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To fix the gender ratio at IITs, start at grassroots level: Kaupriya, Product Manager at Google

Kanupriya Agarwal, Product Manager at Google and an alumna of Apeejay Kharghar says volunteering is a great way to learn new skills and contribute to society

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As a Product Manager, Kanupriya identifies the customer need and the larger business objectives that a product or feature will fulfill, and rallies a team to turn that vision into a reality. According to Kanupriya, the product manager is also known as the ‘mini-CEO’ and that’s because, like the CEO, the product manager needs to lead the cross-functional team and sit within the centre of all activity. After graduating with a double major (Computer Science and Maths) from the Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur, she joined Flipkart as a Product Manager. Later she worked with Crejo.Fun, an online extracurricular learning platform for children in the same role before joining Google. She has also taught kids at an orphanage and feels strongly about community service. In a candid interview, Kanupriya talks about the skills she learned at school, the importance of Community Service, the status of women in the technology sector, and more. Edited excerpts: 

What are the life skills you learned at Apeejay?                                  

I studied in Apeejay Kharghar from class 3 till class 12. I am now realising how through my participation in extracurricular activities I gained a lot of soft skills such as communication proficiency, leadership attributes, teamwork, managing diversity and conflict, etc. I was also the Head Girl of the school. Many don’t comprehend the importance of non-academic activities in enhancing your employability. For instance, at the workplace we are continuously talking to people, managing stakeholders, writing mails, organising meetings, building consensus…to effectively accomplish all such tasks soft skills are paramount.

According to you, why is Community Service important?

After class 12, I took a gap of one year to prepare for IIT JEE, but you can only study so much. I thought what better way to refresh myself than teaching at a nearby orphanage. Hence, I started teaching Mathematics and English to 5-8 students of standard 6-10 of Balgram Orphanage, New Panvel East. I also tutored 5 middle school girls at Prem Dan Social Service Centre, Navi Mumbai in Science and conducted activities like card-making, clay moulding etc. I really enjoyed the whole experience for two reasons. First, it reinforced what I already knew and helped me inculcate patience. I also learned multiple ways of teaching a concept. Secondly, the whole process was immensely satisfying and rewarding. The children feel inspired when young people teach or spend time with them. I also believe volunteering is practical. One can contribute as per his/her capacity. Even if you can’t spare more than a day in a month to volunteer, don’t hesitate, and think it won’t make a difference. Every minuscule effort counts. 

What’s your take on the state of women in the tech industry?

The participation of women in the tech field has seen a steady increase from the past few years. As a result, I can see the difference on the ground. For instance, my manager and skip manager are both females. However, women still trail their male counterparts in terms of pay, remuneration, top roles and representation. I was lucky enough to  always have a supportive environment both at home and at school. My father, who is my biggest inspiration, cheered me on to join the tech industry. He works as a Principal Consultant to Unified Mobile Application for New-age Governance (UMANG) one of the key initiatives under the Digital India programme to develop a common, unified platform and mobile app to facilitate a single point of access to all government services. There’s no doubt we need more women in tech. For instance, in 2013 when I joined IIT the men to women ratio was 1:10 i.e. there were 1 woman for every 10 men. This skewed ratio only gets worse in the professional world. I remember during the college orientation, I was sitting in the auditorium and I couldn’t see any other girl. From the second day itself, I knew the names of all the 80 odd girls in the campus. In fact, our seniors made us write the names of all other girls and told us to ‘have each other’s backs’. Initially, it felt a rather lonely place for women. However, after a few months things became normal and I made a lot of friends. The atmosphere in the campus was fantastic and I never once felt unsafe. 

So, what can be done to attract more female students to engineering? 

To fix the gender ratio at IITs, start at grassroots level.  Though the government has introduced more seats in IITs and other higher education institutes for women and launched women-oriented scholarships, there needs to be change driven at the grassroots level. Girls first need to be educated, but it doesn’t stop there. They should then be encouraged to join the workforce, otherwise what’s the point of education. Women also need active support from their spouses and in-laws. I agree this can’t happen overnight, but I am positive about the future.

Dheeraj Sharma is Asst. Editor (Newsroom). He covers events, webinars, conducts interviews and brings you exciting news snippets. He has over 10 years' of experience in prominent media organizations. He takes pleasure in the small things in life and believes a healthy work-life balance is key to happiness. You can reach him at [email protected]

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