Be the Change You Want to See
How One Woman is Helping to Change the World by Introducing Girls to STEM
Growing up in the 80s, my life was predestined to either be a doctor, lawyer, marketer / PR, or admin officer. No kidding. As a girl in Southeast Asia in the late 90s and early 2000s, those were the four careers that women were expected to join. Most of my friends were either lawyers or dentists (when I mentioned doctor, I meant a dentist). Simply because the belief in my country was that if a woman became a dentist she can then open her practice at home and work whatever time and hours she wants on the sideline of being a full-time housewife.
Fast forward a few decades later and it’s a whole new world. I was lucky enough to have met and worked with Nadine Siregar, the Founder of Generation Girl a few years ago. She has not only inspired me and was without a doubt one of the best persons I’ve ever worked with, but she is also a constant inspiration to her team members and the many Rookies and women who participate in Generation Girl’s Winter and Summer Clubs and Electives programs. I reached out to her for a quick catch up session, to talk about Generation Girl, the impact it has created, and also to get her thoughts on the future of women in tech.
Hi Nadine, thank you very much for taking the time to chat. So Generation Girl (Gen G) was established in 2018 and is a fairly new non-profit organization. However, despite being a relatively new organization, it is already making big waves, not only for girls in Indonesia but also in the global tech community, can you tell us a bit more about GenG?
Yes definitely! Gen G is a non-profit organization and community under the Generasi Maju Berkarya Foundation. Our goal is to teach hard and soft skills to girls to be future leaders. We have organized Winter and Summer Clubs since 2018 to teach girls these skills. In these clubs, we introduce them to different STEM topics like UI/UX or Backend for beginners. We are growing and we are now starting to have intermediate classes and Elective classes for women as well.
In these Winter and Summer Clubs, the focus is not just on technical skills but it’s on other avenues of life as well that they can grow into. Which is why we hold field trips and talk shows with speaker sessions. We want to showcase female role models which they can aspire to be.
We started with just the Winter and Summer Clubs but then there was a high demand from professional women who wanted to also learn about the tech industry and skills. We then started the Electives Lite. This program consists of biweekly workshops on Saturdays and also a longer three-month Bootcamp version such as the one for UI / UX which is in partnership with Go-Academy from Gojek. The partnership with Go-Academy has helped us bring outstanding quality to the Bootcamp, similar to what Go-Jek interns experience during their internship.
Your first job out of university was at Gojek, which is Southeast Asia’s first super app that is essential from ride hailing to paying everyday bills, can you share with us how you ended up as an engineer there and a little bit of your background as well?
Well, I grew up in Singapore and then went to school in the United States. During high school, I needed to take a math or computer science class, it was an HTML basics class and I enjoyed it. When I was in university, I decided to choose computer science as a major after I needed to take an HTML class to graduate. I graduated in 2016 and moved back to Jakarta. This was the first time I’ve lived in Indonesia in my entire life. It definitely took lots of adjustments but I was very lucky that I have great family and friends to help me with the transition. I joined Go-Jek not long after I moved to Jakarta and became an engineer at Go-Jek for 3 years. Having experienced firsthand the impact that Go-Jek had in so many Indonesian lives, I decided to pivot my career and focus on Generation Girl. Currently, I’m doing my Master’s degree at the London School of Economics to ensure that I am able to lead Generation Girl further and on a global scale.
What made you decide to establish Gen G in the first place? Most women who have made it to your level would have continued working up the ladder, what made you decide your calling was Gen G?
I think the turning point was seeing first hand the impact Go-Jek had on all levels of society and community. How given the right access, people can make their lives better. In my engineering team at that time, I was the only woman among 20 male engineers. The challenges that I faced at the time of constantly being second-guessed especially when it came to work matters was an eye-opener. I began to think that being a female engineer in a tech company shouldn’t be an achievement in society, it should be the norm. As the company grew bigger and my network in Jakarta expanded, I began to connect with more females who were like me working in Tech startups and we were like-minded as well. We decided to start Generation Girl. So we can help empower girls and familiarize them with the tech world.
While working in the tech world, did you experience any challenges that you faced as a woman that a man in the same position would not have faced? And how did you rise from that challenge?
Absolutely, as I mentioned before, moving back to Indonesia was a challenging time for me, especially adjusting to the culture. One of the challenges I can think of was being invited to speak in a panel and every speaker on the panel was introduced based on their accomplishment such as “an engineer in company ABC” but when it came for the moderator to introduce me, I was introduced based on physical descriptions instead of my professional accomplishments which was a courtesy given to my male counterparts in the panel. Having spoken on many panels, now, if this does happen again, I would make sure that my achievements as well as Gen-G’s accomplishments are shared with the audience. We, as a society, have made improvements from the time where I was the only woman in the engineering team. I think it’s because more women are taking the leap and embracing what they love and want to do career-wise rather than following the social norm and down a career path that was expected of them. And this needs to be part of the conversation.
Do you think now, due to the #metoo movement and also more women entering the tech world in various positions, the situation has gotten better and the playing field has been leveled?
I do think that situation has gotten better. At the same time, the culture and mindset of engineering being a male role still needs to be changed. This is why in Generation Girl we are so fortunate to have so many male volunteers and mentors who are helping us move the needle forward on so many aspects. Change is a two-way street and having great and supportive male role models who are partnering with us in carving a path for these girls to reach their dreams is a big encouragement for the girls and us at Gen G as well. We’re not merely pushing for change, but we, together with all our male volunteers, mentors, and partners are driving this transformation together to make a real impact not only in a professional landscape but in a cultural one as well.
In your experience, do women still need to strive to “break the glass ceiling” and have a seat at the table, or do you think this has mostly been achieved in today’s world?
I think throughout the years women have struggled to get a seat at the table despite the many contributions we have given to the world. Today, I do feel that women still need to work hard and break the glass ceiling even further. Times are changing on a global scale as we are seeing women play a major role in multinational companies and governments. However, it is worth noting that women only make up 5% of Fortune 500 CEOs. If we look at this from a logical standpoint, where women make up around 50% of the workforce globally, we can see that we still have a long way to go. I think with more countries achieving economic prosperity, woman and girls now more than ever, have been given the opportunity pursue higher education in the field of their choice, slowly but surely our voice is getting stronger and we are being heard more and more by the day.
What is your advice to women starting in the tech world or any other field currently facing the same situations and challenges you faced in the workplace?
My advice is to find a support system and surround yourself with women and people who encourage and help you get to where you want to go. It’s important to have a community who believe in your vision, what you can achieve and who are positive about what you want to do. At the same time, I think it’s important to be self-aware of one’s shortcomings and to continue learning and growing. Being open to continue learning and improving yourself is crucial in growth. So never stop learning and always be open to possibilities.
Any final advice you want to share with people who are just starting in their careers?
Absolutely! It’s important to have a mentor and a role model that you can emulate. These two personas don’t have to be the same person but it is important to have these types of people in your life. You can have a mentor in your daily life and you can also have a role model that you look up to. Your role model can be someone that is well known in the world that you look up to and inspire you. For me, my role models would have to be Michelle Obama and Melinda Gates. I admire Michelle for her tenacity and how down to earth personality when she has achieved so much in her life. As for Melinda Gates, I admire her because we share a common tech background and a similar career path trajectory. Melinda took what she learned from the tech industry and created a non-profit to try and revolutionize the world. It’s important to keep yourself grounded by surrounding yourself with people who can mentor you and point out your shortcomings and how to overcome them. At the same time, it’s also important to have someone to look up to so you will have a benchmark of who you want to be, where you want to go, and what you want to achieve.
Nadine, thank you so much for your time, it has been inspiring and eye-opening to see a woman such as yourself spearheading a social community movement to empower girls to pursue their dreams.
Congratulations as well to you and your co-founders on being awarded the Women of the Year Award 2020 from Her World for your efforts to introduce STEM to young women. Best of luck to you and Generation Girl and I’m sure, we will see many more groundbreaking achievements from you and Generation Girl in the near future.