About Us Contact Us Help




Indian Born Women In Engineering

Ranjani Saigal

Since the establishment of the first Engineering College in India in 1847, science and technology has captured the imagination of the people of India. The success stories of the high tech entrepreneurs have further spurned the interests of Indian Americans who have made a great impact with their contributions to the field of science and technology. The competition to get into engineering colleges is fierce. Boys getting into an institution like the IITs often feel that this admission gives them their credential to get the perfect job. Grandma also assures them that this admission is their ticket to convince any girl of their dreams to be their wife!

The story is slightly different for girls. In the old days they were often the only woman in their class and often dissuaded from entering IIT. "Who will marry you if you become an engineer? If you do get married how will you manage a career and a family? Anyway what can a woman do as an engineer?" would be the invariable complaint from Grandma and other local elders as they worked diligently on a dissuasion policy!

"Woh Ladies Hostel, Woh Thodisi Ladies" ended a parody (based on the tune of "Woh Kagaz Ki Kashti") sung by an IIT Bombay alum at the IIT50 as he was reminiscing his days at IIT. So whatever happened to those "Thodisi Ladies"? Were they successful? Did they get married? Did they achieve the balance between career and family? Are they happy?

Lokvani went on a fact-finding mission to learn about Indian born women engineers. What we found truly surprised us!. In institutions like IITs the percentage of women entering through the JEE used to be less that 1% in the early 60s. It went up to about 3% in the 80s and now it is almost 6%. In the US, where holding the position of Vice President, CEO or CTO is still considered a very creditable achievement for the Indian American men, we were pleasantly surprised to see so many Indian born women holding those coveted positions.

Dr. Parvati Dev (IIT KGP) is currently the Associate Dean for Learning Technologies at Stanford University. From 1982 to 1989, Dr. Dev led product research at a medical imaging company, developing clinical three-dimensional imaging. Since January 1990, she has been the director of SUMMIT, at Stanford University. Under her management and leadership, the SUMMIT research group has had a large impact on medical education both at Stanford and worldwide. She has two daughters, one who is studying to be doctor and another who has a passion for art. About her undergraduate education at IIT Dr. Dev says "It was an eye opening experience for me to be surrounded by such bright people. As a women it also removed forever my fear of men, a useful trait in the long run."

Vinita Gupta (IIT Roorkee) is President and CEO of QuickEagle Networks. Gupta holds two U.S. patents: one for "solid state relay," issued in 1984, and one for the "square root circuit," issued in 1986. "Women have a nurturing instinct which I think makes them prime candidates for the CEO position," says Vinita Gupta. About woman being disadvantaged Gupta says "Everyone has some disadvantage. For some it is their color. For others it may be their national origin. But we should not worry about that. When I was speaking to VCs to raise funds for my first venture, I was pregnant. Yet I was successful."

Dr. Nita Goyal (IIT Kanpur) is Founder & VP of Technology, Tavant Technology. Tavant Technologies is a collaborative commerce software solutions company that enables manufacturers and brand owners to manage, streamline and enhance multi-level distribution channels. She was the first woman to get a computer science degree from any of the IITs. About what she sees as the single most important thing about her work Dr. Goyal says " Learning new things. Particularly in a startup like Tavant that is full of smart people working on a emerging area, the opportunities are endless."

Padmashree Warrior (IIT Delhi) is Senior Vice President and Chief Technology Officer for Motorola, Inc. Padmasree played a key role in transforming the company's semiconductor technology innovations and intellectual property into market-focused solutions. She is also the first woman to hold this position.

Dr. Surya Mallapragda (IIT Bombay) was named by MIT's Technology Review magazine as one of the top innovators for 2002. She has come up with a path-breaking alternative for treating peripheral nerve injuries. About her marriage to an IITian Dr. Mallapragda says "it is wonderful to have a husband with whom I can discuss my work. I often bounce ideas of him and we work together on problems." Are these women just pursuing excellence in technology? Not at all.

S. Sowmya (IIT Madras) is an outstanding Carnatic musician. A postgraduate in Chemistry, Sowmya opted to tread the musical path, when the question arose whether to pursue her passion of continuing her research in Chemistry or to take up a musical career. About how she could continue an education at IIT while pursuing a strict musical training Sowmya says "It was only 'time-management'. I never shelved music at any point. Even during the time of my examinations I used to practice for at least half-an-hour. Everything went off well as there was a structured pattern of studies till my PG. But, when I registered myself for a Ph.D., I had to work hard to achieve that goal. So, I had to sacrifice my research to pursue my ambition. It was a sacrifice as far as I am concerned, because Chemistry was my passion too!"

There are many other examples of women who have contributed a lot to technology. Dr. Indira Subramanium (IIT Madras) , Dr. Jayashree Subrahmonia (IIT Bombay) , Dr. Poorvi Vora (IIT Bombay), Dr. Rama Hariharan (IIT Bombay) are examples of women who have made significant technological contributions in their respective fields. It is interesting to note that they are only a few of the examples of women who are pursuing their passion in technology with zest. Many women from science backgrounds and other engineering colleges in India have also been very successful in contributing to the field of science and technology in the US.

So is it really easy for women to follow the path of these trailblazers? The overwhelming answer seems to be "no - but it is fun". Many are of the opinion that training at a good engineering college like the IITs gives them the ability to work hard and not be afraid of taking on challenges. Most feel that if you have a passion for technology nothing should stop you from pursuing a career in Technology.

The important question from Grandma - "Yes but did they get married? Are they happy?". We found that while some women have remained single and thoroughly enjoyed a fulltime pursuit of a career in technology, many others chose matrimony. Whatever the choice, they seem content. Married women appreciate the support given by their spouses immensely. Many feel that good help to do routine household chores is an important component for success. About strategies women need to use to maintain balance in life, Dr. Nita Goyal says,

  • Prioritize
  • Follow the prioritization
  • Take a long term perspective - what will I care about 10 years from now
Sound advice indeed.

( We lost Dr. Kalapana Chawla in the recent shuttle disaster. She was a trailblazer not just for Indian born women engineers but for the Indian American community at large. It is a great loss for the sorority of Indian born women engineers. It is an irrecoverable loss. May her soul rest in peace.)

Bookmark and Share |

You may also access this article through our web-site http://www.lokvani.com/

S. Sowmya

Dr. Surya Mallapragda

Vinita Gupta

Dr. Nita Goyal

Padmasree Warrior

Dr. Parvathi Dev

Home | About Us | Contact Us | Copyrights Help