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How women tech leaders navigate challenges and stay focused

Women tech leaders share their views on how optimism and fueling a lifelong sense of curiosity are key to a successful career.

In brief

  • Women in tech who are flexible and lean into their sense of curiosity will be well positioned to navigate challenges throughout their career.
  • Maintaining a learning mindset and seeking support from mentors can help women in tech overcome imposter syndrome and other obstacles.
  • Amid significant transformation across tech, women should consider taking a creative approach to career development.

In a previous episode of the EY Women in Technology webcast, with the world teetering on the point of recession, a group of leaders in technology discussed how women can manage their careers through challenging times. Alex Maiden, Talent Leader, Asia-Pacific Consulting, was joined by Cindy Saw, First Vice President and Head of Data and Analytics at BDO Unibank; Sharon Khor, Regional Chief Technology Officer and Head of Group TDA (Tech, Digital, Analytics) Transformation Office at AIA Group; and Giselle Ho, Partner, Technology Consulting, Ernst & Young Advisory Pte Ltd., to share their advice and insights.

Navigating challenging times

There are signs of economic and financial instability around the world, with the threat of recession in Europe and the US, and negative implications for the technology sector in these markets. As of October 2023, tech layoffs exceeded 240,000 for the year, 50% more than in 2022.1 According to recent research, 63% of employees made redundant were women, and by one estimate, women in tech are 65% more likely than their male counterparts to lose their jobs amid tech layoffs.2 Together, these statistics shed light on the skills women require to navigate the market today, such as flexibility and a change mindset.

The panel of industry leaders discussed key strategies for women who are navigating their careers during challenging times, from facing the potential threat of redundancy to starting a new role or coping with the rapid growth and potential impacts of artificial intelligence (AI) in the job market.

The panelists agreed that we are indeed navigating difficult times; recent economic and geopolitical uncertainty has led to layoffs across Asia, the US and Europe. But they also noted that this activity is part of the natural economic cycle, and that uncertainty can be navigated by adapting, identifying the positives and seizing new opportunities.

Managing your mindset

For Sharon Khor, the most crucial element during these times is having the right attitude: “You don’t want to get into the mindset of being a victim of uncertainty,” she says. “The anxiety distracts you from the things you need to do.”

She further explains that adopting that mindset is easier when you accept that you can’t control the environment, only your reaction to it. “Ultimately, it’s about staying focused and building the right skills. Skills are your entry card to good jobs, so developing skills should never stop in such a rapidly evolving industry,” she notes.

Another key trait is a consistent sense of humility. While earning a strong position within a company may be common during good times, that can change overnight, even for highly skilled tech professionals. “Know that the unexpected can happen, stay humble and keep learning from people around you in good and bad times,” Sharon adds.

Cindy Saw believes that layoffs often present other opportunities: “There’s a Chinese saying that says: when a door closes, the window opens,” she shares.

She suggests embracing a layoff as merely a setback and seeing it as an avenue to create or discover new possibilities by asking two simple questions:

  1. How do I shift my career?
  2. What new skills do I need to learn?

Cindy adds that savvy professionals are acquiring not only new tech skills but also new capabilities in management and other areas of business.

There’s a Chinese saying that says: when a door closes, the window opens.

According to Giselle Ho, women in tech should always be ready to pivot: “Maybe you lose a job, but you might become an entrepreneur, which can actually be a great change.” 


All women agree that intellectual curiosity and a willingness and passion to learn are critical to getting back on track.  

Fueling your curiosity

Today, there are so many outlets that enable women in tech to fuel a sense of curiosity.

“Anyone can just reach out to the wealth of information out there, physically and virtually,” Sharon says. 

Cindy earned an executive MBA to reskill herself, but there are many modes of studying to suit different ways of learning, lifestyles and preferences. All panelists agree that committing to a 14-month course of study isn’t necessary in today’s learning environment, as there are plenty of bite-sized and self-directed courses available on demand for those who want to reskill and refresh their knowledge very quickly.

Mentors can also feed our curiosity. Experienced colleagues and senior leaders have a lot of knowledge to share about complex tech and business issues, and Sharon advocates seeking out mentors throughout your career. For many people, reskilling, finding a new role and taking the next step on your career path can be both exhilarating and intimidating — and having the right mentor is key.

Staying focused

Even with the right mentors, skill sets and career aspirations in place, imposter syndrome (i.e., the belief one is undeserving of their own success) is common when you’re starting a new role. “Every time I get into a new job,” says Cindy, “I think, am I really fit for the role? Especially in data and analytics, where everyone has doctorate degrees and 10 to 20 years of experience in tech.” Mentors can additionally help to identify and keep mentees focused on their goals.

When she discussed her concerns with her mentor, he suggested that a bit of imposter syndrome can be a good thing because it means you are challenging yourself. “If you’re pretty comfortable with the role, you’re not learning,” she adds.

For a different approach when feelings of imposter syndrome arise, Sharon recommends reminding yourself of your core skills and demonstrating them: “There is a reason why we are in our role. I focus on why I am there and the specific expertise I possess that others don’t.” 

Not doing so, she cautions, could be limiting: “Having that thinking distracts you from doing your best.” In challenging times, the less distraction, the better.

There is a reason why we are in our role. I focus on why I am there and the specific expertise I possess that others don’t.

Remaining optimistic

Despite global uncertainty and other pressures, panelists remain optimistic. They firmly believe that the future of work looks extremely promising for women in the industry today compared to 30 years ago, partly because technology has become much more pervasive, but also because the gender balance is shifting. And while some people are concerned about the impact of AI (especially generative AI (GenAI)) on the job market, panelists choose to look at the opportunities it will bring.

GenAI already enables automation in many areas. For example, application software interfaces (APIs) can connect to large language models and create chatbots or real-time interfaces, such as automated interviews. They also can perform classification and summarization tasks that were previously performed by humans. While this may be cause for concern to some, it also means that new and different roles are emerging: “Configuration of the chatbot responses for users or customers, which is called operationalizing the customer journey, needs human input,” Giselle says.

Similarly, call centers will see shifts in specific roles as well as the creation of new jobs. As GenAI is increasingly used in customer service settings, a call center’s volume might decrease, but new jobs nonetheless arise because, as Cindy explains: “GenAI tools need to be controlled, monitored and reviewed, all of which cannot really be done by machines.”

Staying informed about job opportunities in AI governance

Validating that AI technology is being developed and applied responsibly is a skill set that offers tremendous promise for women in tech, enabling them to focus on using AI for the greater good. For instance, they may be called upon to ensure fairness or transparency is considered when their company is designating the data that will be used to train an AI model. AI also brings many challenges with bias, privacy and intellectual property rights, all of which must be resolved. “There will be many more roles focused on examining how we eliminate bias as we adapt or adopt more AI,” says Sharon. She continues, “there will be a lot more policy, at a global rather than country-specific level,” which provides an even greater opportunity to eliminate gender bias.

All of the review processes around GenAI will rely on building ethics committees in corporate, government or regulatory organizations, which will also impact roles and provide women with opportunities to form valuable relationships across the business. Cindy notes that better communication and collaboration with compliance and legal teams will be essential: “It will enable them to better understand this new technology and how to ensure that the technology is applied and used responsibly,” she says.

We find ourselves in a moment of opportunity for women to help eliminate gender bias in the next generation of new technologies by guiding its use and leading in their implementation and adoption to solve society’s biggest problems. What’s certain is that uncertainty will be constant throughout times of fast innovation. Nevertheless, women can step into the new frontier of technology with curiosity and flexibility as their greatest tools.


When managing a career during uncertain times, the key is to identify the opportunities that new paradigms and technologies bring. As our panelists discussed, new jobs are and will continue to be generated — you just need to know where to look. The defining factor for success is a willingness to learn and adapt, along with a commitment to remaining focused on progressing your career and taking advantage of new opportunities as they arise.

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