A chat with Jamie Soon, managing director of the Paris chapter of our partner Girls in Tech

Sometimes, a bad reputation is enough to keep women out of tech. Girls in Tech aims to make things better.

“The future will be full of tech — even more so than today, with the rise of 5G, AI, smart cities, IoT, and higher connectivity, just to name a few. As a result, topics like cybersecurity, killing fake news, building smart cities for men and women … will become increasingly important. If we want it to benefit men and women, then we have to get women into the boardroom as well as playing in the field.”—Jamie Soon

After partnering with Girls in Tech as part of our own CyberStarts initiative, we spoke with Managing Director Jamie Soon to learn more about her work on the gender balance in STEM and cybertech.

Kaspersky: What is your professional background?

Jamie Soon: I am a PhD scientist trained in polymer and computational chemistry, microelectronics, surface science, and nanotechnology. I’ve spent nine years in academic research and another nine years in industrial R&D for Saint Gobain and now Essilor International. As a manager, I am trained in R&D product development, project management, people management, and IP management.

K: Since its founding in 2007, what is Girls in Tech’s mission?

JS: Girls in Tech is a global nonprofit that works to put an end to gender inequality in high-tech industries and start-ups. We do that by educating and empowering women who are passionate about technology.

Girls in Tech’s mission is to support women with the access and community they need to succeed in tech, offering everything from coding courses to bootcamps to hackathons and start-up competitions no matter age or profession. We have our headquarters in San Francisco, but we are a global community, 47 chapters strong with an impact of more than 62,000 members in 33 countries. As a result, events and programming in each chapter vary to fit the unique needs of each community.

K: And what are your ambitions for this network?

JS: I started the Girls in Tech Paris chapter in 2016. As the current managing director for the chapter, my leadership mission is to bring more women into STEM, and to support those who are already in it through education, empowerment, and engagement.

In the past year, we have organized events like the Amplify women-led start-up competition, a Career Development bootcamp during the Viva Technology conference, and various after-work fireside chats with successful women leaders such as Christelle Delarue of Mad&Women. In addition, more than 150 Girls in Tech Paris members have benefited from the education opportunities to attend, free-of-charge, classes such as coding for adults and top-notch technical conferences including Big Data Paris, AI Paris, VivaTechnology, Data Marketing, and SAAS Europa. I take the time to hand-pick good conferences and negotiate to support women by providing free conference tickets.

Under my leadership, Girls in Tech Paris was awarded the France-Singapore Year of Innovation partner label in 2018.

We are currently working within our team to construct a road map for our chapter’s future, in particular, we are looking at how to target younger age groups in our education and awareness efforts in a measurable and sustainable manner.

K: How do you explain that so few women work in Tech?

JS: There could be many reasons. It’s hard to stereotype. Some commonly known reasons are that girls (or their parents) prefer to study non-tech subjects that are perceived as more “feminine.” Research has shown that women do equally well, if not better, than men, in STEM subjects in school. Some women, after being in STEM fields for some time, whether in school or later at the workplace, drop out because they feel unsupported and singled out by intentionally or unintentionally sexist comments or jokes, especially in male-dominated fields.

Sometimes, just a bad reputation is enough to keep women out of tech.

K: What is the role of a company like Kaspersky as a sponsor of the association?

JS: My officemates and I volunteer for Girls in Tech Paris on top of our day jobs. We currently have a follower crowd of more than 1,000 members in Paris.

Without the support of Kaspersky, we would not have been able to continue running our bootcamps and Amplify competitions.

K: What is Amplify?

JS: Amplify is a start-up competition for women-led start-ups. This year, we are organizing our second annual competition to help women-led start-ups grow in visibility — and more important, to help them grow their start-ups internationally. We observed measurable results for the 2018 finalists after our competition: The winner, start-up Altaroad, which builds safer, intelligent road infrastructures with nanosensors, won a one-week, expenses-paid trip to Singapore. That kick-started their ambitions to expand to Singapore because Girls in Tech Paris and our partners opened the doors for them to hold business discussions with government bodies and major road constructors in Singapore. They also got nominated by Challenges.fr as one of the 100 start-ups to invest in in 2019. Our six finalist start-ups at the 2018 competition had a booth at the VivaTechnology conference, one of the biggest innovation events in the world for start-ups and industry leaders.

K: Why are such competitions important?

JS: Women are often (too) modest about their good work, and they do not always ask to be recognized. I believe designing competitions for women creates an opportunity for them to be further recognized, and for them to know that their work is not invisible even if they do not win. Such recognitions can go a long way. Altaroad, the winner of Amplify Paris in 2018, got so much visibility after the competition it went on to be nominated by Challenges.fr as one of the 100 start-ups to invest in in 2019.

In addition, as I noted before, research has shown that women do equally well, if not better, than men, in STEM subjects in school. Hence, women have the potential to contribute to technological improvement just as well as men. Amplify helps by showcasing those talents.

K: How do you see this evolving? Will we achieve equality between men and women in cybertechnology?

JS: You know, according to a McKinsey report, companies with three or more women on their executive committees had better results on the nine dimensions of organizational performance. If we do the math, it is not hard to predict the exponential benefits a start-up or company could see with more women on the leadership team.

We see from recent news that this line is slowly being pushed forward in companies such as Facebook, General Motors, and Kaspersky. I am optimistic that with measurable results from having more women in the boardroom, this situation will be further improved in the future.

Nonetheless, today, this change is occurring too slowly. A consistent effort needs to be put in, to lock-in attained results and achieve more the next year. Otherwise, we might slip backwards into old ways. Our vision in Girls in Tech Paris is to do our part to bring about awareness and accelerate this change. Personally, I hope that by 2030, nonprofits like Girls in Tech will cease to exist with the same mission statement, because we will have attained gender equality.

K: Advice for young women who want to get into IT?

JS: There’s a Chinese proverb which says “船到橋頭自然直,” or literally, “When the boat gets to the bridgehead, it will naturally straighten itself out.” It means that we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it; everything will eventually be settled in the end. This is often true, but for the boat to straighten itself the “right” way for you, it has to be led by something strong and solid, such as passion.

So my advice is: Find and follow your passion. Always do what you enjoy doing and do not be afraid of change. The rest will come to you as you move along.

K: Any books, podcasts, Ted Talks, films to recommend?

JS: As a working mom to a young family, I do not have a lot of time for these luxuries anymore, unfortunately. Nonetheless, I try to read as much as I can because it provides a quiet moment that can be easily interrupted and continued later.

Right now, I’m reading a wonderful book by Kim Scott called Radical Candor. My next book in the queue is Tech Boss Lady, by Adriana Gascoine, Girls in Tech CEO and founder.


Dr. Jamie Soon-Kesteloot is a technical innovation manager in the R&D department of Essilor International, where she helps the company convert good ideas into patentable inventions. She is also the managing director of the Girls in Tech Paris chapter, with the ambition to inspire and empower women (and men) via their activities. Occasionally, she participates as an invited speaker in international conferences to discuss the topics she is passionate about, such as the innovation management and women in STEM. She is also an ambassador of MIT Tech Review Innovators Under 35 and a deep tech curator of Hello Tomorrow.

As a double scholarship holder with the Singapore Millennium Foundation (Temasek Holdings) and Chartered Semiconductors (now Global Foundry), Soon completed her PhD in Chemistry at the National University of Singapore, where she trained to acquire expert knowledge in nanotechnology and microelectronics. Prior to joining Essilor International, she had a technical career at Saint-Gobain, University Paul Sabatier, and the Japanese synchrotron SPring-8.