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Women In Technology: Six Role Models From India

Look Ma, I'm a scientist!

From genomics to ecommerce, these six women are an inspiration for girls hoping to pursue a career in technology.

women scientists

Think of a scientific invention and the story behind it. Chances are you’ll envision a Newton with the apple falling on him, or a Benjamin Franklin flying a kite on a stormy evening, or perhaps, someone who looks disconcertingly like Albert Einstein writing indecipherable equations on a board. Now close your eyes, and think of a technology maven – do you envision Jobs in his iconic turtle neck, or the geek-cool of Zuckerberg?

Where are the images of women?

One of the reasons young women flail in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) is because of the lack of gendered role models. The reason we applaud that image of jubilant women scientists celebrating India’s Mars landing is because such images are all too rare. We are programmed to believe that women can’t code, can’t do calculus, can’t top the IIT JEE entrance examination, and can definitely not rise up the ladder in a tech organisation. That is why educated and smart women leave the assembling of the new Washing Machine to their husbands, while the men gleefully leave the laundry to their wives.

At MBRB, when we were brainstorming ideas for Women’s Day, we decided to forego our usual well of pop culture references to make a list of 6 Indian women who have reached great heights in the field of technology and technological entrepreneurship in the last few years – the Indian counterparts to Marissa Meyers and Sheryl Sandbergs. So the next time your little kid asks about Indian innovators and entrepreneurs, don’t just talk about Sanjeev Bhikchandani and Nandan Nilekani.

Tell them these stories too. Not just to your girl to inspire her, but also to your boy to educate him.

Anu Acharya, MapMyGenome

Anu Acharya is an IIT KGP alumnus who subsequently studied Physics in Chicago. She is also the co-founder of Ocimum Biosolutions LLC, a multi-national biotechnology product development company and MapMyGenome, a personal genomics company that creates a genetic profile for users that can then be used in preventive health care and diagnostics.  Anu has won several accolades, including being named a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum in 2011, and continues to blaze a trail in technology entrepreneurship. In a recent article that Anu wrote for the Hindu Business Line, she says

One of the first things I am asked by strangers meeting me for the first time is: Why would a woman like me study physics and pursue an entrepreneurial career in a branch of science such as genomics? I am apparently an oddity. I hope these odds change during my lifetime and my daughters don’t get asked the same questions.

We couldn’t agree more.

Aruna Jayanthi, CEO, Capgemini India

If you go to Capgemini’s global page and look up their management team, you will find profiles of the company’s 18 member Group Executive Committee. Only one of these eighteen members is a woman, and she is Aruna Jayanthi – CEO of Capgemini in India and responsible for over 30% of the firm’s global workforce (Capgemini has close to 47,000 employees in India and over 140,000 worldwide).  Jayanthi has won numerous awards and accolades, including a Top 5 position in Fortune India’s list of 50 Most Powerful Women in Business since 2011.

Reminiscing how she started her career in IT after finishing business school – with an “uncool” role in maintenance – Jayanthi’s advice to budding leaders is

Too many of us make decisions which are based on short-term goals. “I don’t like this job at hand right now, let me go somewhere else” I am not sure this is always the right way to look at things. You have to take a much broader view of your career.
Anu Sridharan, NextDrop

Sometimes all it takes is a simple idea. NextDrop uses a combination of SMS and feedback loops to inform users when they can expect water (if you’ve stayed in an urban area in India and ever had to wait for the morning tanker, you know exactly what we are talking about!) , and- if the water doesn’t reach you in time- to inform the authorities that something is wrong. By facilitating information flow between users and utilities, Anu’s start up has made lives simpler for thousands of residents of Karnataka. The idea is immensely scalable, and Anu- at not even 30- is poised to take over the world with NextDrop. How does she do it? As she tells Forbes:

…….the short answer is that sometimes, the best learning just comes from doing it. No matter how little you know, sometimes you just have to pick up, grit your teeth, and get it done.
Kirthiga Reddy, Head of India Office, Facebook

Born in Nagpur,  Kirthiga Reddy has a M.S in computer engineering from Syracuse University and a Masters in Business Administration from Stanford University. She was Facebook’s first employee when it came to India in 2010. Today, she heads the company’s operations in India and was part of Fortune India’s 2011 list of 50 most powerful businesswomen.

Talking to India Today in 2011 about work-life integration, Reddy had this to say:

When you decide something is important, it is amazing how nature conspires to make things happen for you. The message here is to create your own choices. To not accept the tyranny of the ‘or’ but embrace the power of the ‘and’

Wise words that every woman should recall every time she has to choose between her daughter’s dance recital and the million dollar meeting.

Suchi Mukherjee, LimeRoad 

Suchi Mukherjee’s LimeRoad makes consumer technology “accessible” by turning the routine act of online shopping into the same kind of fun experience that walking in Commercial Street with your friends is. Her extensive experience in tech corporations as varied as eBay, Skype and GumTree have enabled her to create one of India’s premier online destinations. What’s more interesting is that this is one of the few Indian online retailers that caters almost exclusively to a woman audience. As Co-Founder and CEO of one of India’s fastest growing e-commerce start ups, Suchi remains an inspirational figure for women who dare to think big. In her own words:

 LimeRoad is my way of extending my personality and making my mark in the world.
Kumud Srinivasan, President, Intel India

The first woman President of Intel India since its inception in 1997, Kumud Srinivasan is also an alumnus of Syracuse University, with a doctoral in information science from the University of California – Berkeley. She has spent over 25 years with Intel – a lifetime in technology! – with stints in manufacturing, enterprise and design. Passionate about getting more women into entrepreneurship, she believes that

Guilt is the curse of womanhood. If there was one thing that I would have done less of, it would be to feel less guilty of the choices I was making.

From Kiran Mazumdar Shaw (Founder & CEO, Biocon India) to Vanitha Narayanan (MD, IBM India), Neelam Dhawan (MD, Hewlett-Packard India) and Debjani Ghosh (Managing Director South Asia, Intel Corporation), women are redefining the technology landscape in India.

So if you are trying to decide on a gift for your daughter or niece, ditch the Barbie for the play-set featuring an all-girl ensemble of scientists. After all, the next woman on this list could be her.

Image courtesy: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service – Midwest Region via Compfight cc

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  1. A Feminist Approach to Technology: Empowering Young Girls | My Big Red Bag

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