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AECOMs Deepthi Nagappa says speaking up can challenge bias

AECOM's Deepthi Nagappa says speaking up can challenge bias

 March 28, 2019

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Deepthi Nagappa is a consultant with AECOM's environment business line and based in Bangalore, India. In recognition of International Women's Day, Deepthi shares her own approach to workplace equality and how everyone should strive to create a diverse and inclusive culture.

An inspiring woman

Firstly, Deepthi shares a story of an impressive women who overcame traditional stereotypes and went on to forge a successful career. 

"In 1974, Sudha Murthy noticed a job posting by TELCO (now Tata Motors) advertising an opening in their shop floor for engineering graduates. Specifications about the required candidature were mentioned and at the bottom the fine print read, 'Women engineers need not apply.' Upset over conditions that filtered applicants based on their gender and not educational qualifications, she wrote a telegram directly to J. R. D. Tata expressing her views on their recruitment policies," explains Deepthi.

"In response and much to Sudha’s surprise, she was called for an interview. She successfully passed and was offered the job. She would be the only woman on the shop floor, working in 8-hour shifts and with heavy machines."

Today, Sudha is an author, philanthropist and Chairperson of the Infosys Foundation. Since her time at TELCO, she has authored many books of social relevance, built public libraries and extended aid to the Devadasi community (temple dancers) in North Karnataka.

Gender balance is constantly changing

Deepthi cites this example of speaking up against prejudice, revealing the underlying problems and providing actionable measures to challenge them as essential for any discussion on balance in a traditionally male-dominated world.

Deepthi adds that since 1974, the situation of gender balance has been constantly changing. Around the world, there has been growth in the number of women accessing STEM education in universities and pursuing previously male-dominated careers. Deepthi poses the question: "But what does this mean and why is this important?"

Underrepresentation of women is a lost opportunity 

According to Deepthi, it is often the situation that women participate less than expected due to the sex distribution in the population.

"Underrepresentation of women in the workforce, in key decision-making roles and in public life, are all opportunities lost in tapping into a latent body of intellect, knowledge and experience," explains Deepthi. "Ultimately, it creates a lacuna in understanding any issue of socio-political and economic importance in its entirety. Persistence of widespread gender insensitivities and anachronistic systems that refuse to accommodate different perspectives, simply fuel the problem."

"In contrast, participation of women in their milieu, say that of Ritu Karidhal, Anuradha TK and Nandini Harinath, three scientists who worked on the Indian Mars Mission (famously known as Mangalyaan) at the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), or the women in Odisha, who in 2014 won a lawsuit to stop a bauxite mine from opening in the Dongria Kondh forest, are increasingly essential contributions in nation building. Inclusion and gender sensitization are key issues to be addressed to enable increased engagement of this often-unheard stakeholder," she adds.

Equal opportunity for all is essential

Deepthi understands that we as a society are almost at a point where access to quality education, opportunities to hone skills and gain employment are not privileges, but the norm. She wants people to create a culture where women don't have to chose between a career and family, where there is support in place to progress the career of the modern working women, and where public spaces are used respectfully by both men and women. However, Deepthi believes that to achieve true balance, we need to be diverse and include people from all backgrounds.

"Achieving balance, not only between the two genders acknowledged in the mainstream, but also heralding equal opportunity for all is essential. For this elusive idea, it’s necessary to understand that solutions are a spectrum and not approaches of top-down or bottom-up," says Deepthi. "Constant back and forth, iterations and corrective actions against our personal and social biases and prejudices are seeds to achieve fruition in this solidarity movement."

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