When people think of a tech career, skills like software development, coding and IT management often come to mind. It seems an understandably prohibitive landscape for anyone but the already tech-inclined – and this is precisely what Charu Mahajan wants to overturn. The IBM partner, who leads the Asean consulting practice for consumer goods, retail, travel and transport, believes part of the reason there are so few women in the technology sector is that they think it’s too hard or too specialised a field to get into.
“It has always been narrowly defined. Things like computational coding, cybersecurity and so on are just subsets; technology is all around us,” she explains. “There are tech-allied careers, like selling technology or understanding data, too. I think we need to get women to understand what makes up technology and to do it programmatically at the curricular level from an early age.”
Although an economist and marketer by education, Mahajan’s work involves advising clients on their digital transformation and technology processes. She is also the vice president of the Singapore Computer Society’s Women in Tech Chapter that runs programmes to further the promotion of women in technology. As an authority in this space, she has observed a stunning lack of women at the board level but acknowledges that this is more an issue of supply rather than demand. So until corporations and schools strengthen their partnerships to boost the number of women interested in tech, Mahajan’s mission is to empower those who are already trying to get in.
“There are so few women partners in the Asian tech scene, but I feel it is important for us to know that we are bringing something important to the table,” she insists. “I am persistent in getting my voice heard and always fighting back. Many have labelled me aggressive, something often attributed to women. But I paid little attention to this because I needed to find my seat at the table so I could help those who come after me find theirs.”
The increasing awareness surrounding racial and gender diversity heartens Mahajan, who applauds the government for declaring 2021 the Year of Celebrating SG Women. “It’s not just a grand gesture,” she says. “Initiatives like these encourage all of us – in all pockets of society, from the boardroom to the policy tables – to have this conversation.” She is optimistic that a truly diverse workforce is well on its way to normalcy, and advises shifting the focus to inclusion once that happens. “We will need to think about ways to make sure everyone is heard, and that the policies that govern our frameworks appeal to everyone.”
Described as fearless by those who work with her, and strong and ambitious by her own admission, Mahajan could conceivably have gone down the path of a serial entrepreneur towards much greater riches. Instead, she maintains that there is still more good to be done first. “I believe my net worth is my network. I am passionate about increasing the net worths of my networks,” she says. “To influence even one woman’s career or to enable another to get into that boardroom and give someone in that room a voice – these are my accomplishments.”