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Recently I had the opportunity to attend the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) Conference in Pune, India. But before I get into talking about the Conference, I want to tell you about an incident that got me thinking.
While in Pune, I visited my cousin who is full-time mom to two teenagers. She left a very good job at a bank to raise her children. When I told her that I was there to attend the conference for women engineers aimed at encouraging women to be in technical fields and continue to grow in leadership roles, she remarked, “We were OK with one income and hence leaving my job did not really make a difference.”
Is having a double income the only reason for women to keep working? I started Day 1 of the SWE Conference with that thought in my mind. Luckily, by the end of the Conference that thought was banished! All the women engineers in leadership roles who spoke at the Conference do what they do because they are driven, and because they love what they do.
It was great to see women in senior roles speak. At the start of the conference I wondered, "How did they come by their success? Did they have a magic wand? Were they always straight A students all along and did they know they are going to head a division in a multi-national one day? Did the opportunities fall right into their lap?" SWE was a fantastic and unique platform to share and recognize the success stories of women, most of whom were engineers.
Neelu Khatri, President Honeywell Aerospace India, was one of the few who was not an engineer. In fact, she made a comment at the start of her keynote speech, “I am not engineer, not sure why I am invited to give a keynote speech at a SWE conference.” But she made history as one of the first female commissioned officers inducted in the Indian Air Force. Currently she is President at Honeywell Aerospace India. Her achievements in the field of technology speak for themselves, and that’s why she was perfectly suited to be a keynote speaker.
Of course, all is not possible without companies enabling a culture of diversity. Several speakers highlighted the diversity and inclusion polices that their respective companies are pioneering.
The Conference featured panel sessions and talks addressing a wide variety of issues –unconscious gender biases that exist even today how seemingly innocent comments and involuntary choices/preferences have led to skewed ratios in women’s representations at leadership levels; non-linear career strategies; work-life balance; and STEM re-entry programs were just a few.
On Day 1 I attended a leadership workshop on “Managing Competing Commitments: Leading at Work & At Home” by Aleen Bayard, Principal, Transformative Consulting. Aleen talked about “the maternal wall bias”, which negatively impacted success of female engineers. This special workshop was particularly aimed at Indian social conditioning where women are by default expected to take the lead on the home front, along with the demands at workplace.
Day 2 had more interesting panel sessions and breakout sessions. I particularly liked the talk on “Understanding Non-Linear Career Strategies” by Suchitra Prabhu, Program Director Shell Oil; She spoke about skill development and enhancement, constantly learning and adapting, developing networks, and innovating to translate new ideas into implementable solutions.
Another interesting panel session was on “HI VS AI: Will the Robots Win?”; The role of artificial intelligence across a variety of industries and how does it drive innovation in-favor-of or against human intelligence. Talk by Dr. Ambica Rajagopal, Global Data Science Leader, Cummins Inc., was especially motivating. She spoke about where the current AI technology stands and how the research and the technology itself is trending towards being indispensable, due to its very inherent scope of potential next generation innovations.
At the end of the Conference, it was clear that all the women leaders (the torch bearers as I call them) have not achieved what they have just by being lucky. It requires lots of hard work; it needs grit to keep going when you feel like giving it all up, especially when you see other women staying home with their kids and you have missed most of the day with your children. Whatever they chose, they made their own choices and conscious critical decisions
Getting an opportunity to learn from other women who have successfully sailed the stormy seas of corporate life is what makes the SWE Conference such a great event. Time well invested.
Baby Ravi, Staff Services AE, Education Services
"It was an overwhelming experience to be among so many women achievers. The strength, courage, determination and dedication is so encouraging for working women. It was an amazing two days of self-belief. 'Enjoy what you do and do your best - that is the key to success' was the great learning for me at the conference.I enjoyed Aleen Bayard’s talk on “Managing Competing Commitments: Leading at Work & at Home”. The emphasis of organizing, planning and implementation of the action plan was most impressive and useful. It helps to manage time and effort both at work and at home."
Hemlata Bist, Software Engineering Director, VIP R&D
"It was thrilling to be with 750+ women engineers under the same roof. It served as a great platform for women in engineering to network, learn and get inspired by one another. I came back with inspirational booster ‘If she can do it, I can do it, too.’ The session 'Marking Your Presence in your Absence!' was a powerful one by Parneet Kaur which demystified the secrets of 'executive presence'. All the tips came handy."