Empowering girls in tech
Bolor-Erdene Battsengel is a Research Fellow at the University of Oxford, she was the youngest and first female to hold the position of chairwoman of the Government of Mongolia’s Communication and Information Technology Authority, and she is helping young girls in tech to shine.
Bolor’s journey from a small town in Mongolia to becoming the face of women's empowerment and gender equality is evidence of her commitment to opening doors for the next generation of female technologists – allowing them to enter the industry with their eyes wide open, and the support they need.
From Mongolia to Oxford
Bolor's early years were rooted in the countryside of Mongolia, far from the tech hubs of the world, and it wasn't until her family relocated to the city when she was 12 that she truly began to explore her passion for engineering and technology. However, the traditional education system and societal norms cast a shadow over her ambitions, and she found that her teachers and peers would discourage her from pursuing her dream.
“I was really interested in engineering and technology, but whenever I talked about becoming an engineer, or said that I was interested in STEM, whether I was in the city or the countryside, the traditional education system and my teachers would say, ‘you should not pursue those professions because it's not good for girls. You can't spend the whole night coding or doing math.’”
Despite these challenges, Bolor pursued her dreams, and she spent a lot of time working for organisations including the UN, the World Bank, and the Asian Development Bank, where, she says, it’s relatively gender equal.
Bolor went on to complete her master’s degree before rejoining the World Bank in Australia. She eventually returned to Mongolia for a year at the behest of her parents. It was here that she worked as the Deputy Minister for the Minister of Digital Development of Mongolia, and where she encountered the gender disparity within the tech sector. Women, she observed, were often relegated to administrative roles, while men dominated the technical positions.
The birth of Girls Code
In 2020, amidst the global pandemic, Bolor founded the Girls Code Programme in Mongolia to provide young girls with the opportunity to explore STEM subjects and technical roles.
The impact of the programme has been remarkable. With 80 graduates to date, several girls have secured spots at prestigious universities in the US, China, Russia, Korea, and Japan, pursuing degrees in computer science and software engineering. Others have embraced coding as a part-time career, demonstrating the limitless potential that girls possess when given equal opportunities.
What sets Girls Code apart is its focus on community and problem-solving. Participants collaborate to create innovative solutions, such as a security app that sends location notifications in moments of distress or sadness. This not only empowers the girls but also addresses real-world issues they face.
Bolor's ambition extends beyond Mongolia's borders, and she envisions expanding the Girls Code Programme to other countries.
The road to gender equality
While Bolor's journey has been an inspiring one, it also highlights the persistent challenges faced by women in the tech industry. Global tech giants may boast about gender balance, but a closer look reveals that high-paying positions are still overwhelmingly held by men. This gender bias is deeply ingrained, and addressing it requires starting from the very foundations – the education system.
“From my experience, looking at many different women, women who deserve to be in higher positions but have never been promoted to higher positions, I think the key is bravery. A lot of women work hard, they are well educated, and they deserve the decision-making power, but they do not go for it for a lot of different reasons. There are a lot of things are on women’s shoulders – especially in developing countries.”
Education and support networks
Bolor emphasises the vital role of teachers and parents in encouraging girls to pursue tech careers. While many teachers may unknowingly perpetuate gender stereotypes, it is crucial to educate them about the importance of STEM education for all. Parents, too, must support their children's aspirations and conduct thorough research on potential professions.
Professional networks and industry associations also play a significant role in advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in the tech sector. And Bolor attests that they have the power to shape perceptions, foster understanding, and create a more inclusive work environment.
Bolor also advocates for open and honest discussions about the challenges faced by women in tech. She believes that sharing real stories can help set realistic expectations for young people entering the field, dispelling myths perpetuated by social media.
“I think it's very important that women who are already working in the tech sector speak up about their experiences.
“People’s understanding of gender equality is completely different from one and another, so to achieve a gender equal sector and job place, we need to meet on common ground. We need to have a neutral understanding.”
A future of inclusivity
Bolor's plans to expand the reach of the Girls Code Programme to countries with digital gaps, ensuring that the tech revolution benefits all. Through programmes like Girls Code and the dedication of women like Bolor, the future promises to be one of inclusivity, equality, and limitless potential for all aspiring female technologists.
Her journey serves as a message of hope and inspiration for young girls worldwide.