Breaking the female glass ceiling

Can information technology help Indonesian women bust through barriers? A growing organization adamantly says “Yes We Can.”

Breaking the female glass ceiling Girls in Tech Indonesia

This essay begins with a familiar issue – the current trend toward the digital divide in the globalization era. This digital divide comes to us as the result of existing power relations in society, which determine who benefits from and who shapes the content, who develops and who uses information and communication technology (ICT).

Kofi Annan, the late United Nations secretary general, illustrated the digital divide as several gaps in one. The first gap is a technological divide, which determines the gaps in infrastructure. The second gap is a content divide, referring to web-based information that is most likely not relevant to people’s needs (like the fact that 70 percent of the world’s websites are in English). Last and foremost is the gender divide: the fact that women and girls access less through information technology than men and boys because of different needs and controls between the sexes. Accordingly, this essay specifically discusses the digital gender divide as the main point to note. 

In 2016, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) reported that “the global Internet user gender gap – the difference between the Internet user penetration rates for males and females relative to the Internet user penetration rate for males – was 12 percent.” In Asia, Internet penetration rates are 40 percent for women and 46 percent for men. In Indonesia, the Indonesia Internet Service Provider

Association reports that for the last two years, the Internet penetration rate for women was 48 percent and for men it was 52 percent. This statistic indicates that there is still less awareness among women about engaging in ICT compared to men. Hence, closing the digital gender gap is crucial, as it is not only a moral imperative, but also a significant opportunity for growth in today’s digital economy. What is more, it is also an essential pathway for progress on UN Sustainable Development Goal No. 5: to achieve gender equality and empower all girls and women. 

Regarding the digital gender divide, the World Bank (2006) reported that women’s and men’s access to and use of technology is rooted in behavioral, cultural and religious traditions. Such traditions result in a gap in participation, control over resources, access to education and access to the public arena. In terms of participation, cultural and social attitudes are often unfavorable to women’s participation in the fields of science and technology, which limits their opportunities in ICT. Moreover, women are often financially dependent on men or do not have control over economic resources, which makes accessing ICT services more difficult. Access and the allocation of resources for education and training often favor boys and men, creating structural inequalities in literacy and education. 

In addition, secluding women from the public arena makes access to the tech community difficult. These factors contribute to gender inequality and the gender digital gap. The lack of women accessing ICT is shaped by their social or financial situation. Hence, there should be a focus on education that promotes girls’ engagement in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education. Furthermore, governments and enterprises also need to be more proactive in supporting the participation of women in the ICT work force.

There are, fortunately, progressive efforts in these areas. Global movements promoting women’s engagement in ICT have emerged to counter bias. The nonprofit organization Girls in Tech, founded by American technology executive Adriana Gascoigne, is just such a movement. Known as a global movement to empower women in ICT, Girls in Tech aims to give space for women to develop ideas and their careers, and to learn new things related to technology through Girls in Tech events and activities. These include Lady Pitch Night, the Catalyst Conference, coding and design bootcamps, hackathons, XChange, Global Classroom and the GIT network. Since it was established in 2007, Girls in Tech has started 60 chapters around the world, including in Indonesia with Girls in Tech Indonesia/GIT- ID), to empower and create more women leaders in the ICT field. 

Leadership performance     

Girls in Tech Indonesia was established in 2011 by Aulia Halimatussadiah, the co-founder and chief content officer of Zetta Media; Anantya Van Bronckhorst, co-founder and co-chief executive officer of Think.Web; and Ria Ariyanie, managing director of Talk Link. 

Girls in Tech Indonesia adapts the global Girls in Tech leadership model by providing a series of meet-ups, workshops and mentoring to believe in themselves and be who they want to be through meet-ups and mentorships. 

Matarana Photography
After seven years of initiating women into the ICT field and growing to hundreds of members, Girls in Tech Indonesia launched the Womenpreneur Digital Acceleration (WDA) program in 2017 to intensively engage women in maximizing ICT in their lives. This program is designed specifically for women who already have digital platforms for business. WDA focuses on maximizing the use of digital technology for business by providing dinners coached by women in tech. Early on, Girls in Tech Indonesia worked with Facebook #SheMeansBusiness to present the #WhyNot initiative, a movement to inspire more women seven classes (coaching), a mentoring dinner (mentorship), and a pitch night over the course of a year. This is done to increase the number of women entrepreneurs using digital technology as a media to grow their businesses, and increase their overall knowledge of business, marketing and promotion through digital platforms (eg, Instagram, Facebook Business). While Girls in Tech Indonesia follows the global Girls in Tech leadership model, its programs have been modified based on the needs and cultural context within Indonesia. 

The success of any leadership performance cannot be negated by the existence of so-called leadership development practices to adjust and to accelerate followers’ learning. Anna Marie Valerio, the American author of “Developing Women Leaders: A Guide for Men and Women in Organizations,” proposes three leadership development practices: coaching, mentoring and a challenging job assignment. Interestingly, Girls in Tech Indonesia’s Womenpreneur Digital Acceleration program, which features coaching classes, a mentoring dinner and pitch night, checks all three of these boxes.

WDA classes are seven combined classes held every week over two months to coach approximately 50 women in digital literacy and digital marketing, to help them grow their businesses. The selected women, who already have digital platforms, are taught to maximize those platforms by equipping them with knowledge relating to finance, market promotion and leadership through the following classes: 

  • Digital Presence for Business
  • Winning with Social Content • Finance 101 for Small/Medium Business 
  • Social Engagement that Matters 
  • Think Big: Optimize Your Business 
  • Understanding Your Leadership Style 
  • Promote to the Right Market 

In terms of leadership development practices, the seven coaching classes help the participants’ self-awareness and self- management through the use of learning through job actions. They help participants make better decisions for themselves and their organizations as well as their businesses in the face of uncertainty, since the coaching process allows women to get better at interpersonal skills, communicating, delegating, time management, emotional self-management and other soft skills related to the thematic coaching series. For instance, with the coach’s help on setting up social media advertising (Promote to the Right Market), feedback loops are created based on trying out the new creations, followed by feedback and reflection, and then trying new creations again to improve the effectiveness of digital platforms for promotion. As a result, participants learn how to better advertise on social media, based on the chosen content and other strategies.

 Within the patriarchal society 

Within the feminist framework, the late French existentialist Simone de Beauvoir identified women’s existence within a patriarchal society – male-dominated power structure – as defined by a basic tension between immanence and transcendence. According to her, within the culture and society in which the female lives, they define women as “other,” as inessential to men, as mere objects and immanence. In this regard, she argued, woman are both culturally and socially negated by the subjectivity, autonomy and creativity of being humans.

At the same time, as a human, women are necessarily a subjectivity and transcendence. Consequently, women in patriarchal societies live in a paradox: as humans they are subjects who participate in transcendence, but their situation as women denies them subjectivity and transcendence. That is why women themselves fall into the belief that the world is masculine on the whole, as those who fashioned it, rule it and still dominate it today are men. As for her, she does not consider 

Women in patriarchal societies live in a paradox: as humans they are subjects who participate in transcendence, but their situation as women denies them subjectivity and transcendence. 

herself responsible for it; it is understood that she is inferior and dependent. This creates the glass ceiling – an invisible barrier – impeding women in accessing and using ICT for their benefit.

Male domination within Indonesian society is openly acknowledged by Aulia Halimatussadiah, the co-founder of Girls in Tech Indonesia. She says that in the past there were even fewer women with careers and education in STEM, following the global trend. When Aulia was in college, only about 20 percent of the students at the Faculty of Technology at Gunadarma University in West Java Province were female, and fewer than 20 percent of the women in her graduating class entered careers in technology. This happens in Indonesia because science, technology, engineering and mathematics are considered “men’s domain.” 

Transformational leadership

In their roles as leaders, women and men exhibit different leadership styles. Leadership styles are considered a function of personal characteristics such as personality. Contemporary leadership theory has divided gendered behavioral leadership styles into a dichotomy of transactional and transformational leadership. 

Historically, contemporary leadership rose in the early 1970s when gender difference theories marked a shift in leadership literature, as the behaviors, skills and attitudes of women were considered, recognized and evaluated. This perpetuated leadership styles that were evaluated through the perspective of gender differences, and the focus began to shift to a desire to understand how men and women led. James MacGregor Burns, the late American authority on leadership studies, proposed the terms ‘‘transactional’’ and ‘‘transformational’’ leadership. 

He defined transactional leaders as people who emphasize work standards and assignments, and had task-oriented aims. These leaders were focused on finishing tasks, with rewards or the disciplining of subordinates

Girls in Tech Indonesia
in order to influence and improve their performance. Transactional leadership is associated with strong masculine qualities, as it is distinguished by competitiveness, hierarchical authority, control by the leader and analytical problem-solving, which is more typically a male behavior (Klenke, 1993). 

In contrast, women are more likely to fit into a feminine model of leadership built around cooperation, collaboration, less control by the leader and problem-solving based on intuition and rationality. This style of leadership is closely aligned with transformational leadership, with effective leaders being described as those who inspire their followers and enable them to achieve goals. Transformational leaders motivate their followers to do something they think they cannot accomplish by giving them a challenging task with a high expectation for performance. Transformational leaders motivate their followers to go beyond their individual self-interests by addressing each follower’s sense of self-worth, in order to engage them in true commitment and involvement in the effort at hand. 

Bernard M Bass, the late American psychologist and leadership studies expert, split transformational leadership into four areas of performance: idealized influence, inspirational motivation, intellectual stimulation and individualized consideration. Idealized influence is when leaders envision a desirable future, articulate how it can be achieved, and engender pride, respect and trust. Aulia said “trust” was the most important thing to encourage Girls in Tech Indonesia 

Women more likely fit into a feminine model of leadership built around cooperation, collaboration, less control by the leader and problem-solving based on intuition and rationality. 

members to fight second-guessing constructed in their minds – to make them believe they could accomplish given tasks. 

The second performance of transformational leaders is that they motivate followers by creating expectations, setting an example to be followed by setting a high standard of performance and showing determination and confidence by modeling appropriate behavior – or role modeling. Aulia said role modeling was one of the most important leadership performances. Transformational leadership also allows leaders to help their followers become more creative and innovative by continually challenging them and giving them respect and consideration (intellectual stimulation). Finally, transformational leaders also pay personal attention to the developmental needs of their followers. According to Aulia leader’s behavior demonstrates acceptance of individual differences. As she said, if the final products of Girls in Tech Indonesia’s leadership practices are social media platforms, then the platforms were created in various versions and for various purposes (and not always for business). One of the examples is Helpnona. com, a social initiative to campaign for greater awareness of social dating violence, established by one of Girls in Tech Indonesia’s members. 

Breaking the glass ceiling? 

In order to answer this question, we should realize that it most probably correlates to leadership impacts on empowerment. Empowerment closely aligns with leadership elements – delegation, in which leaders give tasks to followers to delegate. In essence, leadership is more task-based, while empowerment is more authority and decision- based. 

One framework to examine empowerment was introduced by Sara Hlupekile Longwe, a gender and development expert in Zambia. Her framework aims to reveal women’s empowerment and equality in practice, and to critically assess to what extent development intervention is supporting this empowerment. In this regard, Longwe’s framework can be used to examine the success of Girls in Tech Indonesia in enhancing women’s equality in terms of control, participation, “conscientization,” access and welfare collated to ICT use: 

Control. Girls in Tech Indonesia enables women to have control over the decision- making process through conscientization and mobilization, to achieve equality of control over the factors of production and the distribution of benefits. As a result, they can run their own digital platform/business and manage it for a sustained period of time. 
Participation. Girls in Tech Indonesia enables women to enhance their participation in accessing ICT through its Womenpreneur Digital Acceleration program. 
Conscientization refers to raising gender awareness in digital media. Girls in Tech’s objective is to provide women with general education, increase their self-confidence and awareness, and make them realize they can use and maximize ICT to empower themselves. 
Access. Girls in Tech Indonesia’s leadership practices enable women to get more access to ICT literacy, business information, finance, credit, training, marketing facilities, and all public services and benefits.
Welfare. Girls in Tech Indonesia’s leadership practices are simply directed at increasing women’s access to material resources relative to men that might impact their level of welfare. When the women-owned businesses are growing, profits will increase. 

To break the glass ceiling, Girls in Tech Indonesia has contributed a lot to women’s economic empowerment through ICT education and engagement, via the Womenpreneur Digital Acceleration program. By addressing women’s issues within the WDA, the organization has succeeded in implementing leadership development practices – coaching, mentoring and challenging job assignments –within a female leadership model. However, GIT-ID is a Jakarta-based community, and thus its activities are focused on one city. Yet, as it employs digital technology to empower and engage more women, its program is expanding to other Indonesian cities such as Makassar, Denpasar and Yogyakarta. May it continue to grow.

Isyfi'afiani is a writer on feminist affairs and an alumna of the School of Government and Public Policy Indonesia.

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