I AM A WOMAN.

WHAT’S YOUR

SUPERPOWER ?

In each newsletter so far, we have tried to address a unique theme binding our alumni. Scourging our brains, shaking off the dust mites hounding our deep creative spirit, we intend to find something that has not already been said about the talented individuals who graduated from this institute. Something special. Things which we are unaccustomed to hear in our daily conversations. Surprisingly, when exploring the theme for this newsletter, it wasn’t a daunting task.

Women alumni form a small fraction of our large alumni base. Their stories, struggles, aspirations, achievements, and identity are lost while singing ballads of praise for our collective alumni base. On the occasion of International Women’s Day next week, we strive to bring such stories to you and celebrate the achievements of an underrepresented yet powerful community of women leaders. It will be a small effort to acknowledge the significant contribution of all women alumni to the legacy of our institute. The newsletter features inspirational stories of five women alumni from different walks of life. Rockstars in their own fields, each alum has a unique story to tell with their courageous and exciting life decisions. Without much further ado, we let you delve into these stories and hope they leave you in awe just like they did to us while covering them.

Gazal Kalra

Co-Founder, Rivigo
B.Tech. Textile Technology (2007)
MBA (Stanford) and MPA (Harvard)

With her start-up Rivigo disrupting the logistics industry, Gazal Kalra has become the new age entrepreneurial and leadership role model for this coming generation. After graduating, Ms. Kalra took a job at the global consulting company, Mckinsey as a business analyst. While doing a project with the Bombay Municipal Schools, Ms. Kalra was intrigued to know how the public policies and district administration worked and hence she left Mckinsey and held the position of a Parliamentary Associate at Lok Sabha for roughly two years. Ms. Kalra holds an MBA degree from Stanford Business School and an MPA degree from Harvard Kennedy School of Government. After returning to India, Gazal Kalra joined hands with her colleague at Mckinsey, Deepak Garg to bring revolution in the truck driving industry of India with her startup, Rivigo. All this was definitely not a cakewalk for her as she faced the problems of lower representation of women in this sector. But in her words “Nothing worth having comes easy”, she defied all these problems to be the leader she is today.

I don’t think it is something which you can sum up in words. It’s the most formative experience of your life as four years is a long enough time for something to influence you profoundly. It’s where you learn to nurture relationships, pick a passion that you would follow for your life, or find your true self. I made the most of my life at IITD and took part in almost all clubs. I was SAC G Secretary, Chief Editor at BSP and regularly participated in dramatics club.

The first job is always special because there is so much to learn. Mckinsey threw me straight into deep Problem-Solving challenges, irrespective of my little professional experience. When I joined in as a fresher, I found myself in such client engagements where the clients had more years of experience than my age. The team at Mckinsey, their training, the tools they use gave me a lot of confidence and courage to solve any problem thrown at me. This courage that I got so early in my life did not let me limit myself. It convinced me that just because I am an engineer does not mean that I cannot solve problems for a bank or business problems related to their sales. You don’t know what you are capable of until you do your first job. The key is to be out of your comfort zone.

Lower representation of women is everywhere, beginning from IIT itself, perhaps even earlier when they opt for studying science in high school!  So, in a way, I believe IIT prepared me for it. It trains us to thrive and succeed in a world where our representation is less. Maybe that is why the women who graduated from IITs do well. Coping with lower representation problems starts very early on for a woman who takes science. It just aggravates as one moves ahead. Unfortunately, our corporate system cannot engage or motivate women to pursue long-term leadership and corporate careers.

While at Mckinsey, we received a project from a global non-profit organization to work with Bombay Municipal Schools. The six months that I worked on this project helped me understand and solve the fundamental issues of the Indian education system’s lack of real outcome. The education system’s biggest problem is that our learning curriculum is not framed for teaching concepts differently to children with different learning abilities and pace. In India, we have class batches based on age, but age is not a determinant of how fast a child learns; some might grasp the concepts fast while others lag. We need to break the curriculum into concepts and teach children with different learning abilities at different speeds. Since the school was in the slums, there were certain times when attendance used to drop very low as that was the time of filling water for the entire day, and hence children used to disappear from school. So challenges like these made me realize that this country is not just India; it is also Bharat.  We need to acknowledge the problems that we might not face but are still persistent in society.

The project motivated me to work in the public sector, and soon I got an opportunity to be a parliamentary associate at Lok Sabha. It was once in a lifetime experience. I got to know how policies are framed and implemented.

When I returned to India after completing my MBA and MPA, I met my ex-colleague, who pitched me the idea of Rivigo.

There was no answer to why drivers had to spend so much time in the trucks as it compromises road safety and their own quality of life. When you look around your room, almost everything has been transported to you by a truck. But there are very few people who prefer to do a job as a truck driver because it includes spending weeks and sometimes months on the road in a single stretch. They practically sleep in their trucks, eat in their trucks, and all in all, live a miserable life. Airplane crew and train drivers get breaks and off times as their safety determines the safety of the travelers. However, no such measures are taken for the truck drivers, which compromises road safety and delays the delivery of consignments.

The way of solving this problem is to break the journey into parts. Why does one driver need to drive the truck for the whole journey? And that’s when the idea of Rivigo struck us.

The truth is it’s not easy for women out there, but nothing worth having comes easy.

India is stuck in a stage where this generation of women are brought up with the   belief that there is no arena where they can’t excel. Their parents educate them empower them. But at the same time, unfortunately, the boys are not being brought up to acknowledge that their partner can have equal or maybe even higher career aspirations than them. So while the parents of girls are getting them educated, boys’ parents are not making them learn how to cook or manage the house!  They are not teaching them the subtle science of sharing the load. So the gap in expectations in a marriage exists due to these pre-defined roles.

I also think more than societal pressure, women themselves tend to take the pressure and guilt of being career focused esp. after they have children. Aggravated by a lack of support system in our society, a lot of them quit their careers and dreams! But you have to make it clear to yourself what you want and what makes you happy.

The solution doesn’t lie in not marrying or quitting but in choosing your partner wisely. As a woman it is the most significant career decision you will ever take, in my opinion.

Padmasree Warrior

Founder and CEO, Fable, Former CTO at Motorola and Cisco
B.Tech. Chemical Engineering (1982)
Master’s in Chemical Engineering (Cornell)

Padmasree Warrior, founder of Fable, former CTO of Cisco and former CEO of NIO US is a perfect example of a woman with exceptional determination, strength, and intelligence who depicts that success has no conventions. She is an inspiration among all those tech-savvies who dream to make it big in the technology sector. She was featured as the 71st most powerful woman in the world for the year 2014 by Forbes. In 2018 she was also featured among “America’s Top 50 Women in Tech” by Forbes. Padmasree graduated from IIT Delhi in chemical engineering in 1982 and went on to complete her master’s degree from Cornell University. She worked with Motorola, Cisco, and NIO in her 34 years of an exceptional corporate career. She also gives time to nurture her hobbies- painting, cooking, meditation, and many more.  It’s very interesting that after tasting immense success in her corporate life, she started a new venture- “Fable”- which works for improving cognitive fitness. In this virtual era, mental health is worsening more than ever before. Padmasree is trying to solve this issue with the fun-fusion of reading books. Read more about Padmasree’s college life, career, and “Fable” in the article!

My favorite memories are the lifelong friendships I made as a student at IIT. I am still close friends with many of my friends from IIT and in fact my husband of 37 years Mohan Warrior was also my classmate at IIT, Delhi. I also remember with great fondness the long walks from Kailash hostel and the rose gardens nearby (not sure if these are still there) to the other side of the campus

When you are a minority – woman or a person of color or someone “different” from everyone else in the room, you get noticed. This can be good and bad. It’s good because you do get noticed and it’s bad because people think of you as an outsider. Throughout my career, I tried to use my “difference” as an opportunity. What I mean by that is the following – when you get noticed use that to your advantage. Make your points, speak up, make an impact – whether it is in a discussion or a decision-making meeting, or a Board room.

The biggest learning from IITD is to support other women in tech. There were such few women students when I was at IIT, we really helped each other and developed deep bonds, a kind of sisterhood. To this day, I try to help and support other women in tech at all levels.

The other great lesson from IITD – no matter how smart you may think you are, there are many others who are smarter than you 🙂 So be humble!

The third lesson is to work hard, play hard. In many ways, the academic curriculum at IIT was very demanding with the dreaded Monday morning tests in the “seminar hall” that were a constant source of anxiety to students in my time. While this was taxing there were also many moments of joy and inspiration with all the festivals and access to great events with famous musicians and artists. These times and the fun of hanging out with friends made up for the “work hard” part.

Sure, you will always get criticism – that’s a part of life. At work, from your family and even your friends. I try to understand where that criticism is coming from and what I can do about it. If it is coming from someone I respect, I try to understand why they are giving me this feedback and will correct my behaviors.

It’s really important but I don’t think of it as “balance” – where it is one or the other – and you are trading off one for the other. For me, it’s about work-life integration. How do you make your work a part of your life and yet make the time for everything else that matters in your life? How do we integrate – your family, your work, your community, and yourself. It’s not about spending equal time on all these every day – that will be impossible. It’s more about making each of these a priority and being aware that you are giving each of these your attention as and when needed. By the way, the biggest challenge is self-care and taking care of our mental wellness. That’s what my new company Fable is all about.

This is a tough one. I feel most proud when my team accomplishes something important – launching a product, a feature. So, in some sense, there is not a single event but really many memorable moments. The awards, honors, etc. are not something I keep a score on. While I am grateful for the recognition – they are not the end goal. My goal always with my work has been to have an impact and to develop talent.

In India and actually in the U.S as well – we need to encourage more girls and women to study science and technology and build careers in the technology industry. Tech industry and especially engineering in the tech industry has been male-dominated for so long – we have to actively work to change this. Everything from creating opportunities for women in tech and technical women to spotlighting women in these fields to mentoring women and supporting them makes a difference

Fable is a mission-driven start-up based in Silicon Valley. Fable’s mission is to deliver the world’s best experience for discovering, reading, and discussing stories with friends; in service of mental wellness. Stress, anxiety, depression, and social isolation are on the rise globally. Just 30 minutes of reading every day can improve our mental well-being. Fable helps our community make reading a daily healthy habit. With a rise in demand for safe, private, and interest-based, online social platforms, Fable puts the omnipresent mobile screen in service of digital nutrition: fostering mental wellness, personal growth, and meaningful connections through reading. We are in the midst of what is perhaps the biggest shift in our lives in how learning and work get done. Educational institutions are struggling to help students, faculty, and staff with their physical and mental wellbeing. In addition, they are challenged to ensure that teams stay connected, and not driven to cognitive exhaustion while working or studying remotely. Over-scheduled and under-rested, the mandate for mental wellness has never been more important. Currently, Fable is available in the U.S only as we are still a young start-up. We hope to come to India soon and be available for all IITs to read great books together – to relax and have fun.

My message to everyone on IWD is the following:

Today is a celebration of women everywhere in every field. Know that women play an important role at home, at work, in our society, and don’t try to hold your women back.

My message to women is – keep going, other women are with you in spirit – cheering you on. The world needs us 🙂

Garima Gupta Kapila

Executive Trustee, Swasth Foundation
Head, Swasth Yog Institute
B.Tech. Computer Science and Engineering (2005)

The happiest people are those who lose themselves in the service of others. This may not sound much apt for someone from a technical background, but happiness remains in the pursuit of every one. After completing her BTech in Computer Science and Engineering in 2005, Garima Gupta Kapila stepped into her dream world of consulting with McKinsey. While advising NGOs and philanthropic organisations, little did she know that she would find her inner calling in delving deeper into this field with more direct participation. Starting her social service journey with Teach for India, she has been an Executive Trustee of Swasth Foundation for the last 6 years. She currently heads the Swasth Yog institute there with a vision to assist all human beings to reach their highest potential. In the article, she talks about her experience of working in an NGO and how it helped her to be established (read ‘Swasth’) in life. She urges everyone to acknowledge the masculine and feminine aspects within each of us instead of seeing people as just male and female.

The IIT time was the most joyful four years of my life up until a few years back. All the struggle was just before entering. Once I entered, I made sure I made the most of it by exploring the new definition of life and breaking the cocoon. Being talkative, my seniors gave me the nickname Geri. I was heavily involved in extracurriculars in my first two years at IIT. In sports, I was the Vice-Captain of the Athletics team for the Inter- IIT sports competition. I was into Dramatics too and the hostel representative for the English Debating and Literary Club. In my third year, I went to France for foreign exchange.

It was apparent during the college days that I wanted to get into a consulting company. I wanted to explore something other than my core field and consulting seemed to check all the boxes. My learnings at Mckinsey were very foundational. They were so vast that I still apply them in my everyday life. Logical thinking and analytical ability are the key components of your job as a consultant. And these qualities are inevitable in daily life.

I was lucky to get exposure to various industries in the social sector at McKinsey. During that time, I realised that, although I am very secure and can impact on enormous scales in the social world, I had little understanding of the ground realities. I was just about 23 years old and advising NGOs and philanthropic organisations on creating strategies. It was clear to me that I need to understand the situation at the root level, so the change came about.

I have been fortunate to have a family that has always been supportive of my decisions in life. At the same time, I think it helps when you have put in the effort at the crucial junctures in your life. Studying at IIT, coming out of there with a good background, working at McKinsey- all of these were my safety nets and gave me the confidence to take risks in life. People questioned me why I was going back in life. But I had clarity about my goal. I had a safety net; that if I fail, I can always fall upon my solid background in consulting or engineering.

What I am doing today is drastically different from when I started. No one, looking at my trajectory, could have predicted that. We have tried to tell ourselves that there is a “conveyor belt” way to get to a destination. I have observed that there are a million ways to get to that endpoint. But looking back today, many friends from school and those who were not good in academics have worked at McKinsey. They worked on their strengths, and with their persistent efforts, found an entry point. If there is a mountain to climb, there is no one way to do it, and the shortest path may not be the best path. Sometimes the most straightforward approach actually wears it out the most. Why do top performers have issues with depression, anxiety, and suicide today? Because we are trying to take the shortest path. Let us take the path that we can enjoy and be very happy.

It plays a significant role once one goes out into the real world, particularly as an engineer. When we have to work with people, we need to remind ourselves that there are two aspects to everyone- rational and emotional. We have started categorising that women are empathetic and emotional while men are logical and rational. But that’s not how the world works. Each of us has a masculine and a feminine side. It is not about being male or female, but about the masculine and feminine aspects in each of us. Each of us has a rational brain and an intuitive brain. Why did Steve Jobs do so well after he came to India? He learned intuition, which is a feminine quality. He used it to his advantage while making his products and eventually did wonders in life.

At Swasth, we are trying to use learnings from Western sciences and the traditional systems of Yoga and Ayurveda, which have a lot of wisdom but are just not spoken in the language that we understand. We are trying to integrate them and use those to work on people’s well-being. We work with people to help them be the best versions of themselves by simply understanding who they are, and aligning themselves.

Looking at the meaning of Swasth, “swa” means my own self and “stha” means to be situated, so it implies being established within our self. We first started our work with a focus on healthcare, but it is now about establishing our own selves, which is our body, energy, mind and emotions. Reversal of diseases and health is a natural outcome of this process.

I am grateful that NGOs don’t have the same pressures as for-profit organisations in terms of being driven only by maximising the financial return. When you switch to a non-profit, we are not focused on churning out maximum profits but maximising the social returns. That allows us to do a lot of innovation. Also, although it holds for other sectors too, the social sector provides for much tougher problem-solving. These are problems that the world has not solved yet; solving them encourages me.

IIT is not just a brand. It stands for a lot more. It is a safety net from which we can jump and grab the uncountable opportunities lying in the outside world. Remember not to get caught up in the trap. Use this as a platform and dream big.

From the Women’s Day perspective, I urge everyone to stop looking at people as male and female; look at, and honour the masculine and the feminine within each of us. In the yogic tradition, it is said, “Bhavam Bhavani Sahitam Namami”. I think that sums up my message to all my readers.

Renu Malhotra

Planetary Scientist and Professor at University of Arizona
MS Physics (1983)
P.hD. in Physics (Cornell)

Although IITD is one of the most prestigious technical institutions in India, very few among us pursue basic research later on. Even fewer make discoveries which change our understanding of the solar system forever. In this article, we talk to Prof. Renu Malhotra, an American planetary scientist who graduated from IIT Delhi with a bachelor’s and master’s degree in Physics in 1983. A physics enthusiast since childhood, Ms. Malhotra went to the US to complete her Ph.D. at Cornell University and Post-Doctoral studies at Caltech. She then worked at the Lunar and Planetary Institute for nine years, where she produced groundbreaking research on Pluto’s orbital resonance and predicted the resonant structure of the Kuiper Belt. For her work, she won the Harold. C. Urey Prize in 1997. She is currently a Regents professor at the University of Arizona’s Lunar and Planetary Laboratory. She was elected to the US National Academy of Sciences in 2015, one of the highest honors for a scientist. Read more to discover her journey into the world of academia and her views on the representation of women in science.

My parents were originally from Lahore but then moved to India after the partition. I was born in New Delhi. Since my dad had a job in the air force, we moved around a lot. Finally, we settled in Hyderabad and that’s where I spent the majority of my childhood. I was brought up with three siblings in a pretty modest family. My mother was very determined to raise her daughters to be financially independent. I was enrolled in one of the top schools in the city on a scholarship. However, I used to feel a bit out of place because of my different socio-economic background.

I remember that during my sixth or seventh grade, my teacher would send me out of the classroom for asking questions that would challenge the textbook. So, I spent a lot of the time outside the classroom, but that was very motivating. That motivated me to pursue science and figure out how nature works.

I think the campus still looks very similar to our time, but there are many more hostels now. Our batch had around 200 students with only 6 girls. So that made for some strange things. The group I spent most of the time with were physics nerds. In my first year, I participated in a few extra-curricular activities like badminton and theater. I was also very involved in the campus newspaper – Pulse. I used to have my own column in that.

Many people helped me study at IITD. I received a scholarship from my dad’s employer, Indian Airlines. I tutored some of the professors’ kids for some extra money. Though, I was never tutored for JEE.

I did my Ph.D. at Cornell and then my Postdoc research at Caltech. At Cornell, I felt very isolated. It was tough to maintain contact with family because phone calls used to be very expensive. I also had a close friend with whom I lost the connection. Some parts of grad school were challenging. There was a professor at Cornell with whom I did some novel work and found a new focus for my research. I then got a postdoc at Caltech. As a Postdoc researcher, you are more on par with the faculty and you are more or less on your own. You are expected to learn independently through books, papers, or people. I think the teaching experience at IITD prepared me quite well for grad school. Grad courses are obviously a bit faster-paced. However, the difficulty level was very similar and at both places I was expected to be self-motivated.

The problem for which I won the prize, I was already thinking about it in graduate school. I had shifted my focus to the area of planetary and orbital dynamics. One of the biggest questions at the time was the role of Pluto amongst other planets. I proposed a hypothesis that we could understand Pluto if we allowed that the solar system did not always look the way it does. That the giant planets’ orbits changed over time, which is called orbital migration. And Pluto is the evidence of this; Pluto’s orbit can be explained with this hypothesis. I also predicted that Pluto should not be the only object and that there would be others with similar orbits. Very shortly afterwards, the Kuiper belt was discovered and many of the predictions were verified. This theory has profound implications elsewhere as well and it turned out to be a very powerful idea in planetary dynamics.

The experience has been great. I have great colleagues. The University of Arizona is one of the very few places with a separate Planetary Sciences department. Our department is a lot more research-focused, and our teaching workload is less than typical. Arizona has historically been a conducive place for Astronomy studies.

I would choose research. Having a teaching part of the job is also very important and helpful. It keeps you fresh and on top of developments in the field. There are times in research when you have run out of ideas and you are bored. Teaching helps you get out of that trough and keeps you rejuvenated.

Looking back at my life, many would say that you faced a lot of barriers for being a woman, but I had blinders on and I was not aware of these issues. However, I understand some women have had difficult and rough experiences in male-dominated fields. Most of my mentors and colleagues have been men and they have been uniformly very supportive. So, I have not really perceived any difficulties personally.

In India, I think there is the tyranny of low expectations, and that bugs me. Society and most families do not expect much from a girl but there are huge expectations from boys. This cannot be legislated and say that having low expectations is illegal. I believe women’s contribution to science, the economy, and culture has not been fairly recognized. However, some areas like the Indian Space Program now have a lot of women which is wonderful. I believe more opportunities should be opened up for women and everyone in general.

Firstly, study. You should study hard and study smartly. Aspire to excel in your field. Also, you should maintain good health.

Poornima Sharma

Managing Director, Technip Stone & Webster Process Technology
B.Tech. Chemical Engineering (1979)

Poornima Sharma, a chemical engineering graduate of batch 1979, is the only woman in IIT Delhi’s history to receive the prestigious President’s gold medal for exceptional academic performance. She is currently the Managing Director at TechnipFMC, a global leader in the oil and energy industry. Mrs. Sharma developed a fond interest in her core engineering domain during her stay at IIT Delhi. After graduating, she worked at NOCIL and later at KTI, where she headed various engineering and management roles. With TechnipFMC, her journey began with taking on even broader management responsibilities. In the article, she reminisces her IIT days, shares her journey to the top in the oil and gas industry, and opens up on the different challenges that torment the working women population. Her advice to women who are starting their professional journey, ” Believe in yourself, have confidence in your talent, and always speak up against biases.”

Many of my best memories are tied to the stay in Kailash Hostel, long lasting friendships that were made during the 5 years spent on the campus. I remember the stress of exams and studying through long nights but also the fun of making tea late at night and sharing with others still awake.

There were very few women in our batch and I was the only one in Chemical Engineering discipline. Being in such a minority I believe was a great motivator to perform as well as the best amongst my class mates. I was also very fortunate that I really enjoyed the field of Chemical Engineering and IITD provided a great curriculum, taught by experienced professors.  

My journey started right after graduation with the first job as an Ethylene plant technologist for NOCIL in Mumbai. After a few years in Nocil where I gained experience in an operating unit, I moved over to KTI in Delhi that specialized in the design and engineering of projects in the Oil and Gas industry. At KTI, I had multiple assignments designing plants, in commercial and sales roles and ultimately decided to leave India and rejoined KTI Corporation in Los Angeles, USA. In the US, my career continued to grow from process engineering and into more senior management roles at KTI and then at Technip. With TechnipFMC my journey continued as I moved from Los Angeles to Houston, taking on wider management responsibilities. The opportunity to become a Managing Director came when TechnipFMC acquired Stone & Webster in 2012 and formed a new division in Houston.

TechnipFMC, and now known as Technip Energies, has been a leader in Oil and Gas projects worldwide for over 60 years. Over this long history, Technip Energies has implemented many innovative projects such as floating LNG plants, world scale petrochemical projects, building some of the largest capacity ethylene, refining and LNG plants all over the world. My group in Houston has designed ones of the largest resid Fluidized Catalytic Cracking for a client in the middle East for production of gasoline, propylene and other products.

I have been very fortunate that my career was built in a field of engineering that I truly enjoy and admire deeply. IITD gave me an excellent education and I have had the opportunity to work for companies that were leaders in the Oil and Gas industry, were innovative, focused on technology and believed in hiring the best talent

While the Oil and gas industry around the world is actively trying to attract more women, it continues to be largely driven and managed by men. The challenges that I have faced throughout my career continue to be faced by women that are joining the work force today. Balancing work and home life while consistently achieving a high degree of performance at work, is a challenge for women and was for me. I have found that some colleagues and managers have a generalized belief about what I, as a woman, could do or not do at work, resulting sometimes in lost opportunities. I have found that the best way to tackle such challenges is to maintain confidence in yourself, continue to work hard, look for opportunities and be ready to speak up and address biases as soon as they arise.  

To my 20-year old self studying in IITD I would say – have confidence in yourself, believe in your talents. Be adventurous

My message to women who are starting their professional journey is to believe in yourself, have confidence in your talent and always speak up against biases. Join those organizations that have demonstrated a diverse and inclusive environment. Most importantly, enjoy your chosen profession.

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