Woman in Tech: Navigating the Complexities as a Female
In the fifth episode of “Alariss Classroom”, Anapurna Monga, Co-founder of Mentorbox shares with us her stories working as an engineer in a male-dominated field and then starting her own company in India to pursue her goal of connecting students with experienced mentors in the industry.
Good Morning from Boston and good evening from Florida, thanks for listening to Alariss Classroom. Today we invite Anapurna Monga to share her journey from engineer to co-founder at Mentorbox. And most importantly, a feminism activist. Let me read a short bio about Anapurna. Anapurna was born and raised at Kashmir Pandit. As a refugee, she earned her bachelor’s of technology from MIT. After college, Anapurna worked on logistics, healthcare, and the payment domain, primarily with startups. Currently, she is working at India’s fastest-growing ad company, Mentorbox. Recently, she started writing Linkedin posts about something close to her. Thank you so much for joining me, and I am really happy to have you today, as you know, we’re in the middle of a pandemic, and you know there’s just one day I saw the news in the States, when furloughed or laid off between female and males, females are actually 3 times more than males. I kind of feel like from the work field, this is a discrimination, or they’re kind of finding an excuse, because you are a female, because you’re a mom, you should go back home to take care of the children, which is still kind of a bias for females. Anyways, thanks again for joining us.
Thank you so much for letting me on the show and providing my views on empowerment and what I think is right for women’s rights. And I am happy that women out there, like you, understand the fact that it’s important to be empowered, right? It’s important to understand that if you have a child, it doesn’t mean that you cannot work, right, and it doesn’t mean that you should be let down by anyone. Thank you for having me here.
First things first, as I read about your bio, I know at the first point, you were working as an engineer, which is pretty much a male-dominated field, because when I was doing job searching, you see a lot of engineers, they’re all male. What is your experience working as an engineer, and have you ever experienced anything like gender discrimination along your past to being an engineer?
Yeah, I think that all truth, there has been discrimination, I wouldn’t say that in all companies there was direct discrimination, but there was always this thing, if you’re a lady, people would first think that they would assign you tasks, right, whether, “Will she be able to do it?” or “Does she have the caliber?” So that question mark arises before you assign any kind of tasks to women, because that’s the inherent patriarchy that you have, not only in India but across the world. I would also say that also at my journey, whether it was my first company, or Imoblix or Pinelapse, there was this inherent prejudice which I faced, all women face, especially people who are from tech backgrounds, because there’s too much hearsay, that women may not be able to create technological products, or existing difficult subject, or existing technical little tasks, so I think also in my career I have been through that, and I feel that you need to write about it, right, and I recently wrote a post right on Zabado, about company marketing tactics using women empowerment to socially increase their reach, which was a campaign which they launched just so women can post about them on their Facebook profiles, etc. As you all know, women have the most followers, so this was a marketing gimmick, but in reality, this is not what’s happening in companies, right? They are not being empowered, and how many people are there in leadership positions in any big company, right? Think about Google or Facebook, all of them are men, there are very few companies where women leaders are there, whether it’s technology space or other spaces, so that kind of discrimination has always been there. And it’s like having…has not solved the problem, right? Empowerment is a totally different thing, and I think that the world has a long way to go before women feel empowered.
Definitely. My personal experience with it is, I really think of myself as a feminist, so sometimes I would post something on social media to support other women, however here’s the thing in China, there’s a lot of men, they kind of think that to be a feminist, or who you support feminists is something not right to do, you’re giving females too mich power. Which is also I think is not fair, we actually are seeking more equal rights, we are not seeking beyond the power, we’re just seeking for treating each other really fairly. My next question is: What are some of your suggestions that you would like to give to the girls in college as an engineering major?
That’s a really good question. And I would say that my advice to women and girls in tech background or any background who want to excel in their careers, would be that always be strong about your views, always make a stand for yourself, right, don’t let anyone demean you, right? For a lady, it’s always a big fight to move ahead in life, we need to understand that, and we need to instead of taking it as a disadvantage, try to make us stronger, right? We need to be bold, we need to tell it outrightly that what is happening is wrong with us, and be able to take a stand for it, right? If we don’t take a stand, I don’t think anything can change. Because obviously if women support women, only then men will support us. So I am not saying men are wrong, feminism does not mean that, I am only speaking for equality, right? There is a patriarchal system, right, men are not wrong, there are many men who are right who are always uplifting women. But staying strong in the technological field, where women are not treated that well or supported, right, you need to be strong, you need to always outperform, right, your male counterparts. You should always keep reading, it should never come out to people that you do not know something. Because somehow if a guy does not know something, it’s okay, but if a lady doesn’t know it; so if she’s in a technical field, if she’s a software engineer, immediately she is belittled for being that way because how did she not know, she should have known. So it’s always there, that cynicism is always there, no matter how good they do, they have to outperform; only then, people will give them a chance. So this is what I would say, that to stay strong, and try to outperform your counterparts, always try to stay ahead by reading or working harder, right, initially that’s what it would be. But when you’re able to do that and get ahead, then the sky is the limit, then you can reach the heights in your career. That kind of system is still there, people talk about empowerment and equality, but it’s something that is just talked about, it’s not actually happening. So that’s what my advice would be to women.
Yeah, I think that is really great advice, it’s actually not only for engineering major girls, for all major girls, they should do things like that, when people try to define who you are, you should fight back, you should be prepared for yourself and be the best of yourself. As I know, you are an activist for Women with a Voice, could you share a little bit of your journey, about what made you decide to become an activist and support other women?
Basically, I was always someone who supported women, right, whether it is my mother, right. My mother is the one who has always supported me, let me tell you that, she has always supported me, she was always very, very independent. I was born and brought up in UAE, I was not brought up in India, and my parents were people who believed that being a woman, there was nothing different, they treated me and my brother very equally, whether in terms of educating me or making me go ahead. But when I went into college and all that and when I started working, I saw that this is not what is happening, right, my parents, what they had taught me, and what I knew was not what was happening in the world, and women are not being treated right. And that it is some kind of illusion that people have that women cannot perform well, and there is no basis for that, it is just a patriarchal mentality. So then I always used to speak up for women all throughout my college, I was part of voices in my school and in college, I did street plays, and plays, many of them were focused on women, and emphasized on why they should be empowered. I went into work, and I then saw that there is too much patriarchy in the system, it’s too deep, and I said something had to be done about it, because things had to change, when will we stay quiet, we need to speak up. Then I started, I fell back, right, I thought, I needed to speak up about my views about what is happening in the ground reality, and I needed to make people to understand that what is happening in terms of empowerment, is not actually what empowerment means. So basically, when it comes to this marketing a product, right, what you give at face value is what people think is happening, but actually that is not what is happening, right, so that is what my entire post was about. My other posts, which are with Women with a Voice, it is just my opinion, as a woman, and what I feel is happening and what should be happening, right, and what is the right thing to happen. So this was the reason, and hence…and through this I want to watch other women speak up, to not fear any kind pressure from anyone while speaking up, because only when we start speaking up, when we start giving our views on platforms, will a change happen, right? So that was the reason, and I think about this, because it’s something very close to my heart, and something I would really like to change.
Yeah, definitely. I actually read a quotation from social media, I would say 3-5 years ago, so the quotation was like, “The most scary thing was not a male discriminating against a female, the most scary thing is a female discriminating against a female,” which just make me feel so resonated you know, when I see there’s a lot of girls when they achieve their success point, and the other female kind of making the sour sounds and judging them, oh you don’t know how they achieve that point, maybe they has some sad case, or they have some other way to achieve this success, and then they never say, “Yeah she deserved it.” It just feels so hard as a female, being discriminated by another female, which is so hard. We all know how hard to arrive at the final destination, but somebody just don’t embrace it, which is really sad about it. I guess as the co-founder like you, of Mentorbox, there are a lot of things going on in your life every day, you’re busy, I just wonder, how do you balance your life?
So, I think as an entrepreneur, you have to find that balance in yourself, right? I have always been someone who has always been a multitasker, since I was a child, right, so I knew somewhere that I had that inclination or that ability to do multiple tasks together to manage people, right? Even when I was in college, I kind of started, if you have heard of Model United Nations, I started the first Model United Nations team in my college and I actually initialed the first email there. So I knew that when over there, I was singlehandedly working with a team of 20 juniors, so that’s the kind of caliber I had. And I understood that, and not boasting about it, but I think as women, we should kind of bring to the world what we are good at, and we should also empower other women to do that, right? And as you said, right, empowering other women is not what is happening, so that’s one thing I also believe is not happening. We have seen that even in households, mothers also do not support, not my mother but in general, there are a lot of communities where this happens. So that stock is there. About Mentorbox, we have a couple of things going on, right, basically we are looking to expand the market, we have targeted the college market already, we have around 5,000 students who are actively engaged with us, mentoring to us. Yeah, it is a difficult time managing all the teams, getting the events done, getting out time for publicizing our community. I am also part of a mini podcast before, and I am going to do many later, because I see that people are viewing my views and they like it. So yeah, it gets difficult to juggle it, but what I would say is that stay focused, right, don’t tie too many things together, take little steps. And basically for me, what drives me is the impact that is going to happen, right? It’s really huge, when I feel that even one student is getting impacted, or will reach a point in his life because of my mentoring platform, that part in itself is amazing and keeps me driven. So it’s basically, pick a product which keeps you driven, and things will fall into place yourself, it doesn’t get difficult.
Yeah, I would say, because I see so many other female co-founders, I always ask them “How do you balance your life?” Especially I think I ask this question to a lot of Asian female co-founders, because I think pretty much, this is a big culture thing in Asia. Female, you should be somebody in the kitchen behind a counter, helping your family, serve for your family. And I still see a lot of female co-founders besides doing their daily job and still taking care of their family. Which is a lot going on, especially since some of them have kids already they need to think about dropping off the kids, picking up the kids, making the lunch, bento, everything. So I just feel like those ladies are superwomen for me, because they can handle so many things, multitasking at each time, which is amazing, I would say. As we all know that you used to work as an engineer; and working as an engineer, basically you will have a really stable income, and to be a co-founder for Mentorbox, at first the initiative, time, maybe it will not be a success, so it is kind of risky for you. So what made you decide to quit a stable job and to become a co-founder?
So I think the reason behind this mainly was because I felt there was a mentorship lacking, right, I feel like, I work with a lot of people, I had a lot of managers who I worked with, and I never felt that kind of connection, and that kind of bond that you should be having, and the reason my managers would in itself would say, I feel that the employees do not have any grievances, people are not being valued properly, right, even in the current COVID scenario that you have seen, that most offices, especially people who are from technology backgrounds, they are all working, right, especially in Asian countries. I have heard about this from everyone, they are working beyond their working hours, because people are just trying them out, or you know telling them if you do not work beyond working hours, now what happens. I didn’t want to be stuck in such a culture, right? And it is there in most companies, I don’t know, I felt that I wanted to start a platform which would help people, and I wanted to begin something of my own, right? Seeing all these drastic things, and feeling like working under someone would get difficult for me, because I could not take such kind of behavior. I, as a manager, always feel that being harsh with any person is not right, right? It’s always better to get the best done from people based on their abilities and understanding them. So I felt I wanted to create something of its own and give to the world, and yeah, there is a risk involved. I understand this, but I think the kind of skills that I have, I have confidence in myself that even if this doesn’t work, I can always get back into the market, and do really well. So I don’t think that this would deter me
from giving the kind of success that I want to. But I think there are many people who think that they want to start something, and it’s because they see that it’s risky, they don’t do it and I am that junction, right, I am not married, and I am that age where I can take the risk. So one more thing is that way, suppose if I have a family, a few years down the line, it would be difficult for me to take the risk, right, because I would have my children’s education to consider, I would have other family values, right, which I cannot hold into blame later that I cannot do this. Because I have to do everything when I am a lady, right? So I understand that, and hence I think that now is the right time for me, and I am taking the risk for it. And I urge all women, right, always do not put your professions before your marriage. I’ve seen a lot of women, right, they get married really early, and then don’t understand how a lot of caliber, and then they get involved in homely activities. So I don’t want to do that, I want to live my dream, I want to understand whether I can pull this off during the time I have. I don’t think marriage is the wrong thing, and I cannot do anything after that; but yes there are some things that we need to understand; we have a child, we have to take care of the child, right, it starts with motherly instinct. So I think now is the right time for me to take the risk, that’s why I took it.
Yeah I definitely agree with you, I kind of feel the same way because, me, as an Asian female, whose age around 25, which is in Asian culture, the parents start judging you, maybe you should be getting married, maybe you should find somebody. Which I really feel like my professional life, or my personal life, is not even taken off yet, how can you just tell me to just settle down? And I don’t want to have a life that is like, I got nothing, I don’t have a professional career, and I settle down with a family and I need to count my financial situation, or my other situation on another person. And I always feel like, if you’re counting on everything in another person, you’re literally giving your life to other people, and he can be the person to control you. And I cannot take that, I am an independent person, my family educated me as an independent woman. I should be responsible for myself. And I think my next question is going to be a little bit fun: When you switched to being a co-founder, what is a change happening in your life? For example, do you feel like you have less time for your lecture time, maybe you feel like every day is exhausting, any of the changes happening every day in your life?
So for that I would say that, yeah, for me it happens in phases right, what I do is I work for 6 days nonstop right, and I work late also, and then I take a rest for 2 days. And it’s not a weekend, okay, it’s very random for me. How I multitask, for me, it’s like say some days, 6 days I’ll be working more than 14-15 hour days, and getting things done and then two days, and I’ll be exhausted after that. So that’s how I work, I work in phases, and yeah it gets exhaustive, right? Especially managing people, right? I think the most difficult part of starting a business, or running an enterprise, is managing the people, right? You need to understand the right way to manage them, and you need to make sure that your startup, right, why would people want to work for you, right? First of all, it’s only if you’re able to make them understand the value you’re giving them. If you’re able to mentor them yourself, right, that impact is created.
So I would say that I am able to multitask, pretty randomly, I have these bouts of doing things fast and then doing them less, so that’s how I’m managing and I don’t think that people should be debt to it, right? It’s ends up it’s going to be a long journey, and things are going to be difficult but you need to always have a positive attitude and keep meditating. So that’s one thing I do, I meditate, I keep myself calm.
Yeah definitely, I think I talked to somebody, also she is a female co-founder, and she mentioned this to me, she said, Managing other people is hard because literally you’re kind of like developing each relationship with each of your employee so you’re changing the heart to heart with them so they will listen to you and they will trust you and they’ll rely on you. Which is hard because sometimes feels like it’s so hard that to having a relationship with one individual person but still feels like, having relationship with so many people is just so hard. I think the last question that I have for you is going to be a fun question: So I have been watching the Netflix show “Indian Matchmaking” recently, and I feel like I am really into it, because I have finished a whole season. I don’t know, have you ever watched that show before?
Yeah, I’ve like watched one episode, but yeah I know the genre and what it’s on about.
So I just wonder, what are your thoughts after watching that? And also, do you think Indian females have been empowered in the recent last 20 years?
I think there is a stark difference, right? Initially, 20 years down the line, Indian females were not even educated right, but our women are going for master’s as well, they are a lot of people who are educated. They are right in their work. Still I think that no matter what kind of family you are from, right, whether you’re from middle class, upper middle class, or even higher, still the concept is there, people are just educating their women so that they can get better grooms. Which is extremely funny, right, your daughter is doing 3 degrees, right, she has a PhD, and you’re telling her that “No problem, it was all done, and here you’ll get your good groom.” And now you’re considered home. That’s very wrong. That’s still happening with females, and it’s very sad. The reason for education is also marriage, right? So basically, initially the reason for everything was that let’s get her married young, and now it’s, Let’s get her educated and her and get her married, and see you know, our pride. So It’s like the transitioning of the purpose is the same, right, we have to get her married, it’s not that we need to bring a change in her life, or she should do something or she should succeed. That’s not what the purpose is. So I think that change is not there, but yes people are getting educated and people are moving more professionally ahead, I think there’s a major difference, right, than 20 years ago. But this mindset also needs to change, that a female is not just getting educated and doing good preparation to later sit at home, right? And they are all things like, your husband is already earning, why do you need to earn? right? I think being a professional is more about fulfillment in yourself, right, it’s not about the money. I think that’s what women should understand.
Yeah definitely, I remember watching the first episode, there is a lawyer, and suddenly the matchmaker was saying I think, Indian men don’t like female as a lawyer because they think you’re too strong you’re too powerful, which suddenly made me feel really sad, because what if she is really good at her career she embraced her career, and suddenly turn to the marriage life, that’s gonna be a disadvantage for her. Which is, I kind of feel like really, I don’t know, I just feel like it’s sad, because it’s something you paid, I would say 16 years of your academic life, and you practice it and you try to use your career to help other people, ended up your career helped other people but didn’t help yourself because people think you’re too powerful and people are afraid of you. And I definitely think you really are helping other females, you’re empowering them, and that’s something that everybody should do it. Definitely in this world, it doesn’t matter, Asia, America, or other places, women still don’t have the equal rights compared to men. We’re not seeking for beyond the power, we’re really seeking for the shared equal power. And once again, really appreciate that we’re having this amazing conversation today, that it’s really making me really inspired and I just feel definitely for my later on career, I would love to help more females, to help them, to empower them, give them a pep talk maybe, and help them feel confident. That’s really important. Thanks again, and let’s really chat again soon.
Definitely, it was an amazing session, and more power to you to have these sessions, right, with more women entrepreneurs, and females in business and technology so that you can spread the word. And only through communicating with each other and stressing all points will we be able to achieve this equality.