CEO of Mapmygenome, Founder of Ocimum Bio Solutions
“As you get older, you become a natural role model for others. I remember every woman that I met when I started my career. It’s something women leaders need to respect and prioritize.”
How an outstanding mentor can make all the difference
As a woman working in science in India, there are two things that stand out in my mind: first, inspiring more girls to choose science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) for a career; and second, striving for gender balance in the workplace.
In India, we are seeing more girls interested in STEM — the real challenge is turning the universal right to an education into a reality. There is still a large portion of the population that doesn’t have access to education. Of those that do go to school, more and more are from families encouraging them to study STEM, so that’s a positive. The two most-coveted career options are a doctor and an engineer. India’s male-to-female ratio for engineers is 1.96 (so, nearly two men to every woman), compared with 4.61 in the US.
However, counteracting this is a growing negative media influence. When I was growing up, we read books; it was okay to be a geek. This generation, however, watches so much TV, where there are so many negative stereotypes about women — what we should look like, what we should do. We have to keep challenging these perceptions of and expectations for women.
Part of the equation is getting more girls into STEM; the other part is keeping them there. Globally, there is a drop-off point when women decide to have families. But what I am finding in my company is that women continue to pursue their careers if two things happen: 1) if they feel a sense of accomplishment from their work; and 2) if the financial costs of childcare are reasonable.
For women who have a choice, it’s a question of priorities: am I getting enough from my career to make it worth the trade-off? If women excel at something and feel like their work is making a difference, they stay on. If they feel like they can have more of an impact by raising their children, then they will do that.
Gender balance is something that every company struggles with. In my own company, we went the opposite way and at one point were 80% women and 20% men. We are working to make this 50–50. I think gender balance gives you the best ideas, the best working environment and the best performance.
In terms of getting into leadership, you have to be talented and ambitious, but beyond that, the right mentor can make all the difference. I’ve been lucky enough to have an outstanding mentor. She’s an expert in life sciences, extremely well educated, but humble at the same time.
She has coached me through the numerous ups and downs that every entrepreneur goes through. She has asked the tough questions but also reminded me that at the end of the day, we are all human beings and need compassion. She’s taught me that you don’t have to be arrogant to succeed; people will respect you for what you do.