Industry leaders discuss diversity in STEM leadership at “Engineering a Systemic Change” session by IET India

On International Women’s Day, technology leaders discuss how India could see more diversity in technology leadership roles

Bengaluru: The Institution of Engineering and Technology, The IET organised a special discussion for International Women’s Day titled “Engineering a systemic change – Perspectives of leaders in STEM”. The discussion featured senior industry leaders discussing how Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics organisations could help more women reach leadership positions. Mandeep Maitra, Leadership, transformation and Design Coach, Sukla Chandra, Senior Managing Director, GE Licensing and Technology Ventures, Anusha Rammohan, Senior Technology Leader, Myelin Foundry participated in the session moderated by Anitha Kaveri who leads Sector initiatives for the IET in India.

Participants discussed pertinent issues in attracting more women to leadership positions and corner offices in STEM organisations and support mechanisms that should be made available to facilitate this roadmap for women. The panel acknowledged positive scenarios for India – including a 43% split in STEM graduates being women as well as the changing nature of work and organisations that allow for better balancing of responsibilities for women. They however raised concerns over the fact that only 14% of the mid – senior level positions in tech firms are occupied by women and even lesser make to C-suite positions. Mandeep Maitra, Leadership, Transformation and Design Coach feels support and mentoring mechanisms for women employees need immediate attention. “We often see different feedback being given to men and women in dealing with challenges and conflicts. These should ideally be powerful suggestions that help women navigate themselves as they move up the career ladder. There are several flexible arrangements being offered to working mothers these days but when they avail the same they feel stigmatised and their careers derailed! There has to be greater advocacy and better mentoring by successful women leaders who can be excellent role models for this talented pipeline of employees!”

Sukla Chandra, Senior Managing Director, GE Licensing and Technology Ventures said, “I have been passionate about STEM ever since I was a child.” Speaking about organisation level changes, she said “Organisations should be Ok with sabbaticals. If a woman has to take a 6-12 month sabbatical to gain better balance, and wants to come back, they should focus on bringing that talent back and not stigmatising that break,”. Sukla is also hopeful about the changed situations. “Youngsters want opportunities, challenges and want to make an impact. There is a strong and diverse pipeline of leaders globally.”

The panellists also discussed how the pandemic has brought about deep changes in the work landscape. “There is this growing pressure among employees to be visible which is spurred by the insecurity in the job market. The added pressure that this always puts on culture – specially on women, is palpable and needs addressing”, said Anitha Kaveri, who was moderating the session.

The panel also discussed the growing relevance of artificial intelligence and touched upon some of the most pressing challenges in AI. India as a country needs immediate action to add more women to the AI workforce, but more importantly, if we fail to do so, the quantum of negative implications that we have to deal with – specially with respect to fairness will be significant in the long run. Anusha Rammohan, Senior Technology Leader, Myelin Foundry said, “There is underrepresentation of women along the entire value chain of AI – beginning from coding to productisation. This needs to change – and fast. Women need to be skilled and enrolled into understanding the problem, creating training data, building and training AI models, as well as solutioning and building products. As far as biases go, AI is modelled on human intelligence and therefore it mimics some of the human biases inadvertently fed in. I believe that AI biases can be acknowledged and corrected much faster than human biases.”

Shekhar Sanyal, Country Head and Director, IET India said, “The IET has always stridently supported the dialogue on women in STEM. Our annual Young Women Engineer’s Award is just one of the many global activities and campaigns that focus on enabling young girls to choose a career in STEM. Our aim is to increase the percentage of women engineers in the global workforce. In India, the challenge is not in attracting girls to choose STEM in school and college but to provide them with the right set of tools and support mechanisms to keep them in STEM. I am happy that the leaders who were part of this discussion provided some clear takeaways for the industry and policy makers. We look forward to continuing our work with ecosystem players to create a level playing field for all.”

The session concluded with the panellists’ advice for STEM aspirants for building a rewarding career in the domain. A recording of the session is available on the Institution of Engineering and Technology India’s youtube channel.

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