We are soon approaching March 8th and we know that the International Women’s day this year is focused on the topic, #BreakTheBias. Imagine a gender-equal world. It would be so good to see a world free of bias, stereotypes, and discrimination. A world celebrating diversity, equality & inclusiveness. We would love to embrace a world that celebrates diversity and equitable grounds. Celebrate women’s achievements and bring about an awareness against bias. Collectively we can all #BreakTheBias.
On this International Women’s Day, we are sharing and learning from the journeys of SWE Ambassadors on how they challenged the bias and came out winners. How they found their Equitable ground and how they celebrate their achievement through their journey.
Ms. Meenakshi Natarajan: Senior Strategic Sourcing Specialist, Air Products & Chemicals
Meenakshi is a chemical engineering graduate and has 16+ years of industry experience. Currently, she is working as Strategic Sourcing Specialist, with Air Products and Chemicals, Inc. which is an American international corporation whose principal business is selling gases and chemicals for industrial uses. Meenakshi is also the founder of SWE Affiliate, Vadodara.
Tell us a little about your journey so far and how science & technology attracted you as a young girl.
More than science & technology, I got attracted to scientists and technologists. I am from a family, where education & academic excellence was given much importance and no compromise to that. We used to visit our family deity in Trichy once a year. REC (now NIT) lies on the way to Trichy. Every time we cross REC, I used to see the REC’S clock tower, the students moving in & out of the college in awe and my parents used to tell, “Study well; one day you also will be a student here & an engineer”. Those words which echoed my parents’ wish and belief in me, instilled a strong determination since my childhood to become an engineer. Growing up, I saw many girls in my close circle, opted for engineering, got placed in a good organization, and are successful. These further cemented my determination to be an engineer. Moving forward, I did my engineering from Coimbatore Institute of Technology, instead of REC.
After graduation, I joined Vedanta resources as a Graduate Engineer trainee, worked as Smelter technical engineer for 18 months, and after that, I opted for the Supply Chain function, which continues to date.
Have you come across any barriers or biases in your career and how did you overcome them?
Yes, I experienced gender bias in my career. I navigated all those and proved myself, by being resilient and performing to the best. After all, good work is noticed and recognized, and success does follow.
What would be your advice to young women starting their careers?
One of the most important factors, I have come across is to develop relationships. Building a strong network is vital for career success. Women’s Networks are crucial as they bring about close connections, and you could encounter struggles similar to what you are facing or solutions to problems on hand by just speaking and sharing with another woman. You can also explore the umpteen opportunities for your career.
Through your journey what was the most important advice or mentoring topics that helped you scale the ladder.
Speak for yourself — don’t expect your work to speak for itself.
Most women are uncomfortable promoting themselves, thinking that if they do a good job, someone will notice, and the rewards will materialize.” Unfortunately, it rarely happens that way.
Put your point across. Self-promotion is essential. If you don’t promote yourself, then no one will.
When looking at “Diversity & Inclusion” as a topic, how important is it in today’s world and what has been your experience at your workplace?
D&I is essential as a healthy variety of people from different backgrounds provides us with a diversity of thoughts and voices. This will lead to greater innovation & creativity, which leads to increased productivity. Nowadays organizations started to realize this topic, evince interest, and take action to provide an inclusive environment.
How was breaking the glass ceiling for you? Do you think more women are coming into leadership positions, do you still see a gap? What is your take on this topic?
The first and foremost step in breaking the glass ceiling is to be aware that the glass ceiling exists.
It is vital to realize that the glass ceiling is not a reflection of your value as a person or as an employee. The very nature of glass ceilings means that even if you’ve positioned yourself to meet every demand of a role, you’ll still be denied the opportunity. It frustrated me a lot; I agree. Instead of getting succumbed to frustration and negative thoughts, I channeled my frustration and negative thoughts to useful action. I developed and refined myself. I took stretch assignments in various fields of SCM, acquired additional skills & certifications, etc. Every day, I invest in myself and try to become a better version of myself; I made progress both on personal & professional fronts; not even an iota of doubt in it. Further, it is all the more important to raise your concerns to your manager. Be patient; but assertive for some time & check whether there is any progress as it will take some time to address this issue.
Even after doing all these, if you’re not being given the opportunities that you feel you deserve in your current situation, it might be time to seek them elsewhere.
How did you come across SWE and how has SWE benefitted you?
I came to know about the Society of Women Engineers through LinkedIn in 2018. Since then, I have been fascinated by their goals and actions. SWE has been a platform for women from STEM to come together and discuss their problems, issues and share their experiences and learn from each other. Though I have browsed articles and pages of SWE, my first exposure came in the form of a WE Local conference 2021. I got an opportunity to attend the conference through Air Products.
It opened my eyes to the possibilities of volunteering in SWE, sharing ideas to groom myself and the community of women from STEM. I was so inspired by the insights and the knowledge shared by the platform, that I decided to apply for the Global Ambassador program. My application was selected; all thanks to the opportunity provided by Air Products and SWE. I got an opportunity to set up a new SWE affiliate in Vadodara, which is the first professional SWE affiliate for Gujarat. I interacted with various stakeholders, aligning them for the common goal for setting up the affiliate. This has helped to hone my leadership and entrepreneur skills. SWE meetings have helped me to learn and exchange ideas with professionals across the domain and enhance my networking abilities.
Your advice to Women on this women’s day in one sentence.
Be authentic. Be you.