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"I Shunned Stereotypes like 'Women are Bad at Maths and Not Fit For Engineering' and Today I Lead an Engineering Team at Coursera"

"I Shunned Stereotypes like 'Women are Bad at Maths and Not Fit For Engineering' and Today I Lead an Engineering Team at Coursera"

While digital literacy is slowly empowering women across the country, gender imbalance in IT companies and eductional institutions is still prevalent. Women make up for just 8% of the student strength at 23 IITs across the country. And, every IT company has a high rate of women dropouts after marriage or child birth. "Only a few women in tech in India reach the top positions. Deeply ingrained cultural factors play a strong role, making it difficult for women to stay in demanding tech jobs," says Priya Gupta, Engineering Manager at Coursera. In an interview with us, she shares interesting tips for every woman in tech.

Q. What is your overall role at Coursera?
I lead a talented team of engineers on the consumer growth team at Coursera. Our latest project is to rebuild Coursera's onboarding experience, which asks learners about their backgrounds and interests in order to serve personalized course recommendations.

Apart from my day-to-day role of managing my team, I also co-lead Women@ Coursera Employee Resource Group. Our group strives to create an environment at Coursera where women thrive - via professional development, community building, and recruitment. I have also led various hiring initiatives in partnership with our recruiting team, primarily with an eye towards improving diversity in technical roles.

Q. What is your take on women in tech in India?
When I went to undergrad in India at IIT Delhi, there were less than 10% women in my year, and even now, this number hovers around 10% for IITs. There are many barriers to young girls entering engineering majors that lead to such numbers - a patriarchal society that doesn't encourage parents to send their daughters to expensive coaching classes; that stereotypes girls as being "not good at maths", and thereby engineering; and considers it unsafe for girls to study in far-away coaching or engineering schools (sometimes rightfully so). From what I hear, the situation is better in other engineering colleges (and the overall STEM field), which don't require intensive coaching to enter.

Starting with such low numbers, it's no wonder that the fraction of women in technical roles in the workforce is also small. This combined with a high rate of dropout from the workforce means very few women in tech in India ever reach the top positions. To a certain extent, this is due to factors that women face across the world in tech - unconscious bias, stereotype threat, work-life balance. In most households in India, women are still expected to take on most of child care, household work and managing family. Even when help is available, women are on the hook for the mental load, but men are free to put 100% into their careers.

Given these challenges, the chance of success for women in tech can seem bleak, and sustained, big societal leaps are needed to address this leaky workforce pipeline. My advice to the women working in tech would be to believe in yourself and fight for your career. Your career is as important as your partner's — be empowered to divide household and childcare responsibilities equally. I certainly acknowledge that this is easier said than done, especially when faced with expectations from all directions, but you owe it to yourself, your daughters, and generations of girls to come.

Q. What are the 3 most important things needed to succeed in the tech world

Focus on learning. It can seem overwhelming at times, but it's also exciting to be in a field that's evolving and growing - and you have to keep up to stay relevant. Don't be afraid to learn and try new things or experiment. Thankfully, there are tons of online resources to help.

Technology is a powerful change agent . I'd encourage folks in tech to work on things that matter. Focus on solving the hard & meaningful problems. Solving hard and challenging problems is the best way to grow as well!

People skills matter in tech as much as in any other role or field , whether it's working well with your colleagues, or understanding your customer. So make sure that in addition to learning hard technical skills, you also develop your leadership and communication skills and understand the business you're in.

Q. Give 3 hacks to succeed in a foreign land and combat cultural obstacles

Always be open to new experiences, ideas and points of view, whether it's trying out a new cuisine or trying to understand how american football works. Most importantly, really listen to the people around you and value their perspectives.

Whenever possible, be your unique self. You have unique perspectives, ideas and a way of life that can enrich others around you. So, use that to your advantage - whether at work, or in your personal life.

Create a strong network of friends and supporters around you - both from your own and other cultures . This is probably the most important thing. Invest in relationships, and people will invest back in you. Being lonely is probably the last thing you want in a foreign land.

(Also read: I Chose 'Difficult But Rewarding' Over 'Easy But Boring', And That's My Lifehack To Success: Kiran Bedi )

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