Challenge the Status Quo. Sensemaking Diverse Ideas for Impact

Chiang Yoke Fun

Senior Vice President / Head, Data Analytics & Artificial Intelligence, ST Engineering

Life is interesting. I say that often, because my foray into tech is a story threaded with serendipity. As a philosophy and psychology undergraduate, I took the path less travelled. While most of my peers graduated as aspiring social workers, I decided to forge my own career path in a completely new field – technology. During a time when tech was an old-boys club made up of engineers, it was hard for many to imagine the tangible impact and value a philosophy graduate possesses, but I came to understand and appreciate that diversity is key to an organisation’s growth.

Pioneering Diversity in Tech

It was the PC era in the 90’s. Back then, my concept of technology was limited to computer hardware (think Macintosh). Even so, I found myself with a job offer from IBM in my penultimate year of University, much to the surprise of many including myself. It wasn’t until a decade later that I found out that my background in philosophy was one of the key reasons for my employment, as IBM was looking for diversity in thought.

I was the pioneer batch of diversity hire, a new strategy introduced to transform the ossified culture bred by homogeneity that had curtailed innovation. I was deep in the throes of both an industry and organisational transformation. I counted myself fortunate to witness first-hand the extraordinary transformation of an American tech icon, which spurred me on to brave new frontiers over the next two decades.

The conscious efforts within the organisation to bring about diverse perspectives to elevate innovation and transformation keeps my dynamism and passion going. From sales to marketing, operations to outsourcing, and eventually consulting, I have since sold and embraced the vitality of diversity and inclusion.

Harnessing Strength and Sensemaking through Diversity

Today, as the world continues to evolve and innovate at unprecedented speeds, diversity has become a business imperative and its impact is undisputed.

I have read that companies in the top quartile for gender or racial and ethnic diversity are more likely to have financial returns above their national industry medians. This is invariably visible, as we have seen many organisations that embrace diversity attracting and winning top talent, and improve their customer orientation and employee satisfaction, leading to a virtuous cycle of increasing returns.

Fast forward now at ST Engineering, it is heartening to see diversity and inclusiveness in action. Building upon our position of strength as one of Asia’s largest technology and engineering leader, I am excited to be at the forefront of data analytics and artificial intelligence as we work actively towards diverse representation for transformation, innovation and to create game-changing solutions.

As we harness the diverse ideas in collaboration with our business units and the group, co-creating alongside our customers and users, as well as students through hackathons. The fresh perspectives gained proven to be effective, breaking down walls and promoted open communication, leading to higher levels of efficiency and productivity. We also team up with local Universities and Polytechnics proactively to build up future talents and to inject diversity and vibrancy into our organisation and culture.

I recently see this coming to life in my capacity as the lead for the Data Analytics and Artificial Intelligence Business. By helping our customers gain insights with relevant, timely data, and understand how it can effect actionable outcomes, we exchange ideas on how analytics can be embedded in their applications such as Command and Control system, and how sensemaking solutions coupled with Design Thinking Methodology can help them gain insights with their data. We also collaborate closely with global technology providers and practitioners, and created a platform for the exchange of knowledge, experience and perspective, to understand gaps and underlying priorities, and importantly, how the emerging tech and deep learning can seamlessly come into play with speed and agility.

This is indeed one great milestone, as I have seen an astonishing transformation in the way we marry the art of sensing diverse ideas with the science of sensemaking, to support our customers with clear, sharp and effective actions.

Sensemaking to Change Is a Constant

My two decades in tech have taught me that change is the only constant. As technology continues to evolve at incredible speeds, I encourage anyone in tech to move out of their comfort zone, sense and make sense of changes, embrace change, and do so graciously. While going out of your comfort zone may be daunting for many, it is a necessary catalyst for growth. This International Women’s Day, I hope to share three nuggets of wisdom that has helped me through my journey in tech –

• Keep an open mind. Sometimes it’s not what we think we are that limits us, but what we think we are not, that becomes the self-fulfilling prophecy.

• Life is like the four seasons. When you go through difficult periods in life, know that this too shall pass. And when you achieve success, take a moment to celebrate with the many hands who helped made it possible.

• Experience is but an accumulation of pains. As Franklin D. Roosevelt said, “smooth seas never made a skilled sailor”. Don’t be shy, graciously accept help from people along the way and give back as much as possible.

We live in exciting times and being part of this driving force is no easy feat. But on this path, remember to slow down and smell the roses along the way. Sometimes in life, we need to settle what’s close to the heart first in order to give our best at work and continue to push the boundaries of technology.

In the next decade, I hope to see more leaders with a diversity in experience come on board and challenge the status quo – be it pushing the envelope further for the organisation or individuals to scale greater heights.

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