“Yes You Can” — Empowering Women Through Education

By Priya Gupta

I was lucky to grow up in a family in India in which a girl’s education and success was as important as a boy’s. We were a middle class family with a laser focus on education. My mom taught math and science in grade school, and from her I learned to be inquisitive from an early age. Dad always believed that I could achieve anything I wanted. I studied very hard, and my parents did everything they could to enable that. I grew up wanting to be different things, ranging from being an accountant (because my aunt was one), a high-ranking civil services officer (because my dad was in the government), and a nobel prize-winning scientist (because why not?). But looking back, the theme was that I wanted to be successful, because I was brought up to believe I could be.

Ultimately, I chose to study computer science in college, because of two major reasons. The first was that I loved math and programming. The other reason was that I ranked 2nd in IIT-JEE, the engineering entrance exam for IITs across India, which allowed me to choose any major I wanted. This had another benefit — even though I was one of a handful of women in computer science, nobody (including myself) questioned whether I was going to be as good as the guys or not. It armed me with confidence, which combined with hard work and engaging subject matter made for an exciting journey into the world of computer science.

In the past few years I’ve realized that not everyone, and especially not many women, have the same support structure or opportunities that I had. I recently read “I am Malala,” and I was struck by the struggle that many girls face to even have the chance to go to school. In many parts of India, parents make their daughters drop out of school to help with housework or to get married. Many of those who finish high school never get the chance to go to college because either there are no good colleges where they live or because college is expensive and their parents don’t want to spend money on a girl’s education. And even when everything else is aligned, there is fierce competition to get into good colleges, which inherently limits access.

This is one of the major reasons I work at Coursera — I want to help girls and women across the world pursue their dream education, which they may otherwise not have a chance to do. A great education gave me the freedom to pursue any field I wanted, anywhere in the world. My hope is that Coursera can help bridge the gap between the potential and opportunity for girls and women across the world.

This is a crucial time for the tech industry. Companies in Silicon Valley and elsewhere are acknowledging the lack of diversity in the tech workforce. News, social media, and conferences are abuzz with conversations ranging from “how to fix the leaky pipeline,” to “how to counter unconscious bias in hiring,” to “how to retain women in the workforce.” As a woman who is already in technology, I find myself wondering how we can help. I’ve found that there are many ways to pitch in — start a conversation in your company or among your friends, volunteer with organizations that teach women coding, or mentor someone who wants to switch to a tech career, to list just a few. I think all of these actions are valuable and important.

Ultimately, I think the most important thing we can do is to become role models for the next generation. As our President and co-founder Daphne Koller said in a recent blog post, having women role models in this field is incredibly important. It is important so that girls can see successful women in tech that they can aspire to emulate. And it is equally important in helping the society at large peel away the unconscious (and sometimes conscious) bias that keeps women out of tech. Many people to this day still think the lack of women in tech is because “girls just don’t like math,” or because “it’s their choice not to get into tech,” or even because “girls are just not good at math and computers.”

It’s time to change that narrative! Let’s strive to be role models for the next generation.

Originally published at building.coursera.org on March 11, 2016.