Motorola’s Shanthi Ravindran on breaking stereotypes in STEM
Shanthi Ravindran is the STEM lead on the Singapore Women’s Business Council at Motorola. She shares her plans to reach out to universities, schools and the Society of Women Engineers – and to support more hackathons.
My parents taught me that to be respected as a woman, I had to stand on my own two feet, and use my brain and my voice to make my way in this world. Technology always grows at a rapid pace and is in high demand. A STEM education appealed to me because it provided me with long-term job security and my ticket to the future.
Did I love technology? Absolutely. But not everyone who gets a STEM education gets to work deeply in the technology field. I embraced a career in technology because it suited me and allowed me to learn and communicate how technologies develop, come together and can be put into practical use. To this day, I have used not only my knowledge of technology but also my communications skills – my ‘gift of the gab’ – to build a successful and fun career.
My husband and I thrived by investing our talents, hard work and stamina to stay on course in our jobs / Pixabay
I landed in Singapore during Chinese New Year 30 years ago. I was a software professional and a young mother. There was excitement in the air because the first wireless networks were coming, and major changes were just around the corner. Motorola was already a large conglomerate deeply entrenched in Singapore. Both Singapore and Motorola Solutions welcomed me warmly.
My husband and I thrived by investing our talents, hard work and stamina to stay on course in our jobs and by multiplying our networks of colleagues and friends. Singapore is a safe and multicultural country. We had great fun living here, traveling the world and raising two lovely children who are Asian at heart but global in their outlook, with lots of help on the personal front from my extended family.
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That said, it wasn’t easy at the beginning. I had to slowly build my self-confidence and make those around me feel more confident in my abilities. These two tactics helped me:
Always be authentic to your true self: you need to reflect on yourself consistently in how you speak and act. In those days, doing that typically meant staying around long enough in one company and industry. Nowadays, the networks are more connected, and careers move much faster.
Take risks. I believed in myself and was willing to face risky situations where information and help were scarce and there was a strong likelihood that I would make mistakes. I strongly believed that I was doing the best that anyone could in that situation. I did a lot of research, reading and writing. I worked hard, traveled and spoke with many people to share experiences. Being at the leading edge of technology meant that we were always discovering new things on the go. Managing complex scenarios independently, without feeling intimidated or needing to wait for help, gave me confidence and enabled me to deliver work that was valuable to Motorola and our customers.
Along the way, I also realized the value of mentors and coaches. I made sure to have at least one mentor at every stage of my career. Now I give back to the younger generation by always being available as a mentor.
The IMDA hackathon in 2018 was one of many events that gave us valuable insights into technology and the mindset of participating students, many of whom were women. When a team of secondary school girls won a prize in that hackathon, I saw how rewarding STEM can be for women and girls. Their contribution also showed us the value they would bring to STEM in general.
At times it was a struggle because I was often the only woman in the room and people did not realize the unconscious bias in their patterns of behavior. But this year’s International Women’s Day (IWD) theme promises to change that. I’m glad that Motorola has spent considerable time developing resources to ensure our business breaks through biases. Today, all our job descriptions are gender-neutral to attract more female candidates. We remove affinity bias by having female interviewers on every job interview panel. We know this works because we are now attracting more young, mid-career and senior executive women.
Within Motorola, we celebrate women’s achievements, heighten awareness of unconscious bias and provide people with the tools to overcome it. Most importantly, we empower each other to uphold those standards.
We expect our vendors to do the same and we know that our customers are moving in the same direction.
At Motorola, I also have access to many types of leadership training for women, which enabled me to help others. I try to put myself out there and speak at engineering forums including IET, and I mentor engineers inside our company and at startups. Sometimes I’m talking as an engineer about the exciting technology, at other times I’m speaking as a female leader about how I defined my success. This year, I have taken the lead for STEM in the Singapore Women’s Business Council at Motorola, and I plan to reach out to universities, schools and the Society of Women Engineers, as well as support more hackathons. We lost a lot of time through Covid. It’s time to regain the momentum.
Motorola realizes that we need to talk openly about bias, understand how it can be unconscious and take it out of our culture. We have modified our job advertisements and descriptions to encourage more women to apply, and we encourage women within the organization to move into leadership positions. The virtual environment has brought new challenges. We have to learn to adapt to that by being our true selves and being confident in virtual settings.
We know that diversity will increase business value in the long run by inspiring innovation and increasing customer benefits. Public safety technology is rich in value because it benefits governments and citizens the most. The Singapore government’s investment in sovereign clouds will also help to make commercial software innovation more accessible. Technologists working in this field need to have the vision to bring innovation into action across intersecting technologies including cloud, video, sensors, enterprise security, analytics and artificial intelligence (AI) – all of which will support each other to make our cities safer.
With greater diversity in place, we don’t only get to #breakthebias – we know the value and quality of innovation will be far greater too.
Shanthi Ravindran is principal architect for next-generation experience at Motorola.