‘The journey to the top is marred by a lot of leaks and blocks’
An Interview with Prema Suresh, General Manager – Head of Engineering, Mumbai Operating Centre, Technip India Ltd.
Technip India Ltd.
To celebrate the success of women entrepreneurs and achievers in the industrial automation domain
How adventurous has the journey to success been so far?
I would not call the journey adventurous, but definitely call it very exciting. Immediately after my maternity when I was still at the beginning of my professional career, I had taken a sabbatical for a few years to raise my daughter. But I had not lost the sight of my goal and once I returned back to active career, I did not allow any opportunity to go waste and left no stone unturned to achieve it.
The comeback to corporate world was not essentially smooth sailing and during the course, I had to make some sacrifices, such as missing on my daughter’s PTA, performances, be with her during some of her exams or a few milestones in her life, but with the support of the family, there was no looking back or second thoughts on my aspirations. The last 10 years, I would say, have been more accelerated with me going from one strong position to another. My passion towards my work was well recognised by the company management and I got exponential career growth, now heading the engineering division and leading a team of approximately four hundred employees.
For a country where women have joined the workforce decades ago, there are few in leadership positions. What are the possible reasons?
Women enter workforce in large numbers at the entry level positions, but the journey to the top is marred by a lot of leaks and blocks with very few women finally making it to the top echelons. Most of the women just get relegated to staff or assistant roles and they finally drop out or retire at the same levels. Most women could not fight the odds and stress of the rigours of work required to pursue the climb. Firstly, it should start from self. Self help is the best help, and women have to help themselves to stay in the game. They should have the desire combined with the hard work that is required to advance to next steps. Then comes the support of the family, especially during child raising years (as women in India are the primary care givers for the children and the aged); and last but not the least, the companies need to address the barriers that hold women back from giving their best shot to the top.
There is always a glass ceiling and it is not always gender-based. But how difficult is it for a woman to enter the corner office?
In my opinion, there is no glass ceiling to overcome. There are just as many opportunities and threats for women as there are for men of equal calibre. It is left to the individuals to choose how successful they want to be.
There are plenty of untapped avenues available in the current economic scenario. One should have the foresight to see those opportunities, have the drive, motivation and tenacity to harness them for their success. Having said that, women should have more perseverance as well as risk taking ability, and most important, should not shy away from making their aspirations known to the management. Knowing what you need to get a job in the corner office and preparing yourself can help make the path clearer without compromising on your guiding values and principles.
In recent years we have had some successful cases of women CEOs in Banking/Finance, but not many in engineering. Will this change in the coming years?
The greatest blocker for women is that the oil and gas industry is by and large heavy machinery and hard core engineering oriented industry. Unlike in other sectors such as Banking and Finance, there are few women at the top most level that would serve as role models for the other women. This shall be attributed to a large extent to the requirement of being at the construction sites, offshore oil platforms, etc., where the conditions are harsh and rigorous and make it hard for women to be away from the family and children for long durations. Also flexible working hours and other benefits prevalent in IT and other sectors encourage young talents to prefer those sectors over engineering sector. It is already changing as we can see career aspiring women reaching to higher positions in engineering companies too. And I am sure, in near future we will see women role model in energy sector in India too.
Final question, do successful women deliberately avoid the limelight?
Not necessarily. I think it is more of a case of individual nature; we cannot generalise it. Women who have achieved success would not shy away from being in the limelight especially when it would allow them to give back to the society, motivate more and more young women and also make a difference.
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