Is it surprising that there are now two times the number of male graduates with information technology and engineering degrees compared to female graduates here? After all, as noted in a 2021 article by the Institute of Policy Studies at Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, the number of female graduates fell from 36 per cent in 2010 to 34 per cent in 2020, despite government efforts to encourage female participation in information and communication technology.
So it’s pretty impressive that Gina Wong is making great strides in the field: The 48-year-old is the managing director of Kyndryl, an IT infrastructure services provider that designs, builds and manages the complex information systems. The company counts major airlines, government agencies and banks among its 4,000-plus clients worldwide, and employs 90,000 staff globally, some hundred of whom are based here.
But just how did she navigate this notoriously male-dominated field? Gina opens up about her start in IT, how cloud computing – which we all have access to on our devices but probably don’t really understand – plays a part in our everyday lives, and the secret to holding her own against her male counterparts.
A love affair with technology
Gina fell into IT “by chance”. After a decade in various business roles, she joined an IT company “to get a ‘360-degree’ view of business” so she could lead customer-care services for a large banking group.
“Little did I know that I would fall in love with technology, and would never leave the industry. I learnt it all from scratch – from unified communications and Internet protocol telephony to cloud computing and artificial intelligence (AI),” she explains.
“Having technology at my fingertips empowers me to be highly productive, efficient and relevant. I picked it all up through reading and implementation in real-life scenarios.”
Prior to her current role, she was head of Technology Consulting and Implementation Services at IBM Asia Pacific, where she led a team that supported customers in hybrid cloud and multi-cloud strategy. Not sure what cloud computing really is? She has a simple way of putting it.
“Cloud computing is like living in a condominium, where you have access to a pool, gym and other facilities, in addition to your own private apartment space. These days, businesses and customers enjoy unlimited storage, computing power, database, network and AI technologies by leveraging cloud providers’ shared infrastructure services over the Internet.
“You pay for what you use and don’t need to buy, build or own everything yourself. The infrastructure is the underlying platform for advanced capabilities and services, including analytics with algorithms, recommendation engines, facial recognition, speech-to-text, and web and mobile applications,” she explains.
Previously managed by IBM, Kyndryl is now a public company, and some of Gina’s recent achievements include porting clients from IBM and helping a team at IBM transition to the start-up. Now that the new enterprise has global partnerships with firms like Microsoft, Google Cloud and Nokia, she works with the local outfits to support their clients.
Sitting up and speaking boldly
Gina’s career hasn’t been without bumps on the road. One of the biggest challenges she faced in her journey was having to take a step back in her career to deal with a personal family situation.
“I went from being the general manager, where I was leading the business, to a senior contributor position. As a restless individual who thrives in a fast-paced environment, I had to manage my own expectations and suppress my ambitions,” she lets on. She adds that she usually overcomes hurdles by holding onto perseverance and self-belief.
And while she says she has never been explicitly discriminated against at work because of her gender, there have been moments where things “got awkward in the boardroom”. This is particularly so when she is the only woman in leadership meetings.
“But I don’t let it bother me. I sit up and speak boldly. My opinions are backed by facts or proof-points, so I don’t question myself,” she asserts.
Her advice to women experiencing gender inequality in their jobs? Don’t allow yourself to be intimidated by anyone regardless of their gender, background, title or seniority.
“You are you – you represent a point of view. You deserve a voice to speak and to be heard.”
And she reckons that more can be done to achieve higher female representation in leading positions in the IT sector.
“Although there is over 30 per cent of female representation in overall leadership positions in Singapore, the panel speakers at IT forums and events are usually men. In my opinion, for things to change, there should be a top- down mandate to set a target for women representation,” she muses.
For now, she intends to advance her leadership by continuing to invest in talent.
“Our people are our product, so it’s critical that we train them. We want to attract and develop local talent to contribute to the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) community in Singapore and support the local government’s ambition.”
Here are Gina’s three tips for staying ahead of the curve.