IIT Kanpur’s teaching makes you a ‘self-analyser’: First woman CMD of EIL

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

IIT Kanpur’s teaching makes you a ‘self-analyser’: First woman CMD of EIL Vartika Shukla receives the Distinguished Alumnus Award at IIT Kanpur’s 62nd Foundation Day last week.
Sheena Sachdeva | Nov 11, 2021 - 12:16 p.m. IST
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Q. How did IIT Kanpur help shape your career?

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Studying at IIT was always a dream! The essence of studying at IIT is inculcating thoughts and ideas which are raw in young students. The faculty at IIT Kanpur moulds the thought process and skills in students that leads to immense strength both in terms of professional and personal life, through logical analysis and making decisions dispassionately. Moreover, the way the curriculum and the structure of courses in IIT Kanpur are created, actually makes you a self analyser. We had freedom of thought, unlike in rote learning. The campus is still beautiful and instils a lot of peace.

Q. Back in the 80s, engineering courses weren't pursued by women. What challenges did you face being a woman in engineering?

Even now there are few women engineers and as an organisation, we fail to fill in an adequate number of women. However, it's encouraging to see almost 20% of IIT students being women — this was just a handful, less than double-digits, during our time. As a woman at IIT Kanpur, I didn't face any difference in terms of gender. If you bring value to the table and have the ability to think through and bring in the right solutions, you will always be valued. Hence, your skills will be valuable for peers, customers and other colleagues.

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I firmly believe that certain qualities do not have any 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 out of my boundaries or the role as well as moving away from comfort zones. Of course, we are a patriarchal society and that cannot change easily. Further, your roles are intermingled within the roles of your family commitments and performing in your professional life. During the child-rearing phase, most women drop out, so as an organisation we support them to restart their careers.

Q. You have held many leadership and consultant roles across several sectors. How has your experience been so far?

It has been a satisfying, motivated and quite enriching journey. Every project I do is a new project and assignment which provides new opportunities and challenges in a new territory both domestically and internationally. So there is a lot of variety.

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Q. Being designated as the first women CMD of Engineers India Limited, according to you what helped you reach here? How did IIT-Kanpur help you reach here?

It's hard work and perseverance and you have to do the extra bit. As a human, the more we grow in our career position, there is a tendency to feel more important and we carry the burden of our experiences. However, if people can utilise this experience and empower their teams through their experiences, it can be a crucial element of growth.

It's good that people surround you with important decisions but it's bad for the organisation and also for the individual if you don't grow out of that role, it might have some negative effects. Even today I look for something new and more exciting. I have a constant urge to find a refined role for myself. Another factor to growth is proper health. I always told women and men that one should be careful about one's health because if you are healthy you'll be able to take up more challenges like working long hours, travelling and several others.

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Being an IIT alumnus is great as the institution speaks for itself. The contribution of the education from the institute is a strong foundation to look at various challenges of the world which are quite uncertain at times.

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

Startups are a good initiative that gives a lot of space for initiating business with low capital. Through support from academia and the industry, the will and the ability to bring in new things is changing the environment, both at the business and ideation level, enabling growth. Startups are fast-tracked as they are not tied up with processes and procedures as they are fast in terms of market growth. This has enhanced the business environment. In our country everyone is working towards new technologies, repositioning themselves as sustainable yet strong business players.

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Q. Several recent incidents have created a pressing situation for policymakers to re-think in terms of sustainable development in India. What should be done to mitigate these challenges?

As we are fossil fuel dependent, hence, we must look for India specific solutions through renewable resources. We must look at leaner plastics and technologies that use biomasses. Another important aspect is to change the mindset of the masses towards sustainable usages. We need to create awareness in individuals as to how our actions are affecting the environment.

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