How does digital literacy encourage new opportunities for women in the startup industry?
Out of 400 Malaysian women who don’t use the internet, more than half (60%), expressed that they would actually like to. Most of them however, especially older women, felt that the chances would be slim.
Who might these women be?
The survey by WomenWill Malaysia showed that a majority of them are housewives with children to care for. In contrast, another 400 women who did use the internet were mostly younger, single, and working women.
The survey also revealed that all the participants surveyed stated that the number one motivation to get online is connecting with friends and family on social networks.
As it turns out, this social milieu is not unique and could benefit from Google’s WomenWill project, which has seen success in India, Mexico, Japan, and Indonesia.
Jennifer Kek of WomenWill Malaysia said the initiative aims to create economic opportunities for women everywhere, primarily focusing on connecting women through technology and tools via trainings, events, and advocacy.
“We are promoting gender equality and leading it to benefit not just women, but their families, communities, and society.
“We’re excited that Malaysia has joined in and our team is ready to bring about positive changes and impact to the local women, specifically in the Johor region,” said Kek.
She shared being particularly inspired by the ‘Internet Saathi’ program, which in partnership with Tata Trusts, helped to equip women in rural India with digital literacy.
“Saathi” or “companion” in Hindi, refer to the village women who are selected for internet training on smartphones. The community and neighbouring villages then benefit from the knowledge gained by these women.
“HappyBackToWork” in Japan meanwhile, uses the power of crowdsourced ideas to transform the workplace and encourage Japanese women return to the workforce after childbirth.
“I love that these two distinct programs address issues specific to the two different communities. Even though my team is young, we are constantly equipped and empowered through the ongoing interactions and ideas exchange we’re receiving from experienced mentors,” said Kek.
Three aspects that WomenWill seek to tackle in Malaysia in order to eliminate the gender gap are digital literacy, entrepreneurship, and inclusive workplace.
The idea is to connect women with the online world via community learning, training and supporting women entrepreneurs and business owners to grow their businesses and changing the workplace culture. These are achieved by advocating and training decision makers to foster and impart skills to women, especially those with leadership qualities.
Kek said that the initiative would be carried out mainly through offline trainings and mentorship.
“In Malaysia, we find that there is an optimistic perspective of female entrepreneurs, regardless of a small stall owner or a corporate CEO. The government is also pushing for women's empowerment and innovation, and the increase of women in decision-making positions in the public and private sectors. Ratios may be low but the numbers are steadily increasing,” said Kek.
Some of the challenges Kek foresees in implementing WomenWill’s endeavors include helping the women to reconcile work and family life, and having access to credit, finance and capital.
Unconscious bias and available opportunities for mentoring and networking are also hurdles Kek’s team is hoping to overcome.
Kek however suggested that despite the odds, the success of some Malaysian startups can serve as aspirational stories to look up to.
These personalities include Kate Ng, CEO of S'aime, Christy Ng, founder of Christy Ng Shoes and Vivy Yusof, CCO and co-founder of FashionValet as well the founder of The dUCk Group.
Kek added that WomenWill is open to all who are interested to participate in their programs as well as collaborations.
“Our framework and strategy focuses on digital skill training and creating new opportunities through education, collaboration, which entails bringing together women entrepreneurs to advocate for more inclusive workplaces and activation. This includes partnering with groups such as UN Women to drive conversations around gender equality.
“I believe that every woman will take something home through the participation of our events or workshops, be it to gain confidence, find inspiration, learn new things, connect with each other, or creating their own opportunities to grow and succeed,” she said.
Startup Johor together with WomenWill Johor organised an event last 25 May 2018 in honor of Women's Month. Find out more about WomenWill's initiatives on their website at womenwill.com!