Employee Spotlight: Supporting girls in technology – an interview with Mounika Bugude

At IndiVillage, in partnership with U.S.-based NGO Girls Who Code, we currently run coding clubs for 50 girls out of our centers in Yemmiganur and Raichur. Meeting for a couple hours each week, girls are exposed to a rigorous computer science curriculum as well as sisterhood activities focused on building confidence and exposure to successful women in the IT field. As we look ahead to expanding the program to nearly 500 girls in the coming academic year, we sat down with Mounika Bugude, one of the lead facilitators of the program, to discuss her experience and learnings.

Tell us a little about yourself.

I’m Mounika, I work as a front-end developer on the development team. I’ve been working for 1.5 years at IndiVillage – ever since my graduation. This is my first job. I really love what I am working on – I wanted to work in this industry but never thought I’d be working on what I dreamt of: developing and designing the websites.

How did you learn about Girls Who Code?

A couple months ago I heard from my manager that we were going to start a Girls Who Code club based out of our office in Yemmiganur. I soon learned that we were going to be teaching young girls coding and life-skills. As a developer myself, I was really excited about the opportunity to share my passion with others.

Why did you decide to get involved?

I love coding and I thought ‘Why don’t we teach others, so they start to love coding and explore more?’ I have also recently wanted to explore myself in teaching and get better at interacting with students. Being a GWC facilitator is a great opportunity to do both of those things.

What has your experience been?

It has been a great experience so far. Since starting as a facilitator with GWC, I have spent a lot of time self-reflecting. I’ve had to think about what I’m good at and what I still need to improve so that I can work on myself and be a better teacher for these students. The students are also making great progress in the classes. 

Tell us about how the girls that you teach are progressing.

I interact with about 30 girls in the week, 15 per batch. For the first few classes, many students are not ready to ask questions, not ready to do summary activities in the standup sessions. But now, after a number of sessions everyone is daring enough to ask questions, like “madam I have a question in this topic, can you please explain/ repeat this topic?” They’re now also good at summarizing things that they’ve learned in class.

Mounika instructing the girls at a club meeting in Yemmiganur

Why do you think it is important for girls to participate in Girls Who Code?

The first reason is that they gain strong technical knowledge. If they want to choose computer science as their career, it will be very easy because they have previous knowledge. Another reason is that we’re not just teaching technical things to the girls – here we are teaching them how they will be in society. They gain confidence and real-life skills. 

How do you think this will affect their lives?

In addition to technical learning, we will help the girls with how to plan their futures. They can incorporate this planning for the future in their current studies. For example, when we are about to start a project in class, we won’t directly dive into the project. First, we will plan the project. We will gather the requirements and think of a way to structure the project to avoid any obstacles. If students ever have any trouble doing the projects, they know to ask someone who can help. They also learn to think of some different, creative ways to solve problems. Whenever I ask the students if they are finding GWC helpful they tell me that, “we are speeding up in our school curriculum” and that everything they learn is helpful in many different ways.

 What were the parents’ reactions to their daughters joining GWC?

They are proud that their children are learning something special. 

Any final thoughts?

I feel really thankful to have the opportunity to work with GWC because teaching the students has also helped me grow. Through facilitating the clubs, I have come to know that I am a good speaker and I can motivate children to do new things.

Breaking the Virtual Glass Ceiling

India’s Gender Gap

As more industries step into the digital age, technology has permeated every part of our lives and our society. However, the tech gender gap today puts women in the minority when it comes to the innovation and creation of this technology.

Over the past 10 years, the number of women employed in the IT industry in India has seen a rapid increase, with more than 30% of employees now being female. This contrasts with stagnation or decline in the participation of women in IT in many Western countries.  However, a number of studies show that the highest levels of female representation in technology jobs are at the entry-level, where 51% of employees are women. By the time employees are promoted to managerial positions, those numbers decline to around 25%, and at senior level, only 1% job-holders are female. 

These numbers show that attrition rates for women are very high. In reality, women with more experience would be an asset to the company, however, retaining this value seems to be an area that requires further attention. Technology is often known as the great equalizer, an unseen force that brings people together, so why aren’t more women part of the creation and integration of technology? 

Let’s find out.

Is it really important to have more women in the tech world?

To be the great equalizer it is deemed to be, technology should reflect the wide variety of needs in the world today, but it often takes bias towards the values of its creators. Take AI for example. Like all technologies, artificial intelligence systems use the data that is fed by their creators and will pass on the biases of those creators. As it stands today, the majority of those creators are male. This means that female data is often under-represented in training data sets and machine-learning models frequently do not take into account the nuances of female users. For example, early speech-to-text transcription services performed poorly with female speakers because the systems were trained and modelled to analyze primarily male speakers with lower voices.  As our society becomes more dependent on these systems, our decision-making will reflect the inputs of a workforce that is not representative of the make-up of our society. Even outside of the field of artificial intelligence, this gender bias in technology remains extremely prevalent. If you’re a woman looking for a job, you’re less likely to see targeted ads for high-paying roles than your male counterparts. And, if you had asked Apple’s Siri when it first launched, “Where can I find emergency contraception?” she wouldn’t have known what to tell you. The lack of gender diversity results in programming biases.

We need to understand the benefits of having more women playing an active role in shaping technology today. There is no doubt that having more women in technology will enable more equality and encourage other girls to pursue their tech dreams. But it’s more than that. Studies have shown that women solve problems differently, they tend to understand the human condition better, and are often more empathetic, design-focused, and emotionally intelligent.

Many industries today rely heavily on female buyers. In the US alone women account for 85% of all consumer purchases. Globally women now control $20 billion in annual consumer spending, and that figure could climb as high as $28 trillion in the next five years. Stagnant innovation in many female-oriented industries such as healthcare can be improved with fresh perspectives. Women can provide better-personalized solutions for women buyers and even enable them to live longer and healthier lives.

Industries today can no longer ignore the fact that the decisions of women affect the global economy. Women often influence household purchasing decisions and are the key decision-makers and consumers of products, putting more weight on the importance of their perspective.

How can companies support more diversity in tech? 
Tech companies need to embrace the fact that the voice of a woman is unique and necessary. In India today many women still struggle for access to basic education and then for societal acceptance and recognition in the workplace. Some of the reasons women and girls participate in STEM fields at lower rates is because of lack of encouragement, active discouragement, lack of role models, negative peer pressure, and often sexual harassment.

Female IndiVillage employees work on transcription at the Yemmiganur center

One great way to increase diversity is when the culture of the organization itself becomes more conducive to retaining and promoting women.

Companies can set up diversity events with awards to recognize best practices, addressing areas such as flexible working, return to work after maternity leave, transportation services for workers, and all-round education for the HR services functions.

To make lasting change women need to be more involved in shaping corporate policy, transforming work culture, and standard operating procedures. Women need to be provided with support and mentoring to progress their careers after graduation and maternity leave. Corporations need to provide more innovative and fulfilling roles and recognize those with the potential to create change and growth in their companies.

Some IT companies have launched several initiatives designed for women who have taken a career break and are now keen to re-join the workforce. Women who join these programs undergo extensive training to upgrade their technical and business skills, as required for today’s work environment. The duration and type of training depend upon their previous experience and interest area. Steps like these that empower women through upskilling and incite self-confidence could significantly increase women in the workforce.

We need new strategies for more inclusive and diverse technology that is better attuned to the needs of a wider audience. This can only be achieved with a change that closes the existing gaps. AI needs humans who enhance diversity and add resilience to bias while it’s still early enough to do something about it. The time has come for us to consider a new and improved future for the technology. A future that can still be shaped for the betterment of all society, with the views of all society, not just one part of it.

You want to know more about how IndiVillage is supporting women in tech? Head over to the interview with Mounika Bugude to find out more!