Women’s Day 2020: How 4 women are using tech to break the glass ceiling
There is no profession, except the oldest one, where women did not have to struggle to be let in and then had to work that much harder to make a difference.
If you look back at the history of professional women, you will see that our struggles began with being allowed to work in the first place and has carried on since to fighting for equal pay and opportunity today.
There is no profession, except the oldest one, where women did not have to struggle to be let in and then had to work that much harder to make a difference. However, it would be wrong to say that we have not come a long way. We have, and the journey forward continues.
This Women's Day we look at four women who have not just made a mark in their very male-dominated professions, but have become accomplished in domains that are very technology driven and dependant.
To explain how ridiculous the notions about women and tech are, we'll give you a little example before getting back to this story. We were told by a guy representing a smartphone brand that also makes fitness bands that a particular product of theirs was good for women.
When asked why he thought so, he said that it's easy to charge, you know, you don't have to do much, women usually have a hard time dealing with too much tech, too many wires…
He said this to someone who uses two phones with two different OS', an iPad for daily work, a smart watch and ear buds. All these products need different chargers.
Our woes aside, meet Guneet Monga, Gayatri Nair, Vidya Vox and Farah Ali Khan. The four women who are using technology to break those glass ceilings.
Guneet Monga is a Bollywood producer who recently won an Oscar for her documentary - Period. End of Sentence. Guneet has also worked on Bollywood hits like Gangs of Wasseypur, The Lunchbox and Masaan.
Besides having to deal with being a woman in Bollywood who is not on the "right" side of the camera, Guneet says that she had to struggle more to be taken seriously because most people consider her to be too young. "I've not seen being a woman as a problem in my field," Guneet said speaking to Hindustan Times, "but being super young has definitely been a problem," she added.
"You are judged for being young," Guneet said.
"Over time I learned to be more aware, of the female gaze, the lack of female representation in terms of directors, in terms of talent. In my own way I have doubled down on that," she said adding that she is working with more female directors and more female stories.
"But I've had to colour my hair white and wear saris and be silent in meetings to be taken more seriously. I had to pretend to be older," Guneet said. However, nothing has changed, she says - "I've worked around the challenges".
Speaking about how tech has helped her in her work, Guneet told us a story about her idol Yash Chopra who once said - "Aage jaa kar phone pe picture banegi aur main woh banana chahta hoon," (In future, films will be shot on phones and I want to do that). That stayed with Guneet.
And today, she has shot Thappad (not the one starting Tapsee Pannu) and Chajju ke Dahi Balle, two short films, on the Apple iPhone (the iPhone 11 Pro Max) and is working on more projects using just the iPhone. Of course, she uses other accessories like the Osmo Mobile gimbal and a Zhiyus gimbal and the Moment lens. She also used the iMac Pro post production work and apps like Final Cut Pro X and Avid to edit.
That the iPhone can shoot 4K images makes it very helpful Guneet pointed out, adding that it has almost been a matter of pride to be able to label a whole film project with - "shot on iPhone". Shooting from a phone also has its advantages, Guneet explained. Especially for sensitive documentaries she found that people were more comfortable being shot on a phone than on the camera. Using a phone to shoot also gets to better and easier access to locations since you do not need camera permits.
This is something professional photographer and one of the founders of Chennai Photo Biennale (CPB), Gayatri Nair, would agree on.
The right frames
Gayatri is a trained engineer who has now moved on to wedding photography, working on the biennale and also teaching kids photography on smartphones.
"The struggles of being a woman in this field (photography) is a lot less now than it used to be about five or seven years ago," Gayatri said adding that as a wedding photographer she has had to deal with family saying that it's not "nice" to be in that profession given the odd hours the job demands - safety was an issue, surely, but people also did not see wedding photography as a women's field.
"Often, people would ask if I'm the bride's friend or the cousin, and I had to point out that I was a professional photographer," she said.
But Gayatri says that the trend has changed over the last few years with many more women photographers entering the field. "Especially for weddings, women are actually better wedding photographers because they are more sensitive to the whole occasion," she explained.
She gave the simple example of how much easier it is for a woman to shoot a bride getting ready as compared to their male counterpart. Also, Gayatri added that she started working as an assistant to a male photographer but now she has been making sure she hires women as her assistants - "So this will increase the network of girls getting out and shooting more".
"It's still a male dominated field for sure, but the opportunity for women to do well here is very, very high," Gayatri added. "People look for women photographers now for weddings."
Gayatri has also founded the CPB with two other photographers and they have pulled off two editions of the visual arts festival that is spread across several venues in Chennai. The core concept of the biennale was to bring art and meaning back to photography. "Of course, the biennale could not happen in isolation of the education programme - if you don't an ongoing education programme that teaches you to learn and create art right, you cannot have people on the same page to appreciate something like the biennale," Gayatri pointed out.
In 2018, they started iPhone photo camps for school students to teach them basics about this art form and over the last year and a half they have taught photography to almost 900 students in Chennai. Students also get to exhibit their work in the biennale that happens every two years.
The fact that they use iPhones for the photo camps makes it easier for these photos to be printed in large formats from the RAW images and made exhibition-ready, Gayatri explained when asked about why just iPhones. And it is also about the ease of use since they are teaching kids who are as young at 12 or 13 and the ease of sync within the Apple ecosystem.
Gayatri also uses the iPhone 11 Pro Max alongside her Nikon D750, D610 during her wedding shoots. "Sometimes people are weddings want their photos ASAP to be able to share them on social media, it helps to have a smartphone in hand at that time," Gayatri said.
Gayatri has always been a techie, she used to set up firewalls, so the leaps and bounds of technology in her career now, and otherwise, is not a problem for her at all. Another woman who feels just as comfortable being techinical is Vidya Vox.
Vidya Vox is a YouTube singer and a performer and we are pretty certain you have seen her videos.
How difficult was it for Vidya to become successful in the field of music?
"It was definitely difficult as music is a tough field and full of odds in general. However, I think through consistently releasing music and working hard, it's possible. Some of the biggest challenges have been not having budgets to do different facets of my work - recording engineers, video directors, editors etc, so I learned how to do all of those myself," Vidya said.
And this is where tech stepped in.
"Technology has been integral to my career. All my music lives online entirely, and harnessing the power of the internet to share music across the world has changed my life. I had to learn everything on the fly, through YouTube videos or forums on the internet," Vidya added.
"All of the different facets of my job would technically require me to hire other people - to a studio or hire a video editor. However, I can do everything at home with the fraction of the cost on my MacBook Pro - record vocals on Logic, or editing videos on my on the go. The best part is that it's on my own time, so I can work all day without having to worry about time limits," she explained.
Starting off on a job like hers, you need a simple microphone and a computer. Vidya used the MacBook (she currently uses the 16" MacBook Pro) which comes with apps like Garage Band which is great for singers who are starting off.
"If you are feeling adventurous, go for Logic Pro X. It's a great software for recording and creating tracks. Plus, Logic's in-built sample library is a great place to start for song production. You can personalise shortcuts that are intuitive to your work flow, which is a huge tip I didn't realise in the beginning," Vidya says.
"For video editing, I mainly use Final Cut Pro, it's very easy to use, and I highly recommend it," she added.
"As a woman, being able to access technology today is all due to the women trailblazers from prior generations. It has completely made my career possible, being able to access the tools I need to create and share my music. Video is a huge component of my work. Due to the developments in technology, I was able to access an affordable camera to jump start making simple music videos," Vidya pointed out.
Like Vidya, jewellery designer Farah Ali Khan has also used technology to beat the odds and create some incredible, creative work.
Art that you can wear
Jewellery designing has also been a very male-dominated field, unusually. And for Farah, it was harder to make inroads because for one, she was an outsider.
"It was not something I was welcomed into," says Farah adding that in every profession those who are established want their own to get a break, like family jewellers in this case.
Despite that, Farah stuck on thanks to her love and passion for design and the work she wanted to do. Also because of her ethics. "What ever I design, the product has to be perfect. It's easy to get swayed in this profession and I am not one of those people," she added pointing out that her obsession with perfection is what took the most time to get used to.
As a first-generation jewellery designer, there was a lot that she did not inherit and a lot more that she wasn't taught - things she had to learn on the way.
Farah is someone who has seen technology evolve from phones to computers to emails to laptops and now to smartphones and her love for change and anything new that can help her in her work, innovate, create, make her better is something she has easily embraced.
"Visual stimulation is so important in what I do," explained Farah, "it began with my interest in photography and using digital cameras to express what I wanted, to iPads and apps now." The focus has always been about being able to express her creativity.
Currently, Farah uses an app called Procreate on her iPad Pro for all her design work. This is an app that she would recommend to anyone who designs anything - the fact that you do not need to carry any other art product like paints or paper and everything can be done on the iPad with the Apple Pencil. In fact, Farah has designed an entire lifestyle jewellery collection on Procreate.
"As a designer I don't get time to sit in my office and work, so I actually end up designing when I am travelling or when I am at home. I design when I want to relax, and draw - an app on a handy iPad makes things so much easier for me," Farah said.
She has also introduced other designers like Shane and Falguni Peacock to Procreate and also her students. "The iPad and the app with the Apple Pencil has made a remarkable difference in my design career," Farah pointed out.
For Farah, her journey with apps and programs began with Adobe and Photoshop and editing photos of her jewellery captured on digital cameras. And then gradually phone cameras have taken over now, it makes things so easy, Farah added speaking about posting her photos on Instagram etc - "You don't miss the camera any more, you know?"
"Gadgets have made my life easier. I can send en email while I am in a car from my phone. You no longer need to be behind a computer. Then with apps like WhatsApp - communication has become so much easier," Farah said.
All of this ease helps this mom and jewellery designer handle her life and work easier.
"I've learned to balance technology," says Farah. While she makes sure she blocks out the noise, she also makes sure she is up-to-date with the latest tech. A part of her job involves integrating technology into design and it is something she has done consciously.
"If you want to express yourself you have to learn to express what is happening around the world today. Fashion is an expression of what you wear on an everyday basis, design is an expression of using lifestyle trends and communication skills to make it work-friendly," Farah explained.
"When I design a piece of jewellery, it's not just about the way it looks - it's the form, the functionality, the locking mechanism for example, how it feels - it's all of that," she added.
"For me, art is, especially the kind of design I do, artful engineering," said Farah, "And that is why you need to be updated with different technologies."