Gita Ravindran: Shaping the Future of Women in STEM
(Feature photo credit: Kristin Foster Photography)
Gita Ravindran is a science fanatic in every sense of the word. She’s a space roboticist, a pilot, an engineering specialist, and an advocate for giving more girls access to careers in STEM. Gita spoke with us about her career, her dreams of once becoming a marine biologist, and what is missing when it comes to inspiring women to pursue careers in STEM.
For Gita Ravindran, science and technology is in her DNA…literally. Her dad was an aerospace engineer and her mom had a long-standing career as a physician. Gita’s parents immigrated from India over 45 years ago when her father decided to do a Master’s degree in aerospace engineering in Canada.
As a daughter growing up in a South Asian family in Caledon, Ontario, being surrounded with what most may call, ‘typical South Asian expectations’ to follow in her parent’s footsteps, she says her parents made it a priority to show Gita the choices she had as a woman and a girl.
My parents were big influences not only on my career choice but they also made a point in exposing my brothers and I to science and technology at a very young age.
“My parents were pretty good at letting us try different things. They also did a great job showing us how it was possible to juggle family and career.”
She was encouraged to play sports and to pursue anything she wanted. But it was her inner science bug that won out. At the age of 16, her passion for machines led her to get her license as a glider pilot in the air cadets and at age 17, she received her private pilot’s license.
“I got my pilot’s license before my driver’s license,” said Ravindran. “I really enjoyed it. It gave me an opportunity not only to learn about aircraft but they also offered leadership training.”
It was leadership both at home and out of the home that buoyed her to success. She went to work on rover prototypes for the Canadian Space Agency, planetary exploration studies for NASA to now playing a key role as a Technology Planning Manager at GM Canada.
“I provide input on future vehicle technology strategy, ensuring that it’s appropriate to the Canadian market and ensure that it meets legal and regularity requirements for Canada,” says Ravindran. “My job involves balancing technology, business requirements, and customer experience.”
Gita says working on the cars of the future gives her a great sense of satisfaction.
“We’re already seeing electric vehicles changing quite quickly so I think in the next 5 years we’re going to see more vehicles with increased range, better practicality for families, better performance, and of course there will be more and more affordable vehicles.”
Her pride in her work comes through when you listen to her talk about science and technology. It makes you want to go out and take that course in science you never took. She says passion doesn’t come without tough choices as a woman.
“My toughest decision was the same decision that most working moms face. When and if to go back to work,” says Ravindran. “For me the choice was pretty easy. I love my daughter but also love what I do. To have the ability to provide for my family and to be a role model for my daughter was important to me.”
It’s that kind of passion that she wants to instill in girls today. One of her causes is getting more girls inspired to join careers in STEM.
“There’s definitely an under-representation of women in technology in general; I’m grateful to be part of GM, an organization that not only has successful women with engineering backgrounds in leadership roles, like our CEO Mary Barra, but that’s also committed to attracting female engineering talent.”
According to Statistics Canada, women accounted for only 39 per cent of university graduates aged 25 to 34 with a STEM degree in 2011, compared with 66 per cent of university graduates in 2011. Among these female STEM graduates, only 30 per cent graduated from mathematics and computer science programs. Moreover, according to Human Resources and Skills Development Canada (HRSDC), almost 75 percent of new jobs between 2009 and 2018 will be in high-skill occupations such as the applied sciences.
One thing that is lacking is access to role models for young people to inspire them to pursue a career path in STEM. Not all children are fortunate enough to have parents working in these fields.
That’s why she says she volunteers at schools to speak to students about engineering as a career choice. She also has an active role with FIRST Robotics as a mentor and judge.
Kristin Foster Photography
Today as a mom, Ravindran continues to inspire young girls, including her own.
“I’m a pretty practical person; while I would like her to pursue something that makes her happy, I think I would also try to make her aware at a young age of what the potential of certain opportunities or consequences of certain career choices might be.”
Read more in our Inspiring South Asian moms series in coming weeks! Join our conversation @masalamommas and share your thoughts on who we should feature next.
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