Serial entrepreneurship and half the sky – an interview with human capital expert Sabrina Ho

Sabrina Ho, founder of half the sky.

Girls in Tech Singapore (GITSG) kicks off a week celebrating women with Sabrina Ho – serial entrepreneur, human capital expert and founder of half the sky (HTS). HTS is a career platform for women; its mission is to level the playing field for women at work, and help companies that care to build a diverse talent pipeline.

Could you give us a background of your entrepreneurial beginnings? What motivates you to set up half the sky?

I was working in large executive search companies in Hong Kong and Singapore for over ten years and getting disappointed with the culture and transactional nature in large recruitment firms. I decided to embark on my first entrepreneurial venture setting up a recruitment practice, the leap into entrepreneurship was scary for me and it required a massive shift in mindset going from a paid employee to managing my own business and dealing with hiring, payroll, marketing, legal, corporate tax etc.

However, it’s also prepared me mentally for my next entrepreneurial venture, which is half the sky a career platform for women. Having been in the recruitment industry for the past ten years, I’ve witnessed the unique challenges female candidates faced in the workforce, this deeply motivated me to utilize technologies to set up a platform where female candidates can find better job opportunities and equip them with information and data to enable them to make informed career choices. Hence, is born!

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Is there a reason for the name half the sky?

Yes, being from Hong Kong, my dad always used to tell me when I was young: “敢於鬥爭,敢於勝利,婦女能頂半邊天.” – which translates into “Dare to Struggle, Dare to Win, Women Hold Up Half The Sky. This always struck a chord in my mind as a very powerful proverb that could not be more relevant for today’s push for female empowerment and inclusion!

The name is reflective of my upbringing as I was fortunate to have parents who always motivated me to be whatever, I wanted to be and follow my dreams – half the sky for me is a representation that women can do anything they set their mind to and gender equality is essential especially in the workforce, hence we hold up “half the sky”.

Along your entrepreneurial journey, what are the difficulties/obstacles that you have met and overcome? Is there any unforgettable incident that stuck?

Over the years I’ve faced many challenges to be honest; the biggest I can recall was losing a quarter of a million dollars in sales in a week as one by one my deals collapsed – it really knocked my self-confidence but luckily, I picked myself back up from this to come back stronger.

I would also say that building my new venture half the sky, is probably the most challenging and the steepest learning curve I’ve experienced, as everything is out of my comfort zone; from putting together a team to build the platform from scratch and handling the technology side of issues, community building, and social media marketing etc. However, as Ginni Rometty (CEO of IBM) said: – “Growth and Comfort Do Not Coexist!”, this motto has continuously kept me going.

What are your future business goals? What changes or improvements can users and customers anticipate in the next two to five years?

I truly believe that the biggest challenge for corporates now and in the future is getting access to skilled talent in this fast-changing global economy – and female talents are especially underserved.

Traditional recruitment practices do not meet the needs of female talents and current and emerging challenges that they face, although we are in the early stages of the platform, my main goal is to build a community with utility. I hope we can make a difference in female professional lives, by being a trusted and resourceful go-to career portal helping them to find better jobs at companies that care.

I hope in the next two to five years we can grow into more Asian countries and introduce new technologies to the platform such as augmented reality (AR) to enhance the user experience to become a truly digitized leading career finder and adviser for female talents.

What role does technology currently play in your entrepreneurship journey? Has it made achieving your vision/ideas easier or harder?

Technology is an essential part of my entrepreneurial journey, although I’m not technically trained in software design for example – I have had to quickly learn the basics and principles to try and keep up to speed in what is always a fast-changing environment.

I personally think as the economy transitions into a digital economy any entrepreneur today has to have a tech focus, without one how can you reach an audience of millions or potentially billions of people? Although we are still very early in our venture, we have already seen the breadth and depth of reach that technology offers – which could never have been achieved using traditional methods.

half the sky posts insights and thought leadership from female industry and tech leaders on its social media to empower and inspire.

What’s one piece of advice you would like to give to encourage women to pursue entrepreneurship?

Firstly, entrepreneurship is not for everybody, one thing people have to realize from the outset is that it’s going to be tough, it’s going to be scary and you will face many obstacles and likely fall down many times on this journey. That’s just the reality; however, “Life is not about how many times you fall down. It’s about how many times you get back up.”

If you have this resilient and can-do mentality then I would encourage you to go for it, as it’s such a great feeling seeing your vision turn into reality and gain the independence that entrepreneurship gives you.

What do you think women should do as part of career planning – especially in a climate where jobs that never existed before are now in demand?

I think this is a key and critical challenge for female professionals going forward in the workforce – the deep structural changes that are taking place in the global economy, due to technological innovation, means that the skills you have today may not be and probably will not be relevant in the next 5-10 years.

This means it’s essential that female talent urgently need to prepare themselves to remain relevant in the workforce of tomorrow. I suggest to those who ask for advice to start by changing mindsets and being prepared to learn and unlearn. On a practical note you can follow these steps:

  1. Map out the skills you have list at least ten
  2. Research the skills that will be in demand in the future for your sector or industry
  3. Find your interest and passion  
  4. Upskill yourself via eLearning courses which can equip you with additional skills you will need for the workforce of tomorrow
  5. Don’t wait act now – the changes in the economy are moving fast – it’s essential to start now.

Emphasizing the point, recent research reported by the IMF revealed that women are employed in the majority of automated and AI-threatened roles. Given the current rates of tech evolution, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) estimates that 26 million female dominated jobs across 30 countries (including Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan, South Korea) are at risk of disappearing. It also predicts that 180 million women’s jobs globally are at risk of displacement.

More worrying still is the fact that there is a deficit in knowledge of essential machine learning skills among women, with men outpacing them by 85%. This demonstrates the urgent need to upskill women in these areas.

What’s coming up next for you and half the sky?

A lot of exciting things are happening, we are working with several leading MNCs as we build out the career platform adding new exciting jobs every day.

We also have an exciting half the sky interview series that we are producing – where we interview leading female executives in Asia.

I will also be speaking on several career panels and conferences in the coming months. It’s going to be a busy few months as we build awareness of the platform – so stay tuned!

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