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In 2020, when Bolor-Erdene Battsengel would walk into work in Ulan Bator’s national parliament building, security guards would stop her to ask if she was a personal assistant or a janitor. She was neither—she was the youngest member of the Mongolian government’s Cabinet, appointed to help lead the nation’s digital transformation.

The experience underscored just how difficult it is for young women in leadership. “You have to work extra hard to be accepted for who you are,” says Battsengel, 29, who now serves as state secretary for the Ministry of Digital Development.

Celeste Sloman for TIME

Hard work is what took ­Battsengel from a rural town on the Mongolian steppe to the center of government. At 14, she graduated from high school; she finished college at 18, and went on to the University of Oxford before working at the World Bank and the U.N.

In 2020, Battsengel helped launch the E-Mongolia platform, which has since digitized 650 government services, making it easier for Mongolians to register a company or get a driver’s license. “Now you can access any government service in less than two minutes, and there is no physical contact needed,” she says. This is key in a country where nomadic herders would have to drive hours to accomplish simple tasks.

Battsengel is also passionate about making spaces more welcoming for women. “The new inequality is digital exclusion,” she says. In 2021, she founded a Girls for Coding boot camp, which has provided training and laptops to 30 girls from the countryside; she plans to train 50 this year. She hopes that these women can one day walk into work without facing the same questions she did. “We need more female leaders who are younger and dynamic,” she says.

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