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Closing STEM Gender Gap Needs Intentional, Continuous Approach: Shveta Arya

In an interview with SheThePeople, Shveta Arya - Business Head of Power Systems at Cummins India - discusses her journey in manufacturing space, how she drives equality initiatives, and why closing the gender gap in STEM requires an intentional approach. 

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Bhana Bisht
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Shveta Arya

The path to the manufacturing industry was an organic journey for Shveta Arya. She initially began her career in Management Consulting, where she had the chance to partner with her clients across various industries and verticals. It was transitioning to the service industry that further broadened her perspective. Eventually, she found her way to manufacturing, attracted by its promise of personal learning and growth opportunities.

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Leading the Power Systems Business Unit for Cummins India, she is responsible for driving business growth and strategy and strengthening customer relationships for the Power Generation, Industrial and Cummins Generator Technology line of businesses, serving India and the global markets. In an interview with SheThePeople, Shveta Arya discusses her integral journey in the manufacturing space in India, whether leadership means differently for men and women, how she drives equality initiatives as a leader, and why closing the gender gap in STEM requires an intentional approach. 

Excerpts from the interview

Was the manufacturing industry always on the list when you'd set out for your journey in business?

What captivated me most about manufacturing was its wide-reaching impact. Cummins, with its distinguished 60+ year legacy in India, stood out as a powerhouse driving projects across diverse sectors including railways, marine, mining, data centres, healthcare, and infrastructure. The shift to manufacturing from professional services offered me the chance to expand my knowledge base while embracing new technologies.

The manufacturing sector, for me, has been an arena of exciting opportunities, allowing me to make significant impacts not only within the organization but also across the broader industry landscape – customers, communities, business partners and employees.

Is leadership different for men and women? 

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Leadership, in my view, is gender agnostic and thrives on a spectrum of strengths and attributes. While traditional stereotypes might link leadership with specific gender traits, today’s reality underscores that effective leadership transcends gender boundaries, drawing from individual capabilities and skills. Both men and women exhibit successful leadership through a myriad of qualities such as communication, empathy, decisiveness, and strategic thinking. Certain behaviours may be associated more commonly with one gender over another, but these traits are developable through practice and experience.

Acknowledging historical disparities in leadership opportunities for women, some of which persist, the modern industry landscape is actively addressing this issue. Organizations are championing initiatives aimed at mentoring and supporting women in and aspiring for leadership roles. We firmly believe that impactful leadership is rooted in individual potential, inherent qualities, acquired skills, and the ability to inspire and guide the teams toward a shared vision. Demonstrating our commitment to diversity, 33% of our India leadership team comprises women, including our India COO. This representation showcases that leadership knows no boundaries of gender, setting an example for the industry at large.

You’re also running the Cummins Powers Women program in India. Whether it is women’s retention in the workforce or giving them an equal opportunity to compete, leaders need to ensure fair practices prevail. How has your experience been so far in seeing and ensuring this happens at workplaces? 

Historically, the engineering and manufacturing sectors have exhibited a male-dominated landscape. However, there's an increasing acknowledgement within workplaces of the significance of gender equality. Many organizations are actively implementing policies and initiatives to ensure equal opportunities and foster the retention of women in the workforce.

Our Role Categorization System enables employees to benefit from flexible work arrangements, thereby promoting a healthier work-life balance. The "Birth and Beyond" initiative provides pregnant women access to consultations with our in-house medical officer. 

Our Women in Learning and Leadership (WILL) development program is a comprehensive year-long journey designed to accelerate women's careers. Recognizing the significance of a supportive work environment, we have made significant infrastructural changes. Initiatives include establishing daycare facilities and feeding rooms for new mothers, alongside innovative solutions like height-adjustable tables and gender-inclusive safety gear.

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The world of technology is fast evolving and so are the notions around gender in the workplace. While women are making exemplary moves in the field of tech, there’s still a long way to see more women higher up the ladder. Where in your opinion are the industry and connected deep-rooted stigmas failing women?

Women have made commendable progress in the technology sector, breaking barriers, and contributing remarkably to various fields. However, despite this progress, there are still significant challenges and deeply ingrained biases hindering women’s advancement to leadership positions. Achieving gender parity requires a transformative societal shift, challenging the perception that home care, childcare, and elderly care are exclusively women's responsibilities. Mere organizational policies will not catalyze women's professional growth until society wholeheartedly embraces, values, and empowers women professionals to thrive in leadership roles.

The absence of accountability for companies and individuals perpetuating gender inequalities exacerbates the issue. The unchecked growth of such biases leads to a culture of tolerance, allowing discriminatory behaviours and practices to persist. 

Unlocking the full potential of women in tech requires a transformative trifecta: individual action, systemic change, and societal evolution. At an individual level, we must actively combat unconscious bias and advocate equal opportunities. As a society, we must evolve to break down outdated norms and empower women. This journey toward equity is not only just, but it is also essential for unleashing the full potential of our tech ecosystem - where women not only survive but thrive and lead.

How do you believe all stakeholders can come together to ensure women are not just part of STEM fields in higher numbers but also thrive?

In the past decade, organizations across various industries have made significant progress in driving inclusion and diversity in the workforce. Yet there is more to be done. 

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To better encourage and support women, a continuous and intentional approach is crucial for creating the right ecosystem. Some steps are:

  • Prioritize Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DE&I) initiatives: Companies should emphasize and implement DE&I initiatives with programs and policies that attract, retain, and advance women employees. 
  • Promote STEM education: Encouraging girls and young women to pursue education in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) is vital for building a robust talent pipeline. Offering scholarships, mentorship programs, and exposure to STEM fields can help spark interest and enthusiasm.
  • Create supportive work environments: Recognizing that women often juggle dual responsibilities, companies should provide flexible work arrangements, mentorship opportunities, and programs addressing work-life balance challenges. Such initiatives empower women to thrive in their careers.
  • Showcase female role models: Highlighting female role models is crucial for building confidence among aspiring individuals to succeed in comparable roles.

What factors have had the biggest impact on your growth as a leader?

Firstly, the presence of inspiring role models has played a significant role in my career. Observing and learning from individuals who embody exemplary leadership traits has been instrumental in shaping my own leadership style and approach.

Equally influential have been the leadership development programs I have participated in. These programs went beyond merely honing skills and competencies; they focused on inculcating the right leadership behaviours and making me aware of my strengths and blind spots. They provided a space to delve deeper and question my own beliefs, values and reactions and understand myself better. And of course, leaders who took bets on me and gave me challenging roles, some believing in my capabilities a lot more than I believed in myself. 

What is your advice for women in this industry?

To young women aspiring to pursue a career in the manufacturing industry, I urge you not to be deterred by the misconception that it is a male-dominated domain. There are numerous opportunities in this sector for you to shine. Have faith in your abilities and the wealth of knowledge you possess. Continuously invest in your education, for knowledge will forever serve as your advantage, aiding you in navigating biases, and stereotypes, and even in challenging the established norms. Moreover, do not shy away from setbacks and failures; rather, embrace them as invaluable opportunities for learning and growth.

women leaders women entrepreneurs Shweta Arya
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