Experiences count a lot, don’t they? What you see and what you feel as you grow up, shapes the personality of who you are as an adult. At the final months of my last teen years, I often take extreme caution as to what ideas I let in, and how I project myself outward. One of those things I let in so is pain. The pain of loneliness, not of alone in a room on a Saturday night or loneliness in a crowd, but that of a third kind, that of discrimination and bias, not of a day or a phase, but that felt over centuries, loneliness that I find togetherness with many. Yes, Together but still alone.
Pain burns, it burns you through hell. And when you go through that level of pain, you have got to do something about it. You can’t stay still. You just can’t. Partner’s in pain, Sreepriya and I gave birth to PEHIA.
The inception period of PEHIA taught me lessons, a few hard and confusing ones. A riddle I am yet to solve. I really don’t know where to begin. But for the sake of not turning this article to a uni course, I think I’ll stick to the concept.
Nothing starts overnight. However I think and act today, whatever “socially aware” citizen that you so fondly call me, that I hope I am becoming, whatever I write today or try to do, has it’s rooted firmly set at home. Growing up with an almost feminist dad and working mom seeds the very first thoughts of the so-called “modern-thinking”. The active discussion on political issues at the dining table, the encouragement and freedom to read, the voluntary “traditional lady duties” gave me space and time to become who I am becoming. It’s not that I don’t have my list of “I wish”es, but compared to many, I have been rightfully privileged. Indian parents freak out when you show what is traditionally a western filmy form of love and gratitude. Hence on a public platform, I say, Thank you, Dad. Thank you, Mom. You are amazing parents.
Imagine in a parallel universe, you are a guy sitting amidst a group of say 50 women at a kudumbashree meeting. Uncomfortable? Now assume that the rule of matriarchy for centuries, the over acknowledgement of the gender of people around you, an uneasy feeling of submissiveness, discomfort and vulnerability decided to give you company. That’s how I used to feel, being one among the very few at the technical meetups around Cochin. This is where I met my partner in all things good, Sreepriya Radhakrishnan. Don’t know how things would have turned out without you.
The ICFOSS Women’s Hackathon held in August 2017 brought the word ‘together’ in what was previously was just ‘alone’. It gave me a whole new sense to the word ‘hack’. The experience made me realize that being a female gave me an additional responsibility to hack my life out of the gender gap before I could be acknowledged for my other hacks. I remember vividly the love and sense of belonging I felt, when at 9 pm one night in the ICFOSS office at Thejaswini Infopark, Trivandrum, I heard around 30 other girls say experiences and thoughts that echoed in me for years. I am not the only one after all. Aishwariya chechi, how can we ever thank you enough?
This feeling of togetherness that we (Sreepriya and I) felt was too good not to share. Hence, the formation of WOMENDEV. Starting this wasn’t easy. Though gendthe er gap in the industry is very evident, though you see the restrictions placed on the women around you every time and every day, you wouldn’t understand it’s strength and effect until you are a victim to the system. You don’t get the power of gravity when you see that all it does is make things fall down. You realize its power when you open your vision wide enough to see that the moon holds on to the earth due to the same gravity. You never know the power of things unless your perspective is wider. You know the way rape victims get blamed for someone forcing themselves on them, saying they were asking for it? I sometimes feel it is the same when men say, women just don’t want to.
Since the majority assumed that to be the reason, rather than a cumulative of social, traditional and cultural parameters, PEHIA decided to ask the girls themselves, why they think or why there are very few women in tech. Rather than men squabbling over why girls aren’t participating in tech, I think it makes more sense to let the girls talk. We don’t want to be another Sigmund Freud talking about female orgasms. Do we?
The brainstorming results are as above.Now, though laziness has been marked a reason, I surely believe that the same would be a reason for any gender. The point to put across is that, this isn’t the only reason. A vast majority of girls do want it, it’s just that they have to be twice as good to achieve the same. Pulls me to an analogy how good, a candidate of the general category have to be to secure a medical seat when compared to an OBC.
We have asked the candidates what they have to say about the lesser woman representation in tech. I was lucky to get the chance ask a few at the hiring end, or the CEO’s of upcoming startups why they think there are lesser women in tech at the recent Product Hunt meetup in Cochin. The conversation started off them saying what their company is about and me telling what I wanted to do. Hence it was an easy slide to the conversation.
“How is the women representation you have?” This usually returned an answer of either “I don’t have any” or them nodding “we really don’t have much”. So the next automatic question would be “Oh why??” What follows is an abstract of the different answers I received.
We haven’t received a single resume Though it was a bit hard for me to digest at first, this could be a reason. But why? I leave it for the reader to think.
75% of the resume are women, but we don’t see any of quality. Considering the number of women engineers that pass out each year, it is no surprise that you receive a majority of women applications. With the severe focus on girls to traditionally score more marks and be a rank holder, meanwhile also excelling in culinary and housekeeping skills, you really can’t be surprised that a lot of them gets no time or aren’t motivated or inspired enough to develop their other skills.
We don’t have an office yet. Women find it uncomfortable to work at an apartment. Startups are awesome learning sites, and working for one is one of the best experiences ever. But since, most of the women have been led to believe that all men out there is out to get them, and men really can’t see anything above sex when they look at you, I get it why she would find it uncomfortable to work in a closed apartment with majority guys.
Late night work and time-bound projects. Men are usually preferred when a time-bound project is kept. Why? Well, as one entrepreneur had rightly noted “even if she wants to stay late and work, her family wouldn’t really allow so. If she is to go home and work… I don’t think that really works” Hmm…I wonder why that works for a guy, why he doesn’t need permissions, or he doesn’t have a share of household chores to do. All these talks about women not wanting to do, leading us back to the family. Why is family just the women’s job?
One person openly said, because of the above reason, we actually prefer men for hire. And to me, it made logical sense, you couldn’t complain from a business perspective.
But nowhere did I hear, nowhere did I see, that there are fewer women in tech because that ain’t a girls thing or that girls simply can’t do that.
So, the riddle basically goes like this. Tech is an awesome field to work in. But we have very few women working in its cream layer. Why? Women aren’t exposed to technology as much. Why? Due to traditional and socio-economic reasons.The expectations of us, the environment we are in etc play a huge role. How can we break that? Well, bring more women into tech. How do we do that? Inspire, motivate and nurture those who are currently trying to get in, so that more are inspired and felt welcome. But we prefer men for hire. Why? Because a lot of women can’t work to their full potential or don’t gain enough quality over the years. Why? Because of traditional and socio-cultural reasons. But that is what we are trying to break na?
Got caught in an infinite loop.Back on level zero. How do we try to solve this riddle?Maybe it will change over time. Yes, I hope it does. But what about the girls of today?What about the she-coders dreams and passion? What about the present?
I leave it to the reader to judge/answer.Can you really wave off our dreams and passions?
Originally published on medium