Hackers Clad In Salwar Suit? Hell Yes! Says This Techie
Meher Afroz from Microsoft.
Meher Afroz from Microsoft.(Photo Courtesy: Microsoft)

Hackers Clad In Salwar Suit? Hell Yes! Says This Techie

Who comes to your mind when we say the word ‘hacker’? Do you imagine a guy in a hoodie, operating from some shady basement? Well! You aren’t the only one. A simple image search on Google with the word yields multiple such images. Thank the countless TV shows and movies for this infamous gender appropriation, but it is hard to imagine a woman in charge of a technology heavy role like the ‘hacker’.

Searching ‘Hackers’ on Google search be like.
Searching ‘Hackers’ on Google search be like.
Photo: TheQuint

Contrary to this popular and sexist assumption, some hackers in our country proudly flaunt ‘salwars’ and ‘kurtis’, points out Meher Afroz from Microsoft.

Most hackathons have good participation from women. In India, it is very encouraging to see kurta and anarkali clad girls!
Meher Afroz, Microsoft
First all-female Hackathon in Chennai
First all-female Hackathon in Chennai
(Photo Courtesy: AnitaB.org India)

Meher Afroz  leads the Core Platform Engineering team for Microsoft in India. This includes building and running a range of services that enable digital transformation and innovation. In layman terms, she is a tech whiz with a 20-year experience to her credit. She also spearheads several initiatives by the tech giant to make technology more accessible and a lucrative career option for girls in India.

Meher’s early exposure to science and technology piqued her interest in the subject and later pushed her to take up a career in it.

I grew up with science experiments around me. I learnt programming much before it was introduced as a subject in school. Hence, engineering and career in technology was a natural option.
Meher Afroz, Microsoft

While Meher’s story is an inspiration, it’s rare for an average girl student in India to follow a similar career trajectory. Most hesitate to take up STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) classes for higher education.

Less than One-Third Women In Technology

In fact, going by stats shared by the Indian Institute of Technology last July, women made up a mere 8 percent of their student strength across the 23 IITs in the country. Not to mention the percentage of women falls further as one goes up higher in the chain. About 50 percent of women in technology opt for managerial or marketing portfolios, making it super hard to find many women in CTO level positions.

My own insight is that when women start their careers they start with hardcore technical roles. As they progress through their career and life situations, they take breaks, opt for other roles. The industry is recognizing this trend and is driving efforts to get these women back to mainstream technical roles. I think we have to do more of it.
Meher Afroz, Microsoft

This alarming gender imbalance at the education level has raised a red flag among the top technology companies, which are in dire need of skilled women to take up hard code technical roles.

Employers in the technology sector are ahead in creating a work environment that is conducive for women. More and more companies are embracing flexible work arrangements that provide a better work-life balance.
Meher Afroz, Microsoft

Technology Needs More Women

Why? Because turns out women are equally important consumers of technology as their male counterparts. And let’s face it, if technology companies are working hard to solve everyday problems and facilitate a better living in an average society, it should look and be representative of that average society. An average society where half the population are women.

I have been involved in several efforts to encourage girls to take careers in STEM (Science, technology, engineering and mathematics). Microsoft’s platform like DigiGirlz encourage girls to take careers in STEM.
Meher Afroz, Microsoft

Just like Microsoft, every other major tech company is incentivising women software engineers.

Inspite of these efforts, what keeps most girls from opting for a career in pure science and technology? According to Meher, it’s a lack of early exposure and baseless gender biased assumptions about the curriculum often turns girls away from the field.

“Girls do better in arts and while men are better at reasoning and analytics,” is one of the most frequently used misconceptions that put women off from chasing careers in it, Meher said.

Debunking the same, Meher points out how all of her math teachers were women.

“Excellence in mathematics is not even a prerequisite for programming. The best programmer I have known is a lady with a humanities degree,” she adds.

How to Make Technology A Lucrative Field for Girls

We need to provide visibility to roles in technology early in school life so that they can aspire to become engineers. We need to make science fun and not boring. We also need to challenge our education system to be more flexible and provide more options. The biggest incentive one can give girls is the promise for a bright future. We should absolutely work towards making it more affordable.
Meher Afroz, Microsoft

She also said that watching more women work in the field of technology will inspire them to pursue careers in the same.

Girls need to see more women role models in technology. That will serve as a huge motivation for them to choose careers in technology. I would also argue that our education system has to be more open to make it easier for students (girls and boys) to take up careers in technology.
Meher Afroz, Microsoft

Finally, Meher suggests that hands on experience in technology from an early age offers an advantage. “If girls are able to develop apps that they can use themselves, they will be more interested in it,” she says.