Be Resilient To Find A Way To Reach The Goal: Sarada Jayakrishnan

Karthika S Nair | Mar 08 2021
Image credits: Sarada Jayakrishnan

Women are often fed with the idea that the field of Engineering, Technology, and Science might not be suitable for them. Despite this gender discrimination, there are women whose talent and persistence earned them their place in the field of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Medicine). 

Sarada Jayakrishnan is one of the few early women who surmounted the negativity that blocked women from pursuing STEM. Now, she is the chairperson of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), Kerala Section, the world's largest technical professional organization dedicated to the betterment of humanity with the help of technology. 

In Kerala, activities related to the IEEE were formally initiated on 17 February 1975.

Upon the formation of the India Council, the Kerala subsection became part of the Bangalore Section in 1976, later it became a full section in 1983. 

She believes technology, promising engineers, and scaling up are the three aspects that determine the future of industries and society. The growth or scaling-up process is very well connected to ethics and equality devoid of gender and racial affiliation, she says. 

Here are the excerpts from an interview Sarada Jayakrishnan had with the BEYOND Pink App team.

You made history as the first woman chairperson of IEEE in over 30 years. Will you share your journey in the field of engineering and IEEE.

Dr. Gomathi Muralidharan was the first woman to be Chair of IEEE Kerala Section during the early years of the Section formation. When I became Chair in 2020, we realised that it took almost 32 years for the next time a Chair-woman was identified. In a sense, I might have brought in a realisation to Section leadership on how we need to work in bringing more women volunteers to the leadership roles.

I discovered many of my leadership skills through my volunteering in IEEE, primarily for the Kerala Section. After my graduation from the College of Engineering, Trivandrum I had moved to Bangalore and then to Delhi gathering my experience in manufacturing industries. I returned back to Trivandrum and was busy firming up my career when I was brought to IEEE again by one of my mentors. In college, I had been part of IEEE events thanks to Dr. Gomathi who was my teacher too. The various IEEE journals, in those days, were almost the only source of the latest information on advances in Technology.

I am also the one in the Section, who has been able to be in all the office bearer posts of the Section from Treasurer, Secretary, Vice-Chair, and Chair. Each term lasts for 2 years. My active domain has been Women In Engineering and has led the Section Affinity Group to win the Prestigious Region 10 award for Best WiE AG for the first time in 2013. The innovative programs that had come up from the vibrant team of volunteers while I was the Chair of the WiE AG also led to my winning the 2014 R10 Best WIE professional Volunteer award. The humanitarian activities arm of IEEE has also given me opportunities to closely work on projects for the Underprivileged girls in Govt Shelter homes and other institutions. 

As the Chairperson of the organization, what are your priorities for IEEE this year?

I have taken up two major initiatives for the Section with the support of Section Execom to enhance member engagement with the local community in Kerala. The Strategic Initiative on Industry Engagement[SIIE] and the Strategic Initiative on Academia [SIAE] works as two sides of the same coin and in many ways also supplement each other. Both these initiatives have the foundation of the many technical Societies within the Section and also the aspect of looking at the circumstances of Kerala’s Industry-Academia Gap.IEEE Kerala Section wants to act as a liaison between both.

  • The SIIE looks at positioning IEEE Kerala Section as the go-to for local Industries especially MSME & Startups as Technology providers, with a vast pool of technically skilled members. We have started actively engaging with Maker Village last year and shaping up to our engaging models with the MSME sectors. The engagements will include providing technical solutions to problems, upskilling associates to manage the changes due to Industry 4.0 technologies and providing platforms for recruitment of students as Interns. 
  • SIAE looks at utilising the large pool of our eminent Academician members in working with KTU on fine-tuning the Engineering curriculum, skilling teachers on newer technologies & better delivery models and thereby help in bringing out Industry-ready Engineers from the Colleges of Kerala.

Image: Sarada Jayakrishnan


Tell us about your work in TERUMO PENPOL?

In my last 22 years that I have been working in Terumo Penpol, the single thought that each product we make helps a patient in need makes me proud to be part of the company. I had learned basic managerial lessons from this great organisation, wherein I later went to get the theory behind Management through my PGCBM from XLRI, Jamshedpur.

 The organisation stands tall in its capability, right from the beginning, to be very inclusive in providing opportunities. I had been fortunate to work through various departments within the Organisation including Design & Development, Production, Product Servicing, Marketing, Operations, and now Heading Quality function of its larger manufacturing arm where close to 30Mn Blood Bags are manufactured per year.

Do you think girls are systematically discouraged from pursuing their interests?  What are your recipes to bridge the STEM gender gap?

Let’s talk about Kerala Scenario. Definitely, Girls are not discouraged. In fact, at times they are only given the two options of Engineering or Medicine. But the gap is in the fact that they do not get the real essence of Science, Technology & its applications. It's an inherent fear of “Will I go wrong?”, “Am I asking a foolish question” that deters them from pursuing further into their STEM career path? We can keep blaming our education system, but it all depends on how we prepare and support our girls in being confident about themselves.

The next stage is what they do as they progress through their career, we have seen how many decide to not fully utilise their potential, sometimes due to their family circumstances, but many times due to their lack of will to pursue. 

The recipe is simple: Show the girl the real benefit of the application of Science, help in building their confidence & identity and the gap will automatically close. 

This is where Organisations like IEEE come in to play a major role in moulding their younger generation into real Professional, polishing their Technical skills and in a large way get them to discover their potential. IEEE focuses on conveying and showcasing this, as explicitly seen in its tag line “Advancing Technology for the Benefit of Humanity”. There’s a sense of ownership and commitment that comes up which drives the members & students its touches, to develop passionate Engineers.

What should organizations do to be women inclusive?

Everything depends on Organisational leadership. As the saying goes” An Organisation’s culture is its Leaders Culture”. With the Leadership commitment, start with being gender agnostic in recruitments, provide women-friendly workspaces, get empathetic men as ambassadors to bring in the change, Strong communication to see that unrespectful behaviour and harassment in any form will not be accepted, having grievance cells, women support groups etc. 

Women should finally stand for each other, Speak up and support! 

Show that this workspace is really “SAFE & WELCOMING”!

What's your perfect work-life balance formula?

There’s nothing like a perfect work-life balance.

Its how we manage to fully engage the various support systems available to us by way of Family, friends, organisation, etc. If we are clear on our priorities and what we need to achieve, we will automatically find ways to get the balance. I have been very lucky in having great family support, a group of friends and mentors. Set your priorities, communicate, be clear you can only be in one place at a time, Innovate, Ask for HELP and you will succeed.

You will have challenges, but please know those last only for a limited time; we are resilient enough to find our way to reach our goal!