On the occasion of International Women's Day, Metro Rail Today talked with Ms. Usha Pai, who is working with Alstom as Métier Manager – Performance, Competency, Methods & Tools to know her view on various aspects of women empowerment and challanges faced by Women Engineers.
Thank You for the greetings and I take this opportunity to congratulate everyone this International Women’s Day.
My professional journey started as a Government of India (GoI) trainee at Kirloskar Electric Company, Bangalore. I was awestruck with the orientation process across various shop floors which included huge lathes and special purpose machines, the complex grid paralleling systems of MW Generators, transformer tanks to bus bar assemblies. Exposure to the design department and availability of in-depth knowledge was immense. Introduction to computers, came later. Culture and the environment were very conducive for learning and growing. Many friendships were formed for life here.
My next move was to General Electric. Joining as Project Leader for Consolidated Control Architecture, one of the first programs led out of the Bangalore center, resulted in day and night blurring when we raced to meet the deadlines for a flawless launch of the Tier II DC Locomotives. I was a part of the Tiger team put together to address India’s need for Diesel Locomotives for the freight corridor. This was way ahead of its time and helped formulate a very reliable product which later became a reality. Leading the Edison program, in addition to my role, and being a part of the pilot launch for Software Edisons, was a matter of great pride for me.
Joining Alstom as the Project Engineering Manager for Kochi Metro, one of the first projects for Alstom in India was an adrenaline rush. It required patience and perseverance to ramp up, backed by experts from various global sites. After the successful handover of the first train to Kochi, I moved on as the Project Engineering Manager (PrEM) for Lucknow Metro. The team was more experienced, and we were better prepared to handle stringent requirements of the customer. Seeing the Project from design through execution gave me an overview of the lifecycle. After four years in projects, I took up the responsibility for Performance, Competency, Methods & Tools at the Engineering Centre. This is where I understood more about the intricacies in Alstom and developed a rich appreciation for the collaborative and innovative ways of working.
I believe that empowerment is more relevant to an individual’s characteristics and belief and passion. When beliefs and passion are strong, it gives confidence to all stakeholders to leave the decision making to the individual.
I am blessed to have people that do not place barriers based on my gender in my professional and personal life. I am fortunate to have a considerably smoother journey than most women. Like some women, I sometimes carry the guilt of not being there for my family. But I’ve made up for it in the last few years by learning to balance work and personal life.
I have been fortunate to have mentors at all stages, and even today, I don’t hesitate to seek out an opinion, advice, or views on various topics. The most important advice that left an indelible mark on me was on how to manage a difficult time. While being correct and appropriate, my approach was to be vocal about issues and address them with a straightforwardness. This often led to tough conversations. I listened and reflected with a very agreeable mentor and talking through helped me in navigating towards the right way of tackling tough situations. After a couple of years, my mentor spoke about the huge toll his approach had taken on his health and told me that my approach of being open and vocal was probably for the best. It brought home to me the importance of having a voice of your own and being able to stand for your values.
It was at different stages of my career that I worked in different companies and hence my views are very personal to my experiences.
I started my career with KEC, which was any engineer’s dream come true, in terms of touch and feel of the final product. Their Bangalore factory designed and manufactured Motors, Alternators, Transformers etc. and when KEC got into Traction Systems, the field exposure I got was rich.
From there, GE was a whole new world of Simulators and remote working and exposure to the Product after the design was complete. The time that is takes before the launch of a product, the data that is collected and analyzed and the systems which are put in place to address field failures, were a pure delight. Since GE Transportation was part of John F. Welch Technology Centre (JFWTC), I got to experience the culture, in terms of initiatives which were at business level and at the group level. There were forums created for inter-business interactions, which were as enriching as they were fun.
Joining Alstom brought back the proximity to the product. Working with knowledgeable consultants and customers on one side and the rich heritage and experience available in Alstom, with team members coming from different industries and cultures, all rolled into one has been an enjoyable rollercoaster ride. The immense satisfaction of seeing products operate and enhance mobility and infrastructure, is an incredible feeling. My heart swells with pride when I think of how much Alstom India is contributing to the nation’s grand plans.
At Alstom, the focus on intellectual property is huge, and the process of identifying potential at a nascent stage and taking it through the cycle, is very robust. Innovation is a way of life, dealt with holistically coupled with a multi-pronged approach towards various initiatives ranging from making a platform available to put in ideas, which are reviewed and if approved taken through a guided cycle of incubation to a logical proof of concept, to running campaigns around the year based on current needs. There are contests across sites and countries which energizes the entire workforce to participate and stand a chance of being recognized by the CEO of Alstom. There is a culture of identifying and building experts into a community, who are recognized across the company. The learning and training opportunities are at a scale and magnitude that is unrivalled. The definition and assessment of the competency of an individual and linking it to the role that one has, on an ongoing basis, to nurture and grow, through structured individual development plans, has a foundation which is rock solid and extremely well laid out.
Diversity, not only of gender, but also of backgrounds, nationality, race, cultures and age groups to name a few, at workplace is essential. It brings with it the right potential to challenge and motivate us, while giving a whole new perspective. Getting to know how something is addressed differently does result in finding solutions to complex issues. A diverse workforce is also representative of how truly an organization is unbiased to systemic social norms and prioritizes putting together the right talent. It fills me up with pride that, in a country like India where women traditionally do not venture into heavy engineering, Alstom boasts of women in key roles of engineering, R&D, manufacturing and more. When I walk past young women in the office, on their toes, contributing to some of the biggest rail projects in the country, I can only see a bright future with able women leading the sector.
The important thing to remember is to follow your passion, live in the moment and be happy. Everything else will fall in place.