As we look forward to 2024, we're sharing some hope and joy through this blog written by Shimul Javeri Kadri.
I had two related but amazing experiences this year. I revisited a school building architecture project we had built almost 12 years ago in Warangal. To my utter surprise, the senior school designed to be a joyous amalgamation of courtyards, corridors with a rhythmic quirky library at its core had been converted into a college for Computer Science – only for girls! As I watched 1600 girls streaming through its corridors with my jaw dropped, I wondered where they came from, what their aspirations were and what their future held.
Fortunately for me, I had been invited to speak on a panel and conduct a workshop for 300 engineering girl students the following month. Katalyst an NGO started in 2007 supports underprivileged girls through their engineering education with life skills, placements and mentoring. Through my interactions at the workshop it was quite clear that there was a level of confidence and awareness among these women, clearly a product of the inputs Katalyst was providing, but also, as the numbers showed, their potential ability to change their lives dramatically with their education. The newly recruited alumni from Katalyst are able to earn between 6 lakhs up to 24 lakhs a year at entry level!!! Given their very humble backgrounds this could change the fortunes of many families, even entire communities.
I began to realise this was a silent revolution brewing - an amazing opportunity for choice and upward mobility for young women in India. This was also surprising given the dismal statistics for women in engineering fields, and particularly in Computer Science in other parts of the world. “Girls Who Code” was set up in the United States in 2012 to counter the gender imbalance in computer science courses and jobs. Countering the culture of masculinity in academia and in the profession has proved to be an uphill task in the USA. Women accounted for only 18 percent of computer science graduates in 2015 when it was started and the figure is still only 20 percent in 2022 as lamented in a July issue of Scientific American. For a profession that is growing rapidly in numbers and compensation, it’s a loss.
However, not so in India. Computer science is seen as a profession that women can access quite freely and pursue as a career that will give them a serious income. The fundamental difference is the cultural acceptance of technology for women and the stereotypes around it as positive. In the United States, a college-going computer science student is seen as a “geek or a nerd” – whereas in India she is seen as a bright achiever.
As per a study done by Roli Varma, a professor at the University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, in India, women constitute over 40% of students in CSE at undergraduate level, 65% at Masters level and 50% at doctorate level. As seen through the Katalyst data, the ability to get a job at a good salary in an industry that contributes 9% of India’s GDP makes it an attractive career choice, but more importantly, The WFH (work from home) or “hybrid” work culture makes it more viable for women to hold on to their CS jobs.
SRITW (Sumati Reddy Institute of Technology for Women) in Warangal was started in 2009. Our school building architecture design – originally intended as a high school, was created on the principle of shaded courtyards. The classrooms are laid out in a linear manner facing north and all corridors for access face south. The courtyards between these blocks – 6 of them totally, are shaded for most of the day. Long linear corridors cut through the blocks and become the social spine flanked by the greenery of the courtyards on both sides. The surprise element is the library with its curved roofs and diagonal orientation that interrupts the peace with an urgent call for use and attention! Watching these young women strolling through the corridors, nestle into the nooks of seating and burrow into the library, it was a joy to recognise that the ideas in our head had manifested into a different use – but worked powerfully in an institution that overturns many global stereotypes of women and technology. The norm for engineering college buildings in India is introverted, dark and fairly joyless so this is a refreshing shift, much enjoyed by students and staff.
Do watch this video of young women marching through the corridors of the building. I hope this helps the cheer in the season and hopes for 2024!