‘Don’t assume a girl is not going to contribute’

Gender discrimination at TU Delft needs to be addressed, says computer science student Harshitaa Pandey. “It’s like I’m not trusted enough to do the coding.”

Harshitaa Pandey: “Men tend to say or do whatever they want.” (Photo: Brontë Kolar)

 “I’m studying computer science and engineering, and this is the final year of my bachelor’s programme. I feel like I am not the stereotypical computer science student. I was always very interested in technology growing up and knew I wanted to do something in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math – Ed.) fields. But when I came here, it felt like the university doesn’t value people who don’t fit the typical criteria. I think that’s sad and demotivating for people. You need every type of perspective, so if you only value one point of view, then at the end of the day you’re not getting the most out of people.

The first year I came here, I was at a party and this guy told me and my friend that I wouldn’t get my BSA (binding recommendation on the continuation of studies), and that girls like me don’t get their BSA. But in the end, I did get it, and he did not. To be honest, sometimes it feels like if I go into a project, I’m immediately given the ‘make everything look pretty’ role on the team. It’s like I’m not trusted enough to do the coding, but as a girl I can do the planning and reports. On a recent project, one of the guys was bossing me and another female colleague around the entire time. And it felt like he expected me to just take that. I’m not really the type to take that, but it felt like he’d done this many times before and had gotten away with it. But in my opinion, if you don’t respond to things like that, it’s always going to be that way.

‘I just want people to be more aware of what they’re doing’

I think this topic of gender discrimination needs to be addressed as these things affect your motivation and wellbeing. I have done internships at big companies, and it was not like this at all. If someone did something like that, it would immediately be flagged. Here it feels like it’s more the norm. I understand that people can’t change their mindset within a day. I just want people to be more aware of the fact that they’re doing it. Don’t go into a group and see a girl and immediately assume she’s not going to contribute. I think males tend to say or do whatever they want and assume people will just accept it.

I was in a machine learning course and we were talking about discrimination and bias in all of the algorithms you develop. One of the main points was that if you have a group of developers making an algorithm and they’re all similar people, you will have bias in your algorithm, and it won’t work the way it’s supposed to. I don’t understand how you can be taught that in a course but still can’t understand why that concept is important in general.

I’m not on my laptop coding 24/7. I enjoy learning those things, but I don’t want to be a software developer for my entire career. There are so many different paths that you can take from this type of programme, but most of the people here just take the same path. I think when I finish I want to be something like a Technical Architect, not necessarily in the nitty gritty of coding, but also meeting with customers and helping them solve their problems. That’s what I like to do. I like interacting with people, and hopefully I can help fill a gap in the industry as someone who understands both the social and technical aspects.

I don’t think the time you spend at university will determine the rest of your life. Even if you are struggling with your courses and you feel like it might not be the right place for you, it doesn’t have to be that way. You can go in whatever direction you want. Studying at a technical university brings so many opportunities. It doesn’t have to be that everyone turns out like a cookie cutter version of something. It’s important to have some outside experience while you’re here; for me, that was super helpful. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have known that I don’t need to fix my type of personality to become the person that I never was or want to be.”

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Heather Montague / Freelance writer

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