Yi Ma Shyftlabs

WOMEN IN TECH: Q&A With Yi Ma, Chief Data Officer, ShyftLabs

The latest candidate in our series of Q&As with influential women in the technology business is Yi Ma, Chief Data Officer, ShyftLabs, a software company that offers tailored data solutions to help businesses transform their operations and drive growth.

Name: Yi Ma

Job Title & Company: Chief Data Officer, ShyftLabs

Years in the Industry: 15 Years

The Quote That Most Inspires You: “Success is how high you bounce when you hit bottom.” –(General George S. Patton)

What drew you to a career in the consumer and/or business technology industry?

My fascination with the transformative power of data and technology guided me towards the tech industry. I was captivated by the potential to use data to solve complex problems, optimize business operations, and drive growth. The dynamic and evolving nature of tech promised a career filled with innovation, continuous learning, and the opportunity to make a tangible impact on businesses and society.

As a woman in this field, I was also motivated by the challenge and opportunity to promote diversity and inclusion within the tech landscape. Working in a start-up that creates tailored data solutions, I found a unique platform to blend my technical expertise with my passion for problem-solving and strategic innovation.

This career path has not only allowed me to contribute to the digital transformation of businesses but also to advocate for a more inclusive and diverse tech community. It’s a journey that combines my love for data with a commitment to shaping a better future through technology.

Have you encountered any roadblocks along the way that were related to your gender?

Yes, throughout my journey in the tech industry, I’ve faced several gender-related challenges. There were times when my contributions were overlooked, and my ideas ignored in favour of those from male colleagues. I’ve encountered instances where my work was subjected to more scrutiny than that of my male peers, necessitating a continuous effort to prove my competence and value.

One of the most disheartening experiences was when a well-deserved promotion was significantly delayed, even though I was effectively leading the team and demonstrating leadership and technical prowess.

These experiences, while challenging, have served as catalysts for my personal and professional growth. They’ve taught me the importance of resilience, the value of asserting my voice, and the significance of building a network of allies and mentors. They’ve also reinforced my commitment to driving change within the industry – not just for myself, but for all women in tech. By mentoring young women entering the field, advocating for policies that promote diversity and equity, and leading by example, I am committed to contributing to a change that ensures gender is no longer an obstacle to recognition and career advancement.

What unique characteristics or perspective do you feel you bring to your organization as a woman?

As a woman in tech, I bring empathy and emotional intelligence to our organization, fostering a supportive and collaborative environment that boosts creativity and productivity. My journey has also cultivated resilience and adaptability, essential in navigating the rapidly evolving tech landscape and inspiring my team to view challenges as opportunities. I champion diversity and inclusivity, ensuring our workplace reflects a wide range of perspectives, fostering a more equitable environment. Additionally, my commitment to mentorship, especially for women and underrepresented groups, aims to inspire and empower the next generation of diverse tech leaders.

In essence, my unique blend of empathy, resilience, dedication to diversity, and mentorship enriches our organizational culture and drives our collective success.

Yi Ma, ShyftLabs

Technology is historically a male-dominated industry, yet the use of tech is fully embraced by women, and many studies even suggest that females are the primary buyers of tech in the home. What do you feel the technology industry needs to attract more women, particularly into high-level positions?

Here are some strategies to attract more women into high-level positions in the tech industry:

Implementing Policies for Equality: The tech industry needs to enforce equitable policies that ensure fairness in hiring, promotions, and pay. This includes creating a transparent process for performance evaluations and a strict stance against harassment, setting a foundation of fairness and respect.

Enhancing Mentorship and Sponsorship: Women often face unique challenges in their careers, and having mentors who can offer guidance, advice, and advocacy is invaluable. My own journey underscores this, as a mentorship program provided me with essential insights and support that propelled my career forward. Sponsorship goes a step further, with leaders actively opening doors for women to take on high-visibility projects and leadership roles.

Offering Flexibility: The tech industry should lead by example in offering flexible working conditions that accommodate the diverse needs of its workforce. This includes recognizing and supporting the balance between professional and personal responsibilities, which can be particularly impactful for women.

Committing to Continuous Improvement: This involves regular training on unconscious bias, fostering inclusive cultures, and holding leadership accountable for diversity and inclusion metrics. It’s about creating an environment where women feel valued, respected, and motivated to pursue and remain in high-level positions.

If you had to sum up what it is like being a woman in this male-dominated technology industry in just a few words, what would you say?

Challenging, yet rewarding and hopeful. Every obstacle presents an opportunity to pioneer change and inspire the next generation of women in tech.

Are there women in the tech industry who inspire you?

Yes, there are several remarkable women in the tech industry who have been a source of inspiration for me. Sheryl Sandberg, with whom I had the privilege to work with during my tenure at Facebook, is one of them. As the COO and the force behind the ‘Lean In’ movement, Sheryl has been instrumental in encouraging women to pursue their ambitions and challenge the status quo. Her leadership and advocacy for women’s rights in the workplace have inspired not just me but countless women across the globe to aspire to leadership roles within the tech industry and beyond.

Another influential figure is Jess Lee, a Venture Capitalist at Sequoia Capital. As an Asian-American woman, Jess Lee’s journey and success in the tech and venture capital world resonate deeply with me. Her message—that we can achieve success by embracing our authentic selves—has been particularly empowering. Her achievements and leadership style emphasize the importance of diversity and the potential to excel without compromising on our identity.

Both Sheryl and Jess exemplify the strength, resilience, and leadership that women can bring to the tech industry. They serve as powerful role models, proving that with determination and authenticity, women can break barriers and make significant contributions to the field.

What are some of the misconceptions/myths about women working in the technology space that you’d like to dispel?

In the technology space, several misconceptions about women persist that I believe are important to challenge and dispel.

First, there’s the outdated notion that women are not as technically proficient or interested in tech as men. This is fundamentally untrue. Women have been integral to advancements in computing and technology from the beginning. Their contributions, though historically underrecognized, underscore their capability and passion for the field. Talent and interest in technology know no gender boundaries.

Another myth is that women are less suited for leadership roles within tech companies due to a perceived lack of assertiveness or technical expertise. Women leaders, like Sheryl Sandberg and Jess Lee, have consistently proven they can steer companies to success, drive innovation, and cultivate inclusive cultures that boost productivity and creativity. Leadership effectiveness is about skills, vision, and the ability to inspire and manage teams – qualities that women abundantly possess.

There’s also a stereotype that women in tech must adopt a masculine approach to fit in or be successful. This myth undermines the value of diversity, suggesting there’s a ‘right’ way to be effective in the tech industry. In reality, the strength of the tech industry lies in its diversity of thought, approach, and leadership style. Women should be encouraged to lead authentically, leveraging their unique perspectives and skills.

Finally, the misconception that work-life balance challenges are unique to women can lead to biased assumptions about their commitment or suitability for demanding roles or projects. In truth, work-life balance is a universal challenge, and the tech industry must offer flexible solutions that support all employees in managing their personal and professional lives effectively.

What’s one thing you wish was done differently in the industry, and why?

One significant change I wish to see in the tech industry is a more structured approach to educating male managers on how to effectively support and communicate with their female team members. This perspective is drawn from a personal experience within my team at Evernote, where a highly competent colleague was promoted to a managerial position, his first time in such a role, with all his direct reports being women. The transition highlighted the need for specific skills and understanding to navigate this new dynamic effectively.

It became evident that while he was a great individual contributor, managing a diverse team required additional competencies, particularly in communication, empathy, and support tailored to the needs of female employees. He took the initiative to learn and adapt, which not only improved team cohesion but also enhanced our productivity and morale.

This experience underscored for me the importance of providing male leaders in tech with the tools and training to understand the unique challenges that women in the industry might face, and how to foster an inclusive environment that leverages the strengths of every team member.

Implementing regular training sessions on diversity, inclusion, and gender dynamics, along with mentorship programs that pair new managers with experienced leaders, could make a profound difference.

By focusing on developing these skills across the board, we can ensure that all employees feel supported and valued, leading to more effective teams and a more inclusive industry. It’s not just about making women fit into the tech world; it’s about making the tech world welcoming and conducive for everyone’s success.

Are you optimistic for the future in general and for the industry?

Yes, I am optimistic about the future because I believe in the potential of technology and the people who power it. With continued focus on ethical innovation, collaboration, and DEI, I see a future where technology continues to be a force for good, driving growth, solving complex problems, and creating a more equitable and sustainable world.