Published: 03rd November 2019
How this Noida engineer's life changed when she wrote a letter to FB COO, Sheryl Sandberg
An engineer, TedX speaker and now an author, Sanya Khurana wants women to stop being defined by society-approved gender roles
Patriarchal notions that dictate how a person is supposed to behave or what they are supposed to like based on their gender roles target women in different ways. For Sanya Khurana who aced Computer Science and Maths in school, they were in the form of taunts. “My peers would tell me stuff like 'You're not a boy, how can you like Maths?' and would isolate me because I was not a 'typical girl'. I felt very demotivated and had low self-esteem due to all this,” recalls the 26-year-old, adding, “In college, people would often talk about how girls can only work till they are 25 or so because after that family responsibilities would fall on them and that would be the end of their careers. I feared that the same would happen to me one day.”
All this affected Sanya deeply and her parents, who had always encouraged her to follow her own path in life, were privy to her discontent. Instead of thinking that it was just a phase like most other parents, her father gifted her a book that he had come across which he believed would make her feel better. “It was Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sanberg, COO of Facebook. I had just completed my Bachelor's in Computer Science Honours from Delhi university when I read the book. It completely changed me. It fueled me with positivity and the will to succeed in life,” says Sanya, who then went ahead and wrote a letter to Sheryl's Lean In Foundation, talking about how she felt about the state of women in the country and how she wanted to challenge gender stereotypes.
Fortunately for her, they responded and she went on to found Lean In India in 2016, an independent organisation that empowers women to realise their dreams and help them carve a path for themselves in their careers. “I was pursuing my Master's course in Computer Applications at the Indira Gandhi Delhi Technical University For Women. So 12 of my friends got together and started discussing about gender roles and how they were a barrier to the big dreams that we had. We conducted many fun activities that revolved around confidence building. Later, many Lean In circles started mushrooming and all of these small units came together when the parent Lean In organisation started providing resources and necessary support to further our agenda,” she explains.
Sanya's debut book offers practical solutions to nip patriarchy at the bud
After taking charge as the Regional Leader of Lean In in India, Sanya was invited to Lean In Leaders Conference in Palo Alto in 2016 and 2017 where she met all the regional leaders in different parts of the world. She did not stop there. In 2018, she gave a TedXTalk at Jaypee University Of Engineering And Technology and this year, she released a book, One Action towards Women's Dreams and Ambitions, which is a collection of personal experiences and also carries anecdotes from women she has interacted over the years. “The USP of the book is that it has relevant data to support the claims made and also offers solutions in certain cases. Patriarchy is a bug that needs to be squished. I talk about cultural practices and internalised misogyny, and how they need to be done away with,” says Sanaya, who currently works as a software development engineer at Adobe, Noida.
Sanaya opines that the 'Log Kya Kahenge' syndrome is a big obstacle that stops women from advancing in their careers and lives, both. “In Sheryl's book, she asks: 'What would you do if you were not afraid?' That's what I keep asking myself when I doubt my own abilities and worry about others judging me. And then I go kick ass at whatever I do,” she smiles.