EIL’s first female CMD

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Vartika Shukla, the first woman to lead Engineers India Limited, graduated from IIT Kanpur in 1988 and received the Distinguished Alumnus Award that year.

Vartika Shukla received the Distinguished Alumnus Award at the 62nd Foundation Day of IIT Kanpur last week.

Q. How has IIT Kanpur helped shape your career?

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Studying at IIT has always been a dream! The essence of studying at IIT is to instill raw thoughts and ideas in young students. The faculty at IIT Kanpur shapes the thinking process and skills of students, giving them immense strength, both in professional and personal life, through logical analysis and dispassionate decision-making. Plus, the way IIT Kanpur’s course curriculum and course structure is created makes you a self-analyzer. We had the freedom to think, unlike rote learning. The campus is still beautiful and infuses a lot of peace.

Q. In the 1980s engineering courses were not taken by women. What difficulties have you encountered as a woman engineer?

Even now there are few female engineers and as an organization we are failing to recruit enough women. However, it’s encouraging to see almost 20% of IIT students being women – that was only a handful, less than double digits, in our time. As a woman at IIT Kanpur, I have not encountered any difference in terms of gender. If you bring value to the table and have the ability to think things through and come up with the right solutions, you will always be appreciated. Therefore, your skills will be invaluable to your peers, clients and other colleagues.

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I firmly believe that some qualities have no gender differences, they are universal, including working hard, being disciplined, going the extra mile. Every boss wants someone who can go the extra mile. I have always believed in going beyond my limits or the role as well as in moving away from comfort zones. Of course, we are a patriarchal society and that cannot easily be changed. In addition, your roles are intertwined with the roles of your family and performance commitments in your professional life. During the child rearing phase, most women give up, which is why, as an organization, we help them restart their careers.

Q. You have held numerous managerial and consulting positions in several sectors. How has your experience been so far?

It was a satisfying, motivated and very rewarding trip. Each project that I do is a new project and a new mission that offers new opportunities and new challenges in a new territory, both nationally and internationally. So there is a lot of variety.

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Q. Being nominated as Engineers India Limited’s first female CMD, what do you think helped you get here? How did IIT-Kanpur help you get here?

It is hard work and persistence and you need to do a little more. As a human, the more we grow in our career position, the more we tend to feel important and bear the burden of our experiences. However, if people can use that experience and empower their teams with their experiences, it can be a crucial part of growth.

It’s good that people surround you with important decisions, but it’s bad for the organization and also for the individual if you don’t step out of this role it could have negative effects. Even today I am looking for something new and more exciting. I have a constant need to find myself a refined role. Another growth factor is good health. I have always told women and men to pay attention to your health because if you are healthy you will be able to overcome more challenges like working long hours, traveling and many others.

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Being an IIT alumnus is great because the institution speaks for itself. The institute’s educational contribution is a solid basis for examining various challenges of the world which are sometimes quite uncertain.

Q. How can we reinvent engineering and technology education in India and what can we learn from institutions around the world?

Startups are a good initiative that gives a lot of space to start a business with little capital. With the support of academia and industry, the willingness and ability to bring in new things is changing the environment, both at the corporate and ideation level, enabling growth. Startups are accelerated because they are not related to processes and procedures as they are fast in terms of market growth. It has improved the business environment. In our country, everyone is working towards new technologies, repositioning themselves as sustainable but strong economic players.

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Q. Several recent incidents like the Assam oil fire have created an urgent situation for policy makers to rethink in terms of sustainable development in India. What needs to be done to mitigate these challenges?

As we are dependent on fossil fuels, we must therefore seek solutions specific to India through renewable resources. We need to turn to leaner plastics and technologies that use biomass. Another important aspect is to change the mindset of the masses towards sustainable uses. We need to make people aware of how our actions affect the environment.


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