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Indian female engineer seeks to end STEM career stigma


MAKING A DIFFERENCE:
Purvi Gupta (far right, front) conducts workshops to encourage young women to take an interest in STEM careers
MAKING A DIFFERENCE: Purvi Gupta (far right, front) conducts workshops to encourage young women to take an interest in STEM careers

by LAUREN CODLING

A FEMALE Indian engineer, due to take part in an expedition to Antarctica, has said collaboration between diverse groups can lead to “better solutions” in the world.

Purvi Gupta, 32, is one of 80 women set to travel to Antarctica for a three week voyage on February 18 to help tackle climate change.

The excursion is part of the Homeward Bound project, a 12-month leadership programme which aims to heighten the influence and impact of women in science.

Once selected, the women undergo one year of leadership training, discussions and a variety of fundraising activities before making their way to Antarctica. The inaugural Homeward Bound trip in 2016 culminated in the largest-ever female expedition to the
southernmost continent.

“I think it was the combination of science, diversity and leadership that struck me most about Homeward Bound,” Gupta told Eastern Eye. “That was the moment that I thought I had to get involved. I want to be part of bringing this change.”

Women from 13 countries, including India, Australia, Italy, Nigeria, Mexico and the UK, are part of the “leadership summit”. A science TV presenter, shark researchers, marine biologists, neuroscientists and an economist are among those chosen.

Delhi-born Gupta is the only Indian woman making the trip. Having lived in London since 2015, she is currently working with global management consulting firm McKinsey as a member of their consulting team.

The engineer graduated from the Indian Institute of Technology Madras (IIT Madras) with a degree in biotechnology in 2009. Studying high tech engineering, where less than 10 per cent of students were girls, was a motivating factor for Gupta who believes that more women should be involved in STEM professions.

She thinks that some women may be reluctant to pursue science careers due to the social connotations that are related to it.

“[Science careers] were not just associated as women friendly careers, so there is a social element of whether society accepts or promotes women to take STEM careers,” she explained. “As a society, there is a bias or stereotype which drives men and women to have
different career paths and I think that is true in the UK as well as in India, just to different degrees.”

The trip to Antarctica will see Gupta on board a ship for three weeks with no means of communication with the outside world. She will be leaving behind her husband, also a scientist.

Purvi Gupta will be going on a three-week expedition with leadership programme Homeward Bound

“He’s jealous [of the expedition],” Gupta joked. “He thinks it is a great opportunity for me to have a better understanding of how I want to create impact and what that means in terms of change.

“It’s a great way to build that support structure with women who also want to do something similar.”

Gupta has met some of the women who live in the UK, but will only meet the others when she boards the ship in February. It is an aspect of the programme that she admits she is most excited about.

“If, after the expedition, I have 80 women who I can count as my network, that is amazing,” she said. “Sometimes when you think about the bigger problems such as changing the planet, we don’t realise how a small thing can make a difference. We can
think, ‘oh somebody else can do that’.

“We’re so small in the larger scheme of things that it doesn’t make a difference, but having a group of people who are driven by the same motivation or the same vision helps you to be on the top of your game as well.”

Having previously worked in Singapore and Mumbai, Gupta said she has benefitted greatly from working abroad and connecting with people from all over the world.

“[Working abroad] has allowed me to appreciate the difference and different ideas which is why I’m a fan of diversity and collaboration,” she explained.

“Having a diverse experience and opinion with a group of people leads to a better solution.

“If we can collaborate, we can solve bigger problems.”

Gupta now hopes to share her experiences with others by giving talks in colleges and vocational workshops. Her personal goals include setting up mini workshops in which she hopes to motivate young people and women to ensure they feel supported in whichever
career they want to pursue.

She also admits she hopes to take her experiences back to her native country of India.

“I have to take [my experiences] back to the people I interact with, the communities I live in, because if I don’t then that is a lost opportunity,” she said. “As an Indian, I definitely feel responsible to take it back and share it with as many people as I can.”

Visit https://homewardboundprojects.com.au/ to find out more about Homeward Bound.