Industrial Automation celebrates women achievers in the Indian industry on the occasion of International Womens Day.
Published on : Tuesday 08-03-2022
The United Nations began celebrating March 8 as International Women’s Day (IWD) in 1975,
which was designated as the International Women’s Year. According to Wikipedia, March 8 was made a national holiday after women gained suffrage in Soviet Russia in 1917, but for decades it was mainly followed only by communist countries. The theme for IWD 2022 is “Equality today for a sustainable tomorrow”. According to the UN Women portal, the theme is aimed at recognising and celebrating the contribution of women and girls around the world, who are leading the charge on climate change adaptation, mitigation, and response, to build a more sustainable future for all. The focus this year is on highlighting the importance of challenging biases and misconceptions to create a more inclusive and gender-equal world.
Biases and misconceptions have been the bane of working women since ages. According to Statista, a leading provider of market and consumer data, the share of employable men and women in India in 2022 saw an increase from the previous year. Women accounted for slightly more than 51 per cent of employability that year. In fact, a larger share of women than men have constituted India’s employable talent since 2016. However, higher employability did not translate to employment among women as was indicated by the country’s unemployment rate. More Indian men were found to be employed than Indian women as per the labour participation rate in the final trimester of 2021, says Statista.
Yet things are changing for the better, and not just in India. Globally, more women are joining the workforce, the percentage varying from country to country. Also the Covid-19 pandemic affected women more than men, both at home and work. Yet, policymakers agree that half the world’s population cannot be discriminated against, if the world has to progress in the real sense. When Industrial Automation began the initiative of celebrating the IWD in 2018, only 5 women from the industry responded. But the number has been rising steadily since and last year there were 18 respondents. This year a record 28 women are featured and each one brings a different perspective from her experience at work.
Speaking at an event, organised by Procter & Gamble and United Nations Women, entitled #WeSeeEqual in early 2021, former PepsiCo Chief Executive Indra Nooyi asserted that the next 20 years will be ‘the decades of women’. “I don’t believe there’s any economy in the world that can be successful without tapping into the incredible potential of women going forward. I just don’t believe that’s possible. I also think almost every economy in the world needs women to have children too, because we need the replacement rate for the world. We ought to sit down and say to ourselves: ‘They need us.’ They need us for the economy, they need us to have kids, and we put in all the unpaid labour so far. So I look at the next couple decades and say ‘it’s our time’,” she said. In her autobiography ‘My Life in Full’, Nooyi, described as one of the world’s most admired CEOs, writes how her career had started when the dynamics between men and women at work were not the same as they are now. But by the time she joined PepsiCo, waves of educated, ambitious women were pouring into the workforce.
This Special Feature is dedicated to the aspiring women professionals of the country who are now ‘pouring into the workforce’ and the experiences of our respondents should encourage them to take the plunge with greater confidence. The following paragraphs encapsulate what our respondents feel on some key pointers.
At a time when women were expected to become doctors and teachers, not many were encouraged to think of engineering. So what was the inspiration that prompted you to pursue this career path, we asked our respondents?
“I have been very fortunate to have had role models, guides and friends at every phase of my life. Like for most people, my mother made it very clear to me her wish that I must not get married until I had completed education and earned my first salary. As she desired, my first salary cheque as a Lecturer at IIT-Bombay was in my maiden name,” says Dr Anuradda Ganesh, Director and Chief Technical Advisor, Cummins Technologies India Pvt Ltd. Dr Anuradda recalls Prof (Mrs) P P Parikh, IIT-B, a role model for many women engineers and professors, introduced her to Internal Combustion Engines – a field which was conventionally men’s forte. “I cannot forget the week when she asked me to tear down an engine and put it back. The lab staff were to help me only with tools and parts—and nothing else. I got down to dismantling and reassembling all on my own—what an introduction to the world of engines! Later, a chance meeting with Dr John Wall, the then CTO of Cummins Inc., became a turning point in her life, as he encouraged her to leap out of the comfort zone of academia into the corporate world. All respondents have similar stories of early influences, families and friends who encouraged and inspired them.
Can you recall your early days – say the first few days at work or startups – and anything you would like to mention about that?
“I never knew that I would be a leadership speaker and author or, for that matter, an entrepreneur,” says Payal Nanjiani, Leadership Expert, Executive Coach and Author, referring to her unconventional career path. “I had a very successful start in my career, living the so-called 'American Dream.' Things got challenging when I stepped out of corporate America. For instance, I remember in the early days as a leadership speaker, the #1 challenge for me as a speaker and executive coach was that I was seen as a woman of colour in America. So, while the white women in the field of speaking and writing were coming up against what is popularised as the ‘glass ceiling’, women of colour, like myself, were hitting a ‘cemented ceiling’. It means it's a hard concrete ceiling, and you don't even know what to expect on the other side,” she adds. Payal recollects those days when she would approach organisations with her work, there would be a look of shock on their faces. 'It's very uncommon to see a woman of Indian descent in the field of speaking here in America', she was often told! Yet today, Payal Nanjiani has carved a niche as the only woman of Indian descent to be a leadership speaker and author in the USA.
A woman, even if she is working, is still expected to take care of the family and the household. For a woman, it is a matter of finding the right balance between the jobs and managing the home – how do you manage this?
“As a child, I always heard people talk about a 'double whammy' for working women. Conversations around how women needed to balance personal and professional responsibilities and depend on others to take care of their finances made me sit up and think. From the start of my career, I knew this was not going to be my story,” asserts Mamta Aggarwal Rajnayak, Managing Director at Global-AI Hub, Accenture India. “Fortunately, I had the full support of a loving family that constantly encouraged me to work hard and become independent. Post marriage, I have an equally loving husband who expresses displeasure if I ask him to make a 'decision' by himself,” she says.
Invariably, there is that elephant in the room, the gender bias. What challenges (or privileges) do women stereotypically face, based on their gender?
“These are mostly unintentional biases, be it in social interactions, or at work. It becomes worse when women themselves suffer from such biases for example – while dealing with other women – professionally or socially,” says Dr Tapati Bandopadhyay, Chairman, AISWITCH Technologies Pvt Ltd. “There is never anything quiet on any front – Eastern or Western. In business and management work-fronts, it is probably getting a bit better for women, thanks to policy interventions and organisational initiatives on equality and diversity management. But in hard-core STEM domains, bias against women is actually getting worse. This is bad for these fastest-growing domains that are really changing the world and its workforce. Rampant gender bias in deep tech fields is also harmful for businesses and societies, across geographies,” she adds.
One of the most common complaints heard at workplaces is discrimination, especially based on gender, though not restricted to it alone. Have you ever missed a career opportunity or promotion due to gender?
“Well, I would like to believe ‘No’, but then it’s not 100% visible, is it? I often think that there are missed opportunities because as a woman I have got conditioned in a way where I am not even able to spot certain opportunities and act upon them proactively,” says Shalaka Verma, Director, Customer Success and Customer Engineering, Modern Work, Microsoft. “Also I think as a woman I am more conscious about where and how I am spending my time at work. My perceived value of the trade-off by leaving family, especially kids at home is a lot more, and hence finding the right purpose, the right ‘why’ is very important to make it worthwhile,” she adds, matter of factly.
Are not things changing for the better? Our workplaces today are more sensitive to gender issues than say, a decade ago?
“Indeed. The workplace has changed for the better, and companies take gender issues quite seriously. Women are encouraged to move up the corporate ladder. Businesses are coming up with innovative policies like flexible working hours, extended maternity leave, in-house childcare, etc., that cater to moms-to-be and women resuming work after pregnancy,” admits Akanksha Sharma, Project Manager (MES solutions), Tata Consultancy Services. According to her, women are well-represented in sectors that are most heavily hit by the pandemic, such as hospitality and food services, further exacerbating the gender gap. “As we have witnessed women are raising their voice against discrimination based on their race, ethnicity, religion, class, ability, sexual orientation, and other characteristic identifiers. There has been considerable focus on the number of women on boards and, to a lesser extent, in executive positions. We are moving towards a better world and better choices,” she says.
There are many subtle issues when it comes to women at the workplace and sometimes it is necessary to get the order right. So which women's 'cause' needs to be challenged and changed, first?
“The women’s cause that needs to be challenged and changed first is the underlying bias among both men and women of women not being able to do how much a man can do, in terms of taking up targets or willingness to venture into a new area. Woman herself has to take accountability of her growth and education. Women generally don’t ask, they don’t raise their hand,” laments Swati Jain, Vice President, Analytics at EXL, who is of the view that there needs to be mind-set change and a shift in the belief that her working will compromise the family; organisations are a lot more flexible today enabling women to balance work and home. “If women perform well, organisations are willing to go out of their way to support during their life situations for mutual benefit. Also, women have to get over traits which pull them back, e.g., women not helping out other women, etc,” she emphasises.
Inevitably, there is that talk of the glass ceiling, denying women their due. Are there areas at work that still restrict women when it comes to leadership roles?
“Women have the necessary leadership skills, but they may (and why not?) appear a bit different to how men lead, and it’s okay, a ‘judgement scanner’ is not always welcome here. The entire ecosystem has been improving; however, the quantum of actual ground implementation has to show up,” says Dr Shivani Sharma, Principal Technical Consultant, Hitachi Energy. To her, an opportunity should not be just for sake of some process, but a wholehearted opportunity with acceptance of uniqueness. “Combining the right environment with teamwork and performance will surely give more women leaders. Self-belief and performance go a long way, a leader would make way to the front, grinding, exemplifying and overcoming all challenges,” she concludes.