An entrepreneur involved in the mobile, digital & telecommunication industry, Kuala Lumpur-based Johary Mustapha has founded a few tech companies with core business in telecoms, digital advertising, cybersecurity and successfully scaled the business to over 14 countries.

Founder and CEO of Forest Interactive, Johary sits on the board of the National Tech Association of Malaysia (PIKOM), holds an advisory role to the Malaysian Mobile Tech Association (MMTA) and an Industry Board Member of University Malaysia (UNIMY). He also serves as a mentor and judging committee member in the various Malaysia Digital Economy Corporation (MDEC) Grant programs to deserving tech companies.

In a recent interview with Collective for Equality, he shared insights into his background and extensive experience in the tech industry. A passionate advocate for gender equality, Johary shed light on the importance of male allyship in addressing the gender gap in STEM fields. In this article, we delve into Johary’s perspective on fostering diversity, supporting women in tech, and the initiatives his organization has undertaken.

Forest Interactive’s initiatives provide practical examples of how companies can actively contribute to narrowing the gender gap and fostering diversity within their ranks. As the tech industry continues to evolve, embracing a culture of equality and diversity becomes not only a moral imperative but a strategic advantage.

Early Beginnings

Johary’s journey in the mobile digital and telecommunications space has been nothing short of remarkable. “My journey has always been deeply rooted in the landscape of mobile digital and telecommunications,” Johary stated. Founding tech companies related to telecom, digital advertising, and cybersecurity, he successfully scaled these ventures to operate in over 14 countries, earning recognition from the tech industry.

Johary attributes the low representation of women in STEM careers to educational choices and cultural factors. “As an Asian culture, Malaysians are not so vocal. There is a lot of need to interact, engage with women to understand how they view careers,” he emphasized. Johary advocates for teachers to play a crucial role in educating both men and women about the future of the tech industry, creating awareness about diverse opportunities within the digital ecosystem.

Male Allyship in Tech

“Men need to actively support and promote our female colleagues,” Johary emphasized, highlighting the crucial role men, especially leaders, play in fostering gender equality. He stressed the importance of creating an inclusive environment through open discussions about women in leadership, challenging stereotypes, and advocating for equal opportunities. “Effective allyship involves daily intentional actions,” Johary added, emphasizing small, deliberate efforts in hiring and promotion.

Within Forest Interactive, Johary highlighted initiatives promoting gender diversity. “We have women comprising 65% of the management team,” he pointed out. The organization actively fosters a culture of inclusion through sharing sessions led by women leaders, inclusive HR policies, and flexible work arrangements. Johary emphasized the importance of understanding and addressing the specific challenges faced by female talents.

While Forest Interactive does not have specific programs for female sponsorship, they have a buddy program for new joiners. “We couldn’t have a one-size-fits-all initiative. We really have to segmentize the talents,” Johary stated. Recognizing the diverse needs of talents, the organization actively involves them in designing policies that suit their teams, promoting work-life balance.

Addressing Challenges and Open Communication

Acknowledging the emotional aspect women bring to work, Johary stressed the need for open communication. “The key is to encourage a culture where they can give their feedback without fear,” he said. Johary encourages creating an environment where feedback, even if emotional, is understood and absorbed. “In a professional working environment, we should actually think professionally, objectively,” he added.

Reflecting on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and gender equality, Johary emphasized the gradual nature of change. “Look at our cultures and how that affects the workplace balance where change takes slightly longer time,” he stated. Johary believes government intervention and policy-building play a key role in influencing companies to adopt gender-inclusive policies voluntarily.

“I think you could actually put a carrot to the situation,” Johary suggested when discussing the idea of enforcing gender representation quotas. He emphasized incentivizing companies through tax benefits or other perks to voluntarily prioritize gender inclusivity.