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Robert Walters Leadership Podcast E4: Conversation with Nisma Dar, Robert Walters APAC

In this special episode of our Powering Potential with Robert Walters podcast in South East Asia, we commemorate International Women’s Day by celebrating women in leadership roles.

Hear from Nisma Dar, Technology Business Partner - APAC at Robert Walters, as we discuss her long-spanning career in tech, explore the challenges of being a female professional in a traditionally male-dominated industry, and listen to her personal advice on overcoming the odds, balancing career and family, and getting more women to enter the tech space.

Our Robert Walters Leadership Podcast is part of our Powering Potential series, where we feature leaders from diverse industries and the sharing of their experience, advice, and insights in the world of work. Watch the videocast for this episode here.

Interested in hearing more stories of women who are making a difference to the people and communities around them? Download our ‘Women Who Inspire – 20 Stories From Across Asia’ e-book to draw inspiration for the next chapter of your own success story.

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ChyiHuey Joon: Welcome to the second episode of our International Women's Day leadership series. I'm Joon, Senior Marketing Manager for South East Asia at Robert Walters. Today, I'm delighted to be joined by my colleague, Nisma Dar, Technology Business Partner for Asia Pacific. Welcome Nisma.

Nisma Dar: Hi, Joon. Thanks for having me.

Joon: Nisma, could you tell us a bit more about your career journey then?

Nisma: I started my career in tech 20 years ago as a graduate trainee, and since then, I have worked in various global roles across three industries - legal, pharmaceuticals, and recruitment. I studied business information technology at university, and the topics I was learning sparked my interest. However, my one-year placement as part of my degree reaffirmed my aspirations to have a career in technology. So whilst I was working, I gained exposure to various facets of technology, and I wanted to be part of this dynamic and ever-changing environment.

Joon: As a Technology Business Partner, what exactly do you do in your current role then? And is there any exciting part of the work that you could share with me?

Nisma: So I act as a trusted advisor to stakeholders in the region. So I'm accountable for ensuring technology and transformation, and the department delivers solutions and services that are aligned with the business objectives. So in a nutshell, Joon, we partnered with the business to identify opportunities. To reduce risk, cost, and increase efficiencies, ultimately driving positive change and enhancements across the region, through our technology platforms. I would say the most exciting part would be building partnerships. I think collaborating with people at all levels, from various functions, to deliver innovative solutions and creating opportunities to add value and increase our competitive advantage.

Joon: You make the role sounds so exciting that I wish I knew about this 10 years ago, so that then I can now also take on this role. Between career and family, what are your priorities as a female leader then?

Nisma: My non-negotiable standards are always to do the right thing morally and ethically. My career and family life have always gone hand in hand, and I'm lucky that I'm able to do both without compromising one for the other. And this is largely due to the support I receive from my family. I'd say I really admire those women who don't have a support system in place and yet they follow their dreams and pursue their careers. I think it just goes to show Joon that if you are dedicated and committed, you always find a way.

Joon: Well said. When there's a will, there's a way. Throughout your career so far, have you faced any challenge as a female working in a male-dominated industry like tech?

Nisma: I'd say the one which comes to mind is the early stages of my career. I used to find it difficult to voice my opinion at times. Especially in large meetings where there were senior management present. Luckily for me, I did have a mentor at the time, and he instilled me with the belief that my opinions were no less valid than anyone else's at the table.

We feel as in owning your beliefs and don't allow self-doubt to cloud your convictions. By voicing your own opinion, you will be seen as a contributing member of the team. So what I did to overcome this, I would say, is know your craft, listen, and learn. And don't be afraid to ask questions if you don't understand something, especially that one question, which is always at the back of your mind. As I said, knowledge is power. And with that, you gain confidence and credibility. I think experiencing challenges in life is normal. For some, it can be a driver, for others, a demotivator. I believe with every challenge, comes a lesson. You take that opportunity to learn from it, strengthen your mindset, and then move on.

Joon: A report from McKinsey found that diverse companies perform better, hire better talent, and also have more engaged employees, and retain workers better than companies that do not invest in diversity and inclusion. Despite this, women still remain underrepresented in the tech industry. Why do you think that's the case then?

Nisma: Let's say historically the perception of tech was someone sitting in a cold server room, writing code for hours on end. However, there're so many facets to technology - your problem solving, solution design and development, innovation, and exploring new technologies to add value.

We should be doing a better job communicating and essentially marketing these to the female audience. Technology is such an exciting sector, where people with a varied skillset are able to contribute, collaborate, to leverage new technologies, to help businesses grow, and ultimately make them more efficient to perform their core functions.

I think women have a lot to offer and bring a different perspective, allowing well-rounded decisions to be formed, as well as aptitude and talent. I think hybrid skills are what technology organisations need today. With regards Joon on what you mentioned about how we encourage women, I would say visibility is really important.

There're so many inspiring women out there. We need to see more of them. It's the responsibility of organisations to raise the profile of women in the workplace, I believe. Also very important I think we should start encouraging girls from an early age. Starting at schools, at colleges. Schools are usually playing catch-up in the tech sector, and don't have time to invest in learning new and emerging technology. So a good thing which is happening at the moment is to bridge the gap. Companies, leaders, and universities are encouraging women to join the tech sector by studying subjects, such as science, technology, engineering, and maths.

And lastly, on this point, I think parents are hugely influential. Even casual conversations can change the way a child thinks. Supportive and encouraging parents can make all the difference in helping the child follow whatever career path they choose. So I think it's vital that we start empowering kids at a young age; continuously promoting the positive impact these young women can bring with a diverse skillset.

Joon: On the other hand, what advice would you give to female talent looking to enter, or even rise up in a male-dominated industry like tech then?

Nisma: I would say, if you truly believe that you're doing the right thing, have courage and conviction, believe in yourself, and speak up. What has certainly helped me is to have a mentor, find a person you respect who can provide you with support and development advice through your career journey. Be open to constructive feedback, and remain relevant by continually learning. I think it's incredibly important to do work you believe in, and work for a company that has values that align with your own, be it in tech or another industry.

Joon: Thanks Nisma. We hear a lot about how women can support women, how organisation can also support women. What role do you think male team members can play to support their female peers in the tech world?

Nisma: That's a really good question Joon. I'd say firstly, be aware of unconscious bias, right? So don't automatically make decisions where your female colleagues are concerned, and always ask. For example, don't assume mothers won't be willing to take on challenging tasks or travel.

Secondly, I would say get the most out of meetings. Meetings can sometimes be overtaken by those extroverts, those dominant figures. So it's important to make sure everyone speaks up and is heard, everyone's involved in the conversation, especially the quieter ones.

And lastly, I would say, make sure women get the credit they deserve, and look for opportunities to acknowledge and recognise their contributions in the workplace.

Joon: In your opinion, what is the biggest obstacle to women's career progression?

Nisma: I would say, remove that roadblock from your mind, and have a positive mindset. If you are determined, and you have that drive and passion, then there is nothing that can stop you from reaching your true potential.

Joon: How have you found it best to promote and nurture women's career in your leadership position?

Nisma: I think it's all about recruiting the right person for the right role, irrespective of their background, race, or agenda. Hiring the right people based on their abilities and experience. I think it's really vital also to have a safe and trusting work environment, whereby people feel supported and are able to contribute by sharing their thoughts, opinions, concerns openly with their managers and peers.

Diversity inclusion is also at the forefront and being embraced by companies wanting to make a positive change. So diversity policies and programmes are being put in place, not just for women, but all aspects of diversity. Companies are focusing on their recruitment process, creating networks for women, providing opportunities internally for people to develop and grow by investing in training, and also providing coaching and mentoring initiatives.

Gender representation is a hot topic at the moment. And this is great for women in general. As you mentioned before, Joon, certain governments now realise that there's a low representation of women in the boardroom, prompting employment laws, advocating equal rights. So companies are now evaluating their organisation models to ensure that there are more women in senior positions, and trying their best to make women feel valued in the workplace. So this is all encouraging and great for women in general.

Joon: Great, thanks Nisma. Before we wrap up this interview, is there one piece of advice you wish somebody gave you at the beginning of your career?

Nisma: One which sticks to mind is you will not always have the answer, and that is okay. Build a network of trusted advisors that you can lean on and learn from.

Joon: Well-said Nisma. Thank you so much. That's a very valuable piece of advice to our listeners and viewers too. Thank you Nisma for taking the time to share your experience and insights working in the technology industry. To our listeners and viewers, stay tuned for our third and final episode, which we get to speak with Joanne Chua, Client Development Director for Asia at Robert Walters.

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