Women in India are confronted with many obstacles both outside and inside the workplace. They face the perils of gender discrimination, limited professional opportunities, and sexual harassment. Last fall, during an inaugural speech at its GROW Leadership Summit, Arun Kumar Jain, Managing Director of Fluor India and member of Catalyst’s India Advisory Board, addressed issues that women face in the workplace today and highlighted a new initiative that’s centered on the importance of attracting, developing, and retaining female talent within organizations. He talked of ways that organizations can #DisruptTheDefault and advance more women, and also shared stories of women who are already rocking the aerospace fields. Check out excerpts from Jain’s speech below!
On the importance of having women in leadership positions:
“We live in an era where change doesn’t knock on our doors before barging in. Given that organizations are constantly besieged by new competitors, changing regulations, and other environmental factors not within their control, the ability to accurately anticipate the future and innovate becomes a vital competency for leaders. The increasing complexity and pace of project execution also now places a premium on improvisation, innovation, quiet efficiency, and cost-effective solutions. In this context, London Business School’s research unequivocally indicates that equal gender representation can help increase and unlock the innovative potential of teams. Empirical studies also clearly reiterate that companies with more women in decision-making positions tend to perform better in terms of financial results.”
On ways that organizations can attract and retain talent:
“The first is by expanding the canvas on which one can showcase one’s talent. Through design and persuasion we’ve moved several mid-career women and men into new functions, departments, and roles very unrelated to their hitherto normal work. Examples are women and men moving into new roles in project controls, estimating, project business services, procurement, contracting, quality assurance, project engineering and management, PDDM, and Finance from functions as diverse as engineering, project administration, IT, and office services.
“The second is to open more opportunities for mid-career women and men. We now track the number of women being sent for overseas assignments and ensure that we send increasingly larger numbers of women in every new tranche of assignees. Also, for every high-visibility event, without exception, we appoint women and men co-champions, alternating between the two. This ensures that both get an equal chance to display their talent in front of decision makers.”
On the strides that Indian women have made in the male-dominated field of science:
“India is fast developing missile capability. You’d be glad to know that Dr. Tessy Thomas, a woman scientist from India’s Defence Research and Development Organisation, was the project director for the 5,000 km range Agni-V missile. This potent long-range nuclear-capable inter-continental ballistic missile was successfully tested in 2012. Tessy is believed to be one of the very few women working on strategic nuclear ballistic missiles in the world. Do you what they call her? Agniputri, or, the one born of fire.
“The entire country is today celebrating the success of India’s maiden Mars mission. The cost of the Mangalyaan mission to Mars is only Rs 450 crore, or Rs 7 (12c) per kilometer, less than the cost of a city taxi! Whenever one thinks of space, images of Vikram Sarabhai, Homi Bhabha, or Satish Dhawan come up—serious men in suits. One does not conceive of women in brightly coloured silk saris with gold borders, pottus on their forehead, and gajras in their hair until… until we saw images of the Indian women scientists running the Mars mission splashed on the front pages of newspapers. According to reports, 20% of ISRO’s workforce is women and 50% of them are engineers. Perhaps this is one key reason why the program has proved to be so efficient.
“The GSAT-12 communication satellite’s project director, mission director, and operations director were all women. What started as a trickle with Anna Mani, the female scientist who worked with C.V. Raman—Nobel laureate from India—has now become a torrent with women leading entire space missions. The glass ceiling has been broken, but without any sound and without any fanfare.
“They say that men are from Mars and women from Venus. ISRO’s women scientists have turned this wisdom on its head!”