Silvia Thom, Zalora CTO

Silvia Thom has worked in many varied industries in her career spanning one-and-a-half decades – from music and gaming to crowdfunding and beauty. All of these roles have taken her across the globe.

Her first brush with the digital world happened when e-commerce had just about started to gain grounds in Europe. She was  country manager at the crowdfunding platform  SellABand in Tokyo, Japan, and went on to be the Head of Product at Glossybox.

She joined Zalora in 2013 in the role of a senior product manager. Over the years, she worked her way to rise the ranks at the company where she is now the Chief Technology Officer (CTO). She talks about how e-commerce and technology have changed the world around us in the last decade in this chat with Women Icons Network.

Rise of E-Commerce

While Silvia was always interested in technology, she chose to steer her career into the field when it was first starting to flourish in Europe. Eventually, as the e-commerce industry showed no signs of slowing down, she also decided to make the transition and dive fully into the world of e-commerce amidst the endless career opportunities available.

When she joined Zalora, she started familiarising herself with all parts of the tech stack along with the technology team. She says that growing familiarity with the tech products, business processes and stakeholders over the many years has been incredibly fulfilling, and has contributed significantly to her growth at the company.

“I never thought that I would be able to assume the position of CTO one day! However, when the opportunity came about, it felt very natural to make the transition – especially with the strong backing of the rest of the management team,” says Silvia. Two years into her role as CTO, her passion for technology has only become stronger. She hopes to be able to continue inspiring and empowering other women who aspire to chart their own paths in the field.

Women in Tech

Silvia believes that we are slowly unlocking the potential of technology for gender equality, but it is not yet at a speed that is satisfying or acceptable for everyone. “To quicken the process, we urgently need to create an environment that allows women to find entry points into jobs in tech, and empower them to create their own career paths in the field,” she suggests.

Having more female entrepreneurs and founders in the industry would definitely help fuel this change, and even increase its pace, she says. Female leaders in the tech space, she feels, play an important role in inspiring change and supporting other women to achieve their dreams.

Talking about herself, she describes how she does her part by serving as a coach to other aspiring female leaders through mentorship programmes or speaking at industry events. “I also have been taking cues from female entrepreneurs based in Germany. I find that many are very relatable, down-to-earth, and mindful of their work-life balance, while performing well in their roles,” she informs. This is something that she would love to see more of in the Southeast Asian technology space in the near future.

AI & Gender Equality

With the rise of artificial intelligence in the tech space, Silvia thinks it is important to question whether AI will be inclusive and diverse enough. According to research by the World Economic Forum and LinkedIn, only 22% of the jobs in AI were held by women in 2018, with even fewer holding senior roles, she shares.

“This is a worrying statistic, as women in leadership – and especially those in the technology industry – are already often perceived as being less suitable for technology roles as compared to their male counterparts,” she says. She adds that the responsibility lies with big technology companies, who are able to put the right thinking and governance in place to ensure gender equality in the industry.

This, she says, can be done through the creation of a supportive community for women, the assurance of more women role models as female leaders, and the implementation of fair and equal hiring practices. Silvia thinks that if this is not prioritised, there is a risk that the world of technology will continue to grapple with the issue of gender inequality.

For the Aspiring 

For girls and women who wish to have a career in STEM, she has a simple advice: Dream big, and follow your interests and ambitions. They should never be afraid to take on learning experiences, or to ask for opportunities.

She also says that ambitious young people should not get distracted by what other people are doing. “If you feel like you are the one for the job – just lean into it and go for it! It will be hard, but it will all be worth it in the end,” says Silvia.

Every bit of work that you do in the technology space counts, as it helps to shape the future for the next generation of women keen to enter the industry, she believes. She adds that we are all walking on a path that someone else had paved for us, so we should continue to do the same for others to come.