Operations, I lead operational improvement efforts that are anchored on transformation to deliver the utmost customer experience to our customers and partners. This involves proactively seeking for solutions that anticipate, drive and cater for the future needs of the business, and this includes developing and growing a team of more than 500 team members to meet customer needs.”
Shifts in gender balance
“When I joined the tech industry, one of the most compelling reasons for doing so is its transformational potential in creating a better future for all,” she said. “It is a dynamic industry with endless possibilities, but it doesn’t come without challenges of its own – one of the things I’ve learnt is that not everyone is afforded the same career opportunities. Go back three decades, and you would be hard-pressed to find meaningful conversations on diversity and inclusion, and even less so a business case for it. Fast forward to where we are today, and the situation is starkly different.”
In her recent conversations with clients and industry network, certain challenges have come to the fore.
“New work norms have helped employees better manage their professional and personal commitments to a degree. Some of my peers have very young children, and I’ve seen how working from home has given them more flexibility to spend valuable hours with their family and still produce excellent results at work.”
Against this, however, “I am also aware that many women have been impacted by the burden of unpaid care placed upon them at home and the difficulty of balancing this while working from home. And while the participation of women in the workplace has grown over the years, there are also many women who have had to put the brakes on their career aspirations to balance work and family. There is still much to be done, and leaders need to set a culture of flexibility and understanding.”
In her view we must recognise that location of work is only part of the equation to improve gender equality.
As an organisation, Dell Technologies acknowledges that a diverse and inclusive culture is necessary to power innovation and drive business growth, Corina adds.
“As leaders, our goal should be to build a workforce that can celebrate and accept unique perspectives. Technology today is more critical than ever. I believe that the tech industry has the right ingredients to encourage and nurture gender diversity, to create an environment where women can thrive and contribute, especially when new ways of working are being encouraged and discovered.”
Productivity in the pandemic
In her thoughts about maintaining momentum in current challenging times, Corina pointed out: “At Dell Technologies, we believe work is not tied to where you are, but what you do. I am proud to say that at a time when organisations are scrambling to figure out the quickest and most efficient way to enable employees to remain productive, our Connected Workplace programme enabled us to make a seamless transition to remote working. To put it into context: before March 2020, we had approximately 30% of the workforce working remotely on any given day. Then in mid-March, that number shifted to 90% – all in just one weekend.”
“We now anticipate more than 50% of our employees will choose to work in this flexible capacity moving forward even after the pandemic, leveraging the great benefits we have realised through a technology-enabled remote workforce.”
She singles out some key factors that business leaders – both men and women – should consider when strategising how best to inspire a greater level of productivity and innovation.
“As the world shifts from response to recovery, an absolute return to normal won’t happen any time soon,” Corina continued. “Our experience in 2020 has taught us that it will take more than technology to ensure that productivity and innovation continue in a post-pandemic economy. And when done right, our experience has shown us that our own employees can be productive, innovative and successful regardless of where they work.”
“Organisations should consider these key areas – particularly as we move into the new reality where a hybrid workplace will be the norm – to ensure business resilience and the workforce remains motivated to do their best work for the long term,” she said. These areas are listed here:
“There is no going back,” she said. “The tech industry is well-positioned to help organisations reimagine work not as a place and time, but as an outcome. And businesses must invest in emerging technologies and a flexible culture so that these combined elements can unleash innovation and build resilient teams to face future challenges.”
Regardless of the challenges arising from the pandemic, one important driver for business success remains – technology.
This is supported by findings from Dell’s 2020 Digital Transformation Index (DT Index), a global study that found that digital transformation is seen as a critical business driver for recovery. More than eight in 10 organisations (84%) in the APJ region fast-tracked some digital transformation programmes, while 86% are reinventing their business model.
The 2020 DT Index also surveyed the areas of investment that organisations will focus on in the next one to three years to respond to a post-pandemic future.
Almost all APJ respondents (92%) recognise that the disruption has accelerated the need for a more agile and scalable IT infrastructure to allow for contingencies. Prior to the pandemic, business investments were strongly focused on foundational technologies, but that has now shifted to emerging technologies.
Over the next one to three years, the top five technology investments are in cybersecurity, data management tools, artificial intelligence algorithms, 5G infrastructure, and multi-cloud environment. This means that the workforce is at the sharp end of this upheaval; organisations must act quickly – and make it an ongoing priority – to develop and nurture digital skills while upskilling the current workforce in these areas to avoid being outpaced by the rest or even technology itself.
By recognising transformation barriers and investing in the right opportunities, organisations can act immediately to drive new ideas, concepts and solutions that they need to either maintain or accelerate growth.
“For Dell Technologies, our decade-long experience in flexible work arrangements and unique return to site (RTS) strategy – which places the health and safety of local communities, including our team members, customers and partners, as the top priority – ensured that we were able to continue operating and support our customers across their business with minimal disruption.”
Corina added that Dell announced record results for its fiscal 2021 fourth quarter and full-year earnings arising from meeting the unprecedented demand for IT solutions to help businesses adapt to the new ‘do-anything-from-anywhere’ reality.
In times of change and uncertainty, the human connection is ever more important to keep employees happy, secure and engaged,” she said, adding that one of the more interesting findings from the Remote Work Readiness (RWR) Index – a study commissioned by Dell Technologies in seven markets across the Asia Pacific and Japan (APJ) region, including Malaysia, on the readiness of the workforce for long-term remote work – revealed that more than half (51%) of the respondents surveyed want learning and development sessions, and best practices training for remote working.
“It’s not just about providing the right technology or embracing a virtual culture; we must give employees the right resources – HR support, training, office space, flexibility – to be successful. The shift in working styles today demands a relook at policies and guidelines to incorporate training and flexibility.”
She also believes that another best practice is mentorship. “Mentorship is a way for employees of any level to learn from senior leaders and vice versa. Knowledge sharing in this way creates conversations that greatly benefit the organisation and individuals, building an ecosystem where people can work together and grow together – as the saying goes, ‘the whole is greater than the sum of its parts’. “
One of Dell’s ERGs [Employment Resource Groups] in Malaysia, Women in Action (WiA), pioneered MentorConnect, an initiative that helps female team members build their networks, develop new skills and insights on areas such as critical business decision making, negotiations, personal branding and other professional skills. The MentorConnect initiative has now been expanded to other Dell locations in the region, including Singapore, India and Australia.
“Through it all, the events of 2020 and our experience have made one thing clear – technology will be central to how we work, learn and live in the new normal of the future, more than ever before,” she said as part of her wrap-up.
Corina concluded with: “My advice for women leaders in the workforce: show trust and empathy, prioritise transparency and ensure that employees feel connected and included. The combination of technology and the right tools for workforce enablement and culture is what will keep talent engaged and help to grow the business.”
Related article: How women are humanising remote working in Asia in the ‘new normal’