ROLE MODEL – Inspiring Story of Women in STEM in Asia Pacific


In her current role as the Deputy Manager for Information Systems at Allied Insurance Company of the Maldives, Aishath Adnan is an accomplished technology management professional climbing the ladder in field of technology. She leads skilled software development teams, utilizing her hands-on experience with tech solutions and products designed to enhance business efficiency. She has also worked as an e-government consultant, designing and executing tech solutions for the government of the Maldives’ National Center for Information Technology. In 2018, while gaining her Master’s degree, she founded Women in Tech Maldives, a non-profit organization and support system dedicated to inspiring, empowering, and celebrating women in science and technology in the Maldives.

What was your childhood like? Growing up, were you encouraged to follow a STEM education and career path? Are any of your family members in STEM professions?

I was born in Fuvahmulah, one of the southernmost islands in the Maldives. Growing up, my family instilled in me the freedom to choose my own path of study. I have a younger brother who has achieved success as a tech entrepreneur.

Tell us about your path to your career? What were the struggles at home, school, work, etc.? What do you do to confront those challenges and stay the course?

During my school days, I didn't find much interest in formal education. Instead, I was more drawn to forming teams and working on activities, whether it was participating in Girl Guides or engaging in extracurricular projects. The idea of a future career wasn't really on my radar until after finishing my O'levels, when people began asking me what I wanted to become.

My journey into the tech world has been quite a ride, driven by curiosity and the search for opportunities. I grew up on this island, and tech always seemed like this far-off thing. But I decided to check it out in the capital city of Male’. I started with a computer science diploma course, not really knowing where it would lead. Turns out, I loved learning about tech, and then I had to find my own opportunities to complete a bachelor's degree in computer science and software engineering.

Then came a big challenge – I had to take a break from my career when I had a baby. Going from work to being at home was tough, and I even went through postpartum depression. Getting back into the work groove was no picnic either, with job rejections piling up.

Raising a child with just my husband's support had its own share of struggles. To deal with the depression I moved abroad to study for my Master's degree, however I had to stop in the middle as I didn't have the funds to continue. But things took a turn when I came back home and started working as an e-government consultant for the government of the Maldives.

Working for the government not only gave me stability but also helped me make my dream of a Master's degree a reality. Despite a five-year gap, I hustled and earned enough funds to finish my degree.

During this time, after several tries, I began to find a support system and co-founded Women in Tech Maldives.

What is it like to be one of few women in your office, especially at a management level? How do you persevere? What kind of support do you seek?

Being one of the few women in a management position in the tech sector comes with its own set of challenges and opportunities. It can sometimes feel a bit lonely, but I see it as a chance to bring diverse perspectives and make a meaningful impact on the team.

To keep going, I focus on building my confidence through everyday learning and hands-on experience. Connecting with other women in similar roles and being part of professional networks is crucial for sharing experiences and navigating the ups and downs of my role.

When it comes to support, I genuinely value the backing of my team, which places a strong emphasis on professional growth, offers ample opportunities for development, and acknowledges the significance of my opinions and decisions. The open communication within our team and with supervisors creates a collaborative environment where concerns or biases can be transparently addressed, fostering a culture of mutual respect and understanding.

And on the home front, my family is my rock. They get the challenges of juggling it all – raising a child while being active in both my professional and community roles. Their constant support, alongside the camaraderie at work, forms a complete network that fuels both my personal and professional journey.

What do you think needs to happen to enable more women to go into STEM careers in your country? What is the best way to try to change cultural norms around women in STEM and in leadership positions?

Enabling more women in STEM careers requires comprehensive efforts, including educational reforms, supportive company practices, and government initiatives. Educational reforms should prioritize STEM careers and provide networking opportunities for women. Companies should actively recognize and celebrate women's contributions, contributing to changing cultural norms. Government support with national-level strategies is crucial for empowering women in STEM.

In my view, both private and public sectors can significantly impact societal perceptions by investing in and offering leadership opportunities for women in tech. This not only changes public perceptions but also serves as visible proof of women excelling in STEM fields, inspiring young girls to pursue STEM careers. Collaborative efforts with civil society organizations and community groups, promoting local role models, are vital for enhancing initiatives supporting women in STEM

Did you have a role model? Research shows that role models are key to increasing share of women in STEM fields. What do you think?

Absolutely! Growing up on my island, my younger brother was my first source of inspiration in technology. His influence ignited my interest in the field. As I delved deeper, I discovered role models like Melanie Perkins, the founder of Canva. Her entrepreneurial journey and the impact of Canva in the tech industry has been truly motivating for me.

Moreover, the Women in Tech Maldives support team has played a significant role in shaping my aspirations. Their diverse skills and experiences have provided me with a valuable roadmap for success in the tech industry.

Have you experienced gender-based discrimination at work? If so, what happened?

While personally, I haven't encountered gender-based discrimination at work, my involvement in community initiatives with Women in Tech Maldives has brought me close to stories of women courageously challenging stereotypes and unconscious biases in the workplace. Through this engagement, I've witnessed firsthand the importance of advocating for equality and fostering an inclusive environment for all.

What is your advice to women still unsure of whether STEM is for them? What is your advice to women who feel excluded at work or at university?

To women still unsure about pursuing STEM, my advice is to explore the diverse career paths within the field. I firmly believe there's something for everyone, and all it takes is passion and confidence. Embrace your unique perspectives and multitasking abilities, as these qualities can be your greatest advantages in STEM. Remember, failing fast and early is better than never having tried at all. It provides ample room for improvement and valuable learning experiences that ultimately contribute to your growth.

For those feeling excluded at work or university, building a support system is crucial. Join professional networks in your domain, connect with people, and learn from their experiences in overcoming challenges. This network can be a valuable support system. I would also say join networking and professional events in the field, be it online or in person and explore the opportunities for growth. Equally important is working on developing your confidence. Don't hesitate to take a step back and restart if needed; it's a journey, and your resilience will be your greatest asset.

Where do you think your country sits in comparison to others in gender equality in STEM?

In the Maldives, overall participation in the technology sector is limited, and women's representation is notably low. Over recent years, concerted initiatives have sought to bring attention to this issue. It is my hope that sustained efforts and ongoing initiatives will contribute to a positive transformation, ushering in a more inclusive environment that encourages increased participation of women in the technology sector.

Was it hard to get a job in your field? If so, why?

After completing my first degree, my goal was to step into the realm of algorithm development. However, upon reentering the job market, I found a lack of specific opportunities in that field. Navigating the dynamic landscape of the technology industry, I faced the challenge of aligning my core skills with the available job landscape.

In response, I chose to pivot and embrace roles that were available, actively acquiring additional skills along the way. The initial difficulty of not finding positions that precisely matched my core skills led me to take a more flexible approach, allowing me to grow and climb the professional ladder by continuously expanding my skill set. This adaptive journey underscored the resilience required in the ever-evolving landscape of the technology industry.

Was it hard to get a job in your field? If so, why?

My field is highly competitive to get into and requires years of training and effort. There is a lot of responsibility. But once you are done training, a job per se is not hard to obtain, simply because it is a very specialized and in-demand role. Also, I feel there is high job satisfaction, and that begins during your training period. You also are paid as a trainee, which is not common.

How is the work-life balance for STEM professionals? Is this perceived as an obstacle?

As a woman in STEM, I find that work-life balance in the field is complex. While certain STEM professions demand high availability, there are others that seamlessly integrate into a balanced life. Today companies are increasingly recognizing the importance of fostering a positive work-life balance, with remote work options becoming more prevalent.

Despite the challenges some STEM jobs pose, particularly in terms of availability, I believe that being a woman in this field offers unique flexibility. When managing a family and raising children, finding opportunities in companies that prioritize work-life balance can make STEM careers not only feasible but also accommodating. Remote work adds an extra layer of flexibility, presenting numerous growth opportunities within the field. Overall, while certain STEM roles may be demanding, the evolving landscape and the emphasis on work- life balance create an environment where women can thrive professionally while still attending to familial responsibilities. .