What Indian women can learn from Mars Mission

I am fortunate to live in these days where women find no obstacles to progress in career.

 |  3-minute read |   24-09-2015
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I consider it an honour to represent ISRO (Indian Space Research Organisation). I work at the ISRO satellite centre, where we design and develop satellites. From here the satellites are moved to our launch pad in Sriharikota.

I wish to start by paying an obeisance to the work of a women more than a century ago. For instance, Marie Curie, who was one of the pioneers in the field of radioactivity, won the Nobel Prize in 1903. Records show that it was not easy for her to be nominated. But asserting herself, the immortal Curie won a second Nobel Prize in chemistry in 1911, the only person to win two Nobel Prizes in two different subjects.

History shows that women struggled for recognition.

To draw an analogy with the work I do, the MOM (Mars Orbiter Mission) exited the Earth's sphere of influence and reached its target orbit around Mars after a series of well planned and executed manoeuvers. Similarly for a woman to reach her destination, she needs to exit the stereotypical sphere of influence around her and design her trajectory to make "that giant leap".

But I am fortunate to live in these days, especially working with the ISRO, where women find no obstacles to progress in career.

ISRO satellite centre statistics, a representative of the ISRO says:

Percentage of women in technical areas - 24 per cent

Ratio of women to men in designated positions - 56/277 (20 per cent)

(Project managers, deputy project directors, project directors, etc)

Women occupying these top positions started their careers in the 1980s. Back then, the number of women joining service were fewer as opposed to now.

Now that they are recruited in equal numbers, the scenario will certainly change in the coming years.

There are some changes I desire and some things that need to be adopted in work place.

What I look for is the change is the general perception of a woman by men and also by women.

Society is plagued with a cultural myth that girls are inherently uncomfortable with computing, math and science. My take on this is that it is not true.

Further, a study by McKinsey revealed that men are promoted on potential and women based on past accomplishments.

So all that would mean that whatever women do, they must do twice as well as men to be thought half as good. Luckily, this is not difficult.

The next change I would desire is related to the safety and security: To exploit her full potential, safety and security is most essential to pursue her career in all the seriousness.

Acknowledge her identity, would you want to appreciate a woman as "a woman and a scientist". It is usually one or the other. At the second level, providing amenities at work place for her (after all she is a multitasker who manages household activity and her family).

Counselling and mentoring does go a long way. women who obtain doctorates don't actually pursue research…

Even those who do, do not seldom take challenging assignments involving travel and long hours.

At a more fundamental level, educate the girl child, bring her to the mainstream and expose her to the opportunities.

Equal opportunity should not remain a myth.

But it is very much necessary for every woman to nurture the ambition of expecting to reach a top position.

At a philosophical level, women should continue to give their best to the organisation, keeping aside the target of climbing to the top. Of course I believe that women would be more respected if they don't ask for reservations or concessions at their work place.

Finally, there is no one size that fits all.

I would like to end by emphasising; it is of utmost importance that at any point of time all this should not end up in an unhealthy competition or race between two categories. We should be careful not to make it a mere numbers game or as opposite gender movement.

(A version of Nandini's speech which was given at the India Today Women Summit and Awards 2015 held in Delhi on September 19.)

Writer

Nandini Harinath Nandini Harinath

The writer is deputy operations director, ISRO's Mars Mission.

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