#BossLady: Stephanie Caunter On Life In The Tech World
A few days ago, I had the pleasure of interviewing Stephanie Caunter, who has been in charge of marketing, communications and business development in the engineering/tech sector for around 20 years.
Most recently, the stunning go-getter has been appointed as Catcha Group’s new global communications director in which she is responsible for leading its public relations, branding and digital marketing efforts. And before that, she was PwC’s executive director of marketing communications for Malaysia and Vietnam. Such an impressive resume!
Frankly, a major part of her life is her career and she has an interesting perspective on working in the tech industry, especially as a woman.
Q: First of all, how did your career in the tech-world start?
A: While I’ve been a marketing professional for a decade now, the truth is that I actually got started as an engineer!
I have a Bachelor’s degree in engineering, and spent my early years working as an electrical engineer and software programmer. One of first jobs was with Intel Malaysia, where I was able to combine my technical skills as an engineer with my desire to do something a little more creative in a marketing programme manager role.
Q: Were you ambitious since you were little? Is this [your career] something that you have planned since you were young?
Honestly, I’m not sure if I would say I always knew what I wanted or that I had a strong ambition early on. Yes, I’ve always had a competitive streak (like both my sisters), but I actually feel that I came into my career quite late in life.
It wasn’t till I was in my early 30s that I really found my groove.
I was “discovered” by my ex boss at PwC who took a chance on me to come in and manage PR for the firm, an area I had no experience in. From there, my role expanded quickly and I began to realise that I could rise up the career ladder, make a difference, and have fun while I was doing it!
Q: Given how male-dominated the industry is, what are the challenges that you’ve faced throughout the years?
A: I got used to being one of few women in a male-dominated environment, thanks to my electrical engineering degree. In my graduating class at that time, the ratio of female to male students was 1:10! I never really felt discrimated against, or treated differently. But looking back now, I wonder if it was just a lack of awareness.
In the few years, as I’ve become a mum and learnt a lot about gender diversity challenges, I realise that there are indeed challenges for women in general, and especially for those who are juggling careers and family. Some of these include:
- Stereotypes that because you have a family (or even just because you are a woman and might start one in the future!), you may not be as dedicated or interested in career growth. For example:
A PwC study of millennial women found that 71% wanted the opportunity to work outside their home country during their career – however, employers were still giving most of the international assignments to men (80:20)
- The “double burden” that women face, i.e. having to manage career and shoulder the brunt of responsibility at home. A recent Khazanah Research Institute study proved that women shoulder the majority of housework and this has an immediate impact on their careers. “Women, not just in Malaysia but across the world, often face higher barriers to accessing paid work compared to men not necessarily because they are less educated or qualified, but because they shoulder a disproportionate responsibility for unpaid care.” – Khazanah Research Institute
- The “old boy network”. This often isn’t a conscious form of discrimination. But the thing is, a lot business decisions and parternships get struck up during informal sessions, and women will lose out if male leaders aren’t consciously including them.
When the majority of decision makers are men, and they all tend to congegrate together perhaps over a game of golf or shared inside jokes, it can be very difficult for a woman to be part of that circle.
Q: What advice would you give to young tech lovers in this competitive industry?
A: Technology means that things are moving at lightning speed.
- Make sure that you keep yourself up-to-date:
Experiment with new technologies and take courses to understand new developments like AI or robotics. There are so many options for training today – many of which are online so you can complete them at your own leisure and which cost about the price of a lunch with your friends!
Another way is to keep abreast of developments, trends & movements in the industry (twitter, blogs and online news portals are my favourite references.
- Build a network!
Networking doesn’t mean that you have to be constantly meeting new people with the goal of getting something out of them. It’s about expanding your mind, seeing different perspectives, and being exposed to the world.
Malaysia is such an amazing melting pot of cultures and perspectives, it would be a real waste to only confine yourself to a limited group of friends/acquaintances. You’ll also realise that as you build your network, you’ll give as much as you get – i.e. do something without expecting anything in return, and it will come back to you tenfold.
- You guys are the luckiest generation because technology is opening up virtually limitless opportunities. It’s really your world to conquer. Learn to love yourself, and strive for something better because you want to do it (and not simply to keep up with the Joneses!)
I suggest you find role models who inspire you, yet resist the temptation to compare yourself against others because there will always be someone richer, smarter, luckier, better looking.
Q: What kind of positive impact do you hope to instill, especially for Asian women?
A: Women are half the world’s population. So I’m utterly convinced that they should be represented in leadership & decision-making positions.
One of the ways in which I try to help the future generation of women leaders is by being a coach and mentor to them. I am a 3 time McKinsey Youth Leadership Academy mentor and a 2 time Lean In Career Programme mentor. Sometimes, all a young and promising woman needs is for someone else to believe in her, share advice & tips on navigating a complex world, and to open up doors for her. And that’s what I try to do with my mentees.
Q: With your busy schedule, how do you maintain a balanced lifestyle?
A: One of the things I’ve learnt – after having kids – is that I’ve got to make time for myself!
It’s very easy to get consumed with work, and “ mummy guilt” which makes you feel that any spare time you have should be devoted to the kids. But I realise that for my sanity, I need to do a little something for myself.
For example, exercise has always been a big part of my life so now I make sure that I continue to carve out time for it. It may mean waking up at 5 AM in the morning so I can get a training session in before the morning rush gets started, but it’s what keeps me sane.
And a sane Steph = a happy Steph. Which means I’m a better mum to my kids and wife to my husband (I hope!)
Q: You’ve heard how leaders are opting to wear a similar t-shirt everyday to avoid from disrupting the flow of efficiency. Do you agree with this practice, or do you prefer to experiment with different styles?
A: I could see why it’s appealing to some people, like Barack Obama who always looks immaculate!
But one of the things I love about my daily routine is the opportunity to get dressed up. It makes me feel good about myself, and the right outfit can put that extra pep in my step. It’s another one of those small pleasures in life and it’s worth the effort for me.
Q: Of course, as a woman who’s constantly on the move but blessed with skin that looks almost flawless, I wonder if Stephanie has any beauty secrets that she could share with us.
A: This isn’t really my area but I’d say some essentials are:
Drink lots of water everyday, eat fruits and veggie, always remove your makeup and apply sunscreen on a daily basis!
All in all, although it’s certainly challenging to be a woman in the technology field, I love silver-lining stories like this one. Seeing other women thrive and excel and live their dreams doing meaningful work that they love should help serve as encouragement to others and further the fight for equality and equity.
On another note, if you’re feeling a lil’ bit lost or demotivated when it comes to your career choices, don’t be. They say women are in our best shape once we’ve reached the 30-year-old mark, so of course these formative years can be very tough, but it is all going to be worth it.