Chu Thi Thanh Ha, Chairwoman of FPT Software, talks about her experiences as a woman in tech, overcoming prejudice and her ambition to create a billion-dollar company.
‘MAKING’ IT AS A WOMAN IN TECH
Running a global software company is arduous, especially during a pandemic. As Chairwoman of FPT Software, an average working day during the past two years has been 14 to 15 hours.
These long hours can make life difficult for women. This is particularly true in Vietnam and Asia for those with caring roles because of the high service culture and the need to work across time zones. At FPT Software and other information technology (IT) outsourcing service providers, both business leaders and employees expect to work round the clock to meet customers’ requirements.
FPT Software powers the IT of some of the world’s largest companies in automotive, banking and finance, logistics and transportation, and utilities. With more than 700 customers in Asia, North America and Europe, the company’s sales grew by 23 percent in 2021 to more than USD$500 million. My goal is to double that to USD$1 billion by 2023.
Growth needs to be durable and sustainable, looking up to 10 years ahead. The task will demand all the resilience and determination I have shown since joining FPT Corporation, FPT Software’s parent company, as an economics graduate almost three decades ago, after rejecting more typical female careers such as teaching or marketing.
I set a goal for myself to overcome the prejudices of society and my family, to venture into a difficult but attractive field. In FPT, I saw the image of a next-gen organisation where talents are appreciated, and superiors and colleagues will act as teachers to help you grow no matter who you are or your gender.
WOMEN IN IT
In my early days at FPT, IT was not a common career choice for Vietnamese women due to its heavy workloads and low internet penetration rate. However, I was not afraid to knock on every door to market computers and IT equipment. I even crawled under desks to install computers for customers, anxiously waiting for the internet connection signal to the computer.
Back in the early 1990s when I attended a conference in Singapore, there were very few women in the hall. But in recent years, the number of women at such technical events has increased dramatically.
Similarly, at FPT, the share of women is now 39 percent, compared to 36 percent a decade ago. This represents progress in our organisation towards the encouragement and motivation of women in the IT field.
One role I have noticed senior women taking on in new tech is creating sustainable growth for their businesses. This includes environmental protection, reducing CO2 and green manufacturing processes.
Nevertheless, Asian women have fewer opportunities in IT. In North America and Europe, there are more female leaders, and they also hold higher positions.
Compared with other industries, there is now less of a gender divide in IT. In fact, one of FPT Software’s big automotive customers said that it chose to work with FPT Software partly because the company has a chairwoman. That customer explained that women leaders are better at risk management, which is extremely important during the global crisis. The key to success here is to know where your strengths are, to focus on and nurture them to perform better at work.
DRIVING DIGITAL TRANSFORMATION
The biggest challenge in driving global digital transformation and IT services is understanding complex business processes of different vertical industries such as manufacturing, healthcare or utilities. This is essential to provide tailor-made products and services that solve business pain points.
The fact that FPT Software has applied digital transformation and automated management to its own business processes has reinforced its credibility and has been highly praised by its customers.
The plan is to expand and upskill the company’s current workforce of 20,000 and gain more customers in additional countries and vertical industries. This is to optimise our mix of offshore, nearshore, and on-site delivery models to assist our clients 24/7 with competitive costs.
FPT Software’s female leaders have contributed greatly to this digital transformation and management process. During the COVID-19 phase, they worked extremely hard to maintain the health and safety of other employees through coordinating vaccination campaigns and supporting activities for employees’ families.
Effective leadership depends on setting an example. When you are the head of an organisation, people look at you for guidance, so you must role model the thoughts and actions that you would like to see in others.
I often take on the role of mentor and speak at internal workshops and training programmes such as ‘Pioneering Flag’. This initiative is aimed at improving the capabilities of FPT Software’s project and mid-level managers while enhancing their engagement with the company.
Today there are more opportunities for women to prove their abilities in becoming great leaders, but they might need inspiration and encouragement from others. That’s why I take every chance to participate in inspiring activities and to share my experience and perspective as a female leader with other women.
Leaders should think far ahead, prepare for whatever may come, and navigate their organisations. You also need to care about the people who follow you. Are they capable enough? Are they happy? What problems do they have in life? How do you help them?
Leaders with vision can drive the organisation to go far, while empathy makes sure employees are in it for the long haul. I stick to my goals and promises. No matter how difficult or boring the task is, I never leave it undone and always do my best to fulfil my commitments.