In this Global STEM Perspectives series, our SWE Content Curators work group will bring you experiences, success stories and perspectives from different women in different regions. We have started with India, with women in the public sector. So, here is Ms. Kavitha Gunasekaran, born in a remote location of Tamil Nadu in Southern India, working as a STEM professional in one of the largest Aerospace and Defence companies in India: Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL). She is also a member of Internal Complaints Committee on Prevention of Sexual Harassment in the Workplace, Vice President of HAL Productivity Council, Lead Auditor & Qualified Internal Auditor AS9100D certification, recognized guest faculty at Management Academy, and recognized trainer for customers.
Let’s get started.
Kavitha, can you please enlighten us with what attracted you to the field of STEM?
Being the first born of a new generation in my family in a remote location of Tamil Nadu in Southern India and being a girl was so much of a disappointment for my relatives (not my parents, luckily). There were always these discouraging talks around like, ‘she can’t do this, she can’t do that’, shouldn’t pursue higher studies but be married off, definitely not think of a career, not leave the home for a job, no financial independence, shouldn’t live on her own, so on and so forth. But instead of giving in to this, I resolved to break all those stereotypes with the unstinted support of my parents, teachers and mentors. Realizing the dream of higher education against the societal pressures of getting married, made me the first engineer, the first woman engineering graduate and the first career woman in the family, paving the way for the rest of the girls in the extended family to pursue their education and careers with much less opposition.
Since childhood, I have been fascinated by aircrafts and space expeditions. I always wanted to be amidst aircrafts. The combination of dreams, strong backing from my immediate family—my dad, Gunasekaran, a pillar of strength; my mom, Manimegalai, who instilled the ‘never give up’ attitude; and strong will power borrowed from my sister, Anitha, to break stereotypes and prove my detractors wrong—made me choose the STEM field.
What do you love most about working as Senior Manager at HAL?
My stint at HAL is dream come true as I always aspired to work in the Aerospace field. I now realize that the universe has conspired to transform my thoughts to reality and that’s why I landed in my dream job. Maybe it was the law in action! Attracting things by its magnetism.
The job has enabled me to step out of my comfort zone and work in another city, another state, that was completely new to me, away from my family. I could do all this without batting an eyelid, only for realizing my dream that gave me the power to do such things that I never dreamt I would ever do.
I have been blessed with a lot of opportunities to learn, develop and grow as a person and professional at my organization. Some of the transformative and experiential opportunities that stand out include Project Management Professional certification, Member -Internal Complaints Committee on Prevention of Sexual Harassment in the Workplace, Vice President of HAL Productivity Council, Lead Auditor & Qualified Internal Auditor AS9100D certification, recognized Guest faculty at Management Academy and recognized trainer for customers.
The most special memories are from the training of our batch of management trainees at my company’s management academy. It was not a training that I underwent but it was a transformation. A transformation from a shy and highly introverted person into an outgoing person, an evolution from a submissive person to an assertive person, a transition from a follower to a leader, thanks to the all-around training provided by amazing faculty members, guidance from my mentors and support from my friends and batchmates. It greatly moulded me and provided the best training ground for giving my best to the various roles undertaken by me thus far. In the role as Senior Manager and Shop Supervisor leading a team of 30 technicians, I could greatly contribute in my teams’ success in implementing major improvement projects by effectively managing around a hundred stakeholders. This was possible with the constant encouragement and support from my colleagues, seniors, cross-functional members from other departments and the top management.
You have been an active member for Women in Public Sector (WIPS). What is your major contribution?
I believe in being a positive influence, pursuing versatility by actively engaging in technical, professional, linguistic, academic and cultural pursuits. As a member of Divisional Women’s Committee and member of Women in Public Sector (WIPS), I have collaborated with inspirational female colleagues and senior women leaders to conduct workshops on stress management, conflict management, promoting wellness, and help in achieving work-life balance, in order to encourage other female colleagues to realize their strengths and excel in the various domains. Exhibiting leadership with empathy and accountability has been my strongpoint and I am constantly striving to be a better version of myself in my endeavors.
You are also an ambassador for JobsForHer portal in India. What is this portal, and why should women in STEM participate?
The JobsForHer portal provides a great platform for women to network, search for jobs, find mentors, find support to restart career after breaks, participate in job fairs, find tips on updating resumes, and be part of several support groups all within the ambit of the platform. In short, it is the go-to portal for Women in STEM to create, build and advance their careers and opportunities.
What’s your proudest professional achievement?
I was honored with the Outstanding Women Executive Award on March 8, 2020 by the Forum of Women In Public Sector, Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (Under the aegis of SCOPE). The award was in recognition of outstanding performance and dedication in professional, personal and social spheres through several initiatives and in cognizance of contributions by way of publications, volunteering through social & professional affiliations aimed at the transformation of organisation, family and society. This is my proudest professional moment and the most treasured recognition which was made possible by the continuous encouragement and unstinted support of my friends, family, teachers, colleagues, well-wishers, mentors and role models in my organization and social circles.
What advice would you like to give to the next generation of women who aspire to a career in aerospace?
Give wings to your dreams. If you don’t believe in them, if you don’t nurture or care for them, no one else will. Soar high to higher altitudes, no matter the drag on your energy, dents to your confidence, stops to your ambitions, created by critics or detractors.
The aerospace industry is a high precision industry with emphasis on reliability and high standards of safety. The industry covers a wide range of operations and requires aerospace, aeronautics, instrumentation, chemical, electronics, electrical, production, mechanical engineers. Those aspiring to a career in aerospace need to be tuned to these requirements and keep following the latest trends and technology breakthroughs the industry is experiencing such as additive manufacturing, industry 4.0, artificial intelligence, etc.
For women aspiring to build their career in any field, my growth mantra would be:
Remember the 5 Cs:
- Connect (with peers, mentors, women leaders)
- Collaborate (work with like-minded individuals to further your ideas)
- Communicate (speak up and speak out)
- Continuously upskill (always strive to learn and grow)
- Change (be quick to adapt to situations)!
You have been a motivational speaker for girl empowerment in India. Can you share some wisdom with us?
First and foremost, speak up for your right to education, vocational and/or higher education, the right for taking up a career and gaining economic independence. Pay it forward whenever you can through volunteer work and empower young girls to dream without boundaries.
Being a working mother can present a lot of challenges, work-life balance being the primary concern. However, if we manage to maintain a sound mind and a sound body, design a reliable support system at home, it is possible to strike that balance to a large extent. A great deal of passion and multi-tasking skills is required to handle the multiple priorities at work and fulfill family obligations all at the same time. It is also observed that children of working mothers take up responsibilities early in their life and soon become independent in doing their work, so it is not only self-empowering by charting our own career paths but also empowering a whole new generation through our own shining examples. Quoting the example of my 8-year-old son, Sreesathvik.R.K, who is already learning to be independent, always motivates me, is inspired by my work and aspires to be an earth scientist one day. Tapping into familial support provided by my son and my husband Rajiv for my professional and academic pursuits, greatly helps me in striking a balance and focus on my holistic growth.
Find your mentor(s), your support, your sponsor, the beacon of hope, who believes in you, to be that lighthouse steering you in your journey. Always be in gratitude to them.
Believe in the power of your dreams. Planes are meant to fly, not stay grounded. The same applies to your dreams. Dreams don’t distinguish genders, physical appearance or stature, dreams can’t give in to criticism and it is basically disembodied. Everything lies within you to give life to your dreams, make them real and true. Open your eyes to the world of opportunities. Life will throw challenges at you, so be willing to fight the battles with grit so that you can come out strong and create hope for several others fighting similar battles. Instead of limiting yourself and counting the obstacles, free yourself, count your blessings, explore all the possibilities and sometimes, even impossibilities too. If I can, so can you.
Believe strongly that – “You are unique, you have come here for a purpose, you’re a gift to the world and your life priceless! You are worth more than that which meets the eye!”
This article was created by SWE’s Content Curator Workgroup.