“Does the glass ceiling matter?”, she asks.
Mrs. Rashmi Urdhwareshe knows the answer because she has risen from being a trainee engineer to be appointed as the Director of the Automotive Research Association of India (ARAI). This 58-year-old automotive research veteran believes that when a professional – gender no bar but applicable especially to women – starts living the bigger picture and not subscribe to the ‘immediate circle of influence’ that the existence of glass ceiling in male-dominated industries like automotive does not matter.
Born in Nagpur to professor parents, Mrs. Urdhwareshe (nee Ranade) grew up to be an NCC cadet, a State-level Bridge Champion, and an avid sports enthusiast at school and a trained Sitarist. A perfect match, Mrs. Urdhwareshe later found her life partner to be an engineering professional and an accomplished Accordion player!
As a post-graduate in Electronics Engineering from the College of Engineering, Pune, Mrs. Urdhwareshe opted for a research position in instrumentation at ARAI in 1983. She never really had to break any societal condition – working in a traditional male bastion like the automotive sector – because ARAI was seen more ‘as a research or a homologation house’ instead of as a ‘hardcore automotive company’.
But sacrifices and challenges did exist, both at home and at work. As a young married woman with an infant son in 1986, she had to decide on whether to leave her 14-month-old baby at home and go on a UNDP fellowship to Germany to train in instrumentation development or give up the latter, “Though leaving my baby home for six months was tough, my spouse’s and family’s support helped me go through it. And it was a game-changer for me. I learnt a systematic approach to R&D of projects, application of electronics in automotives, besides managing and leading a team at a renowned vehicle manufacturer’s R&D center.” She thinks compatibility with the spouse is always critical.
Mrs. Urdhwareshe’s career grew along with the growth of ARAI. “I developed electronic controls of hydraulic testing machines which were used extensively to set up of fatigue test laboratory at ARAI. I also contributed towards emission measurements under which the first-ever emission laboratory was formed in India, which later on has led to various emission regulations in the country.”
Calling it as the “most challenging yet pleasurable time building an organization”, Mrs. Urdhwareshe had the opportunity to team up with a senior lady colleague to create a new Automotive Electronics department at ARAI in the ensuing years.
Mrs. Urdhwareshe is a soft yet strict leader and believes in being fair but firm. She is a risk taker and is tough to be convinced, which was put to test in the early 1990s. “We were designing a circuit which was going on the laser range finders for military applications. Though close to the target specifications, we still needed improvements and were racing against time. My team felt that we should supply it as it is and we can improve in the next iteration. But I didn’t want our Army using it and missing a target. So I took the risk of even losing the project, but asked for more time. We assured them that the design will be improved.”
Later, when it resulted in repeat orders from the same client, her team admitted that it is professionalism that matters, ultimately.
She says: “People need direction not commands – be it from a lady or a male boss. And the world sees you the way you see yourself.”
So, as a woman professional, if you do find a glass ceiling, just see through and reach beyond it.