Grab co-founder wants to pave the way for women in tech

Grab, which acquired Uber’s operations in the region in 2018, is worth about $10 billion and offers services ranging from online payments to deliveries. (Photo: 123RF)

Singapore – Tan Hooi Ling, co-founder of Southeast Asian tech star Grab, has successfully broken down gender bias and hopes to pave the way for a new generation of women in the industry.

The company announced this month that it aims to have 40% women in its management positions by 2030, up from 34% today and is committed to an equal pay policy.

What is the main lever for gender equality? “The data”, the 38-year-old Malaysian entrepreneur answers in an interview with AFP. “Data forces us to be honest.”

Regular reports “help us monitor how many women we have on the different teams, that there is no hidden discrimination and that our equal pay policy is effective,” she explains.

Globally, technology companies suffer from strong gender inequalities. A study by consultancy Accenture and the NGO Girls Who Code shows that the proportion of women currently working in the sector is lower than in 1984.

Tan Hooi Ling co-founded a VTC company in Singapore in 2012 in Singapore with a fellow Harvard student, Grab, which today has become a multi-service application with hundreds of engineers present throughout the region.

She hopes to make the group a catalyst for greater gender equality.

“That’s the role I hope to play, creating environments like the one I was lucky enough to grow up in.”

Sexist and Toxic Cultures

But the industry faces major challenges in the face of sexist and toxic cultures in many companies.

44% of tech company founders said they had been harassed, according to a survey of more than 1,000 people by Women Who Tech. Investigations have been opened into sexual assault at the Chinese giant Alibaba, or into sexual harassment and discrimination within US video game heavyweight Activision Blizzard in particular.

To end a culture of impunity, a rebalancing of the workforce is necessary, the activists emphasize.

In Southeast Asia, about 32% of the workforce at technology companies is female, more than the global average, according to a survey by Boston Consulting Group, but lower than other industries.

“We believe in making the presence of women in the tech sector commonplace. By showing many examples of women who have built their careers in technology,” the manager underlines.

Girls should be encouraged to study computer development or data processing to drive change, she emphasizes.

“We need to help break through prejudice,” including in the hiring process, and by aligning jobs more closely with parenthood, she emphasizes.

$10 Billion Company

Tan Hooi Ling grew up in a middle-class Malaysian family. After studying engineering in the UK, she joined the consultancy McKinsey in Kuala Lumpur, the Malaysian capital.

She then embarked on an MBA at Harvard, where she met Antony Tan – a Malaysian of the same name but not related to her, with whom she founded the VTC company.

“The story behind Grab is that we wanted to solve safety issues with taxis in Malaysia. I have a personal experience with this, because I used to work very late (…) I often had to take taxis to go home, an experience that I really dreaded every day, because I always felt in danger.

A decade later, Grab, which bought Uber’s operations in the region in 2018, is worth about $10 billion and offers services ranging from online payments to deliveries.

The young woman likens her role to that of the group’s “plumber”, who is responsible for solving the problems of hidden infrastructures.

And society faces major challenges. Since its IPO on the Nasdaq last year, its valuation has fallen by nearly three quarters after the publication of declining profits.

“I think we are better off with more diverse teams and leadership with more diversity,” she says.

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