The Leaky Pipe in Engineering with Prasha Sarwate Dutra
Society needs to plug the Leaky Pipe within the Engineering industry.
this is the problem of diversity inclusion. People don’t know that it’s a problem. There’s no education around it. It seems like this buzzword.
PrashaSarwate is a mechanical engineer who chats to us about the need for society to adapt to the needs of its diverse population and provide the ultimate inclusion.
diversity cannot happen if you’re not inclusive
Discussed during the episode
Prasha admires Kalpana Chawla. She saw her as a child when she was growing up in India and even attended the same university.
If you can see it you can be it
About Prasha Sarwate Dutra
Prasha Sarwate Dutra is a mechanical engineer who works as a Quality Manager in a manufacturing facility in Rhode Island.
She launched Her STEM Story in October 2017 in an effort to create a community of valiant, aspiring and confident females who can inspire more girls to challenge themselves to dream bigger, achieve their life goals and ultimately fill the gender gap in STEM fields around the world by giving them a platform to be heard.
This is a “close” copy of the words that were spoken during the Podcast, Season 2 Episode 6.
It is not 100% accurate.
The guest was Prasha Sarwate
Transcribed by https://otter.ai
Mel De Gioia 0:45
Why are you an engineer? How did you get into engineering?
I was always interested in it. When I was in, you know, when I was young, we used to take trains to see my grandmother and, you know, trains were just these fantastic thing that, you know, kind of shaped our childhood and it was always grade. So I was in eighth grade, I think. And I asked my dad, like, I really need to know how trains work like this is like it was driving me nuts. I was up at night, I couldn’t sleep. I was like, Oh my god, oh my god, how does it work, and you didn’t have internet back then. So he went to his work. And he had this big inkjet printer, like, like the dot matrix printer, sorry, that would pump up all these papers before it started printing. And he brought that big Paper Paper with all this printed out on it, where he found it on Google or something like that. And, and I started reading, I didn’t understand a bit of it. But I thought I know, I was suddenly like this person who knew how to how trains work, which was, which I don’t think I still fully understand. But that’s how I kind of got interested in the mechanical engineering piece of it. But then also like school, schools were more, you know, they were pushing you towards stem, like everyone is either a doctor or an engineer, the not too many options. So if you’re smart, if you’re good at math, then you go down the path of science. And then if you’re not too good enough for medical, you end up in engineering, and if you’re not good for engineering, and you end up you know, in, in commerce, which is accounting, and then you know, there used to be all these different levels of what you could do with life and they were not too many options, which makes sense because all they were trying to do is protect us and make sure that we felt settled. And you know, that’s one thing that stem provides, I always tell girls that provides a lot of independence. You could do things that on your at your own, you know, conditions you can meet people travelled all those great things. I used to watch Discovery Channel a lot like my dad was crazy for it, we would watch it all time. We loved How It’s Made. So How It’s Made is definitely something that’s shaped us for years. I think from the day it started airing in India, and I always wanted to work in factories like that was just oh my god that was just everything, my eyes lit up I was like oh my god I’ve never seen manufacturing and I want to work in a factory and I like Discovery kind of you know got me more and more interested
We actually banned Discovery Channel in our house because there’s a storey about the Mel and I went on holiday and I was sitting in front of the TV watching Discovery Channel and we were at a place and it was a beautiful beach outside. And Mel’s going, we’ve got to outside, come on let’s go outside, she said I’m gonna have a shower. When I get up and have a shower you’re gonna have a shower and then we’re gonna go outside so Mel went off and I sat there in front of it was like mega machines
Mel De Gioia 3:31
I think they were building a massive stadium
They were. They were building a stadium with a retractable roof. And so Mel got out of the shower and I’ve gone into have a shower and I’ve got back I’m going okay, let’s go and Mel’s going, no no no, just wait, just wait until this omne’s finished and we ended up plonking ourselves down and sitting infront of Discovery for hours
Mel De Gioia 3:48
We had no control.
The shows are so awesome. What what’s the why the built the all the factories and I can understand exactly what you’re talking about.
Mel De Gioia 3:58
I want to know. What’s your day job?
Yeah, yeah, so I work for a wire cable company, we make wire and cable. So every kind of cable from the microphone cables that you have I have from your electricity cable to your power cables, power distribution, submarine, everything, like everything that you can possibly think about Brisbane group makes it they have 120-something plants around the world. And I’m part of one of them. Yeah, they are in Australia there are three plants one in New Zealand. They also have plants in Asia, Africa, America everywhere. So they’re everywhere. And where I work is we make extension cords and portable power cable, which is a temporary power cable for generators, power tools, mining, all these kinds of stuff. But I love I love my job because I feel like we really absolutely get to connect people and in literally everything we do so from rescue efforts to like our plant would support… Like for example when 911 happened like our plant supported the rescue efforts with the New York Fire Department to produce portable power cable for the for the fire firefighters to go in and you know, kind of rescue people with those power tools. And you know, you have to cut through concrete them and all this stuff. And you have no power in New York for at least three to two weeks or something. So we were running like you know five days like constantly like crazy to build all that cable so but we take pride and in really connecting the world and being one of the oldest one cable companies in the world. So
Mel De Gioia 5:36
it sounds amazing. You’ve inspired.. when you first said cables… . Now I’m like yeah cables!
we make about 2 million feet of cable a day. So it’s, it’s a lot of cable. And and yeah, over the course of a whole year, you know, we make a lot of cable so but if you think about it, like I tell if I do a you know a Skype call with schools and classrooms and stuff like that, I always tell kids to just look around and count how many cables are connecting your life right now. And I can bet you there’s some that you can’t see at all. So the fact that you and I are talking, there’s a submarine cable that goes under subsea ocean beds to connect the continents with internet. So that’s how the internet works. People don’t even realise that these are humongous cables.
Mel De Gioia 6:24
But how does your engineering meld into this?
Yeah, so I was I was I was a design engineer. So design cables. And a lot of engineering design it whether you’re in any industry whatsoever, is about designing something and checking the standards and designing something and checking the standards. So there are tonnes of standards that define most of the engineering products and materials and structures that are out there. So you have to be compliant to them. So you’re basically literally just making sure that, you know, you’re in compliance with everything. And so I did that for a while. And then for about the so and I wanted to be an operations, the on factory stuff in the factory. And then I finally got the chance to do that, as a quality manager, when I started about a year and a half ago. And this role is the same thing. I bring my design expertise to the to the field and of quality where we are discussing with the customers what’s going wrong. How can we fix it? And and it’s a lot of again, problem solving and root cause analysis, if you will.
Mel De Gioia 7:30
Okay, good. I’m glad because originally, we started off with the whole story about trains. And then we move to cables. And I’m like, Oh, maybe, but yeah, you still seem quite enthusiastic and happy that you’re using your engineering skills there.
Yes, yes, I get to do everything that I studied, which, which a lot of people don’t get to do that every day. So it’s pretty cool.
That’s pretty true. Right? Yeah, I think I get to do anything.
It is, is really is. that is the most enjoyable part. It’s actually doing the design and the actual engineering components. I think, unfortunately, you get you worked your way up a bit. And then next thing, you know, you’re actually just yeah. Yeah, so yeah. So I think it’s good. There’s a lot of technical director roles, and a lot of the companies they size, which is great, because it means that you can actually say that here’s one practical component of it. Yeah. Yeah. But actually, I mean, in the end, I think we’re all evolving peoples have been, you know, interchange and things that we like, change and find out new things about us. And then we study more.
Yes, there are very few engineers in mechanical engineering, the number is, you know, in one digits in percent wise, and, yeah, for women, it’s about 7-8% in the US, only, that’s about anything, you know, one of the older studies, but but it’s really low. And it’s really intimidating, because there’s a lot of men who do this job. So the reason I started the show was, I had a team and and at one point, it was all women engineers in my team. And they were all mechanical, electrical. So we had five of us.
Mel De Gioia 10:17
You had the entire 8 percent?
They were, they were from, you know, one was from Lebanon, one from America, one from one from China, myself, and then an African American. So it was a perfect United Nations picture. Like it was great. And, and it was just something that was there. Like we’d never thought about it. It’s so this is the problem of diversity inclusion. People don’t know that it’s a problem. There’s no education around it. It seems like this buzzword. We didn’t even know what we had. But there was something in me that said, No, this is important. People should talk about it. And I wrote for my company’s blog, and I wrote a letter to my CEO and said, you know, you should pay attention like this is important. I don’t know why. But I think this is important, someone should pay attention. And that’s kind of how the podcast started. So in India, the other problem is, is a lot of dropout rate also that India loses almost half the workforce every year. with women leaving the field, especially in pack and especially in engineering, because the industry’s have not adopted the diversity inclusion policies or anything like that, even in the US about 50% people get a stem degree 50% women get a stem degree, but they don’t stay. So the total percent is 24% that end up working in STEM, and then you have a dropout, about 40% of those 24% are going to leave and they have a kid, the first kid.
Mel De Gioia 11:40
Wow and they leave for good?
yeah. Yeah, they don’t. Their are not many programmes that are bringing women back except for like, some big companies have just started those. You know, like Lockheed and Boeing. And these companies are doing some, you know, come back programmes for mother’s
It’s hard as well as it’s a massive brain drain, where is such an amazing resource that’s available there. In regards to that. That’s a very large component of the problem that seems to be going on. Because there’s that, that resource that, yeah, they should be doing anything to work around, so that they can make it fit, and make it work. Because Yeah, it’s only getting to make things better. It’s gonna make the industry much better.
Yeah, and I think it’s a very short sightedness on a part of, you know, Major, bigger leadership that run these companies. They’re thinking day to day, they’re thinking, Oh, I’m not getting my result today. So whatever, you know, this, this is how they did before. But what’s happening now is that people want to co-parent men want to help at home. Men want to support women, and you know, it’s a different world. But companies are not letting them do that, either. So if a father wants to go home, take care of a child, he doesn’t even get a paternity leave. I mean, if he wants to support his wife, with pregnancy, he can’t even go home. So you don’t have policies for that. So you’re excluding one parent from this whole equation, and then expecting the mom to be at two places at once. Like that’s not going to happen. So the US has one of the worst maternity leave policies.
Mel De Gioia 13:07
Yeah, I was just wondering, because in Australia, we are moving towards parental leave we
Yeah, yeah. It’s changing for the better. It really is. And yeah, it’s becoming something that’s more common, which is kind of good as well in, in our generation and the next generation.
It’s like, what Prasha is saying, in that the men stepping up and are happy to participate. I find it really interesting that what Dom was saying, what you were saying about the whole brain drain. Yeah, the dropout rate is just huge. Like, that’s such a depressing statistic. And I know how hard it is, as a parent myself, yeah, it’s just one of those things, where it’s really gotta be a concerted effort to get the female back into the workplace, and I wouldn’t have been able to do it without as much support as I have. And there are so many factors to it. Is that what you’re finding?
Yes, for sure. I mean, there’s a lot of stuff that happens for, you know, what we call like, the broken pipeline, or leaky pipeline, or however, they want to term it, we did a whole special series, in the month of May on moms in STEM, where we interviewed mothers in STEM, and they shared all their experiences, and how a lot of them had to, you know, rely on either support at home, or they just decided to just leave the field, and then come back, just like you said, so. So there’s a lot of stuff that happens. And sometimes it’s, you know, diverse, like people are alone. And, you know, they’re trying to raise the kids on their own. And, and it’s difficult for for definitely for mothers because the expectation is very high. And there’s a lot of like imposter syndrome and mother’s guilt and you know, all this kind of emotions that may not necessarily be in men do you have father’s guilt?
We do, we do. And it’s funny, cuz I’m one of the things that I thin is changing, which is really good. For example, picking up the kids doing that sort of stuff. So you’d feel guilty walking out of the office for 4/4.30 to pick up the kids. Because you’d have these Yeah, I don’t know, it’s it’s almost like an inbuilt in your DNA. It’s like I’ve gotta stay until five o’clock because I finish at five o’clock. And I actually had a friend who she used to pick up the kids and she had it sort of, you know, in her contract, she’s an engineer. And she said, for the, for a couple of, even for a couple of months, first couple months, you’re walking out and you think everyone’s looking at me. Like I’m guilty about doing this. And it’s not until you sort of stop and you think to yourself, no Well, I do what I need to do and I’m on delivering for the company, and I’m actually producing for the company. So I’m a valuable member here then the fact that I’m leaving at four o’clock, I shouldn’t say this is a bad thing. I should be seeing this is a you should all be doing this as well. So it’s just a leading by example. And that’s kind of the same. It’s what we encourage. I know, yeah, our staff. We have quite a few dads there that sort of go. It’s Wednesday on, you know, on pickup, so yeah, no problem, I will see you tomorrow morning, it’s, and it needs, that needs to happen. Because that guilt does kind of drive the way that that you end up doing things. Unfortunately, it stops you from doing things.
Yeah. And that’s why we do the storytelling, you take the storytelling, we try to tell people that if she can do it, you can do it. This is how she did it. You know, just like you said, like, don’t worry about it, just go for it, you know, we make sure that everything is written somewhere, make sure you have a clear understanding with their manager, make sure you don’t overstep boundaries, make sure you don’t overthink things kind of all leads into confidence and self care and all the motivational stuff that everyone talks about, you know, life just sucks and you just gotta build your toolkit to fight it. And to kind of keep growing because STEM can give you financial independence in the long term, it can take care of you, your kids, men die younger, you know, women live longer than men. So there is a big possibility a lot of women are going to end up, you know, having to take care of their family on their own. So it’s definitely important that they look at the financial aspect of it, and, and all the good stuff that comes with it for sure.
In Australia, and I’m curious to know about in America, the whole flexible workforce is becoming a lot more acceptable. And you’ll have the, I don’t even know what letter we’re up to, but the younger generations, where they – God I hated saying that just then, I just felt old ! In the olden days! but there’s the younger people who come in and go, Okay, I want to be an engineer for three days. And then the other two days, I’m going to be a barista. And then at night time on a Friday night, I’m going to, you know, playing in a band or DJ, whatever it is, they do that whole flexibility, because if they want to do it themselves, are you finding that sort of movement to flexible work is being picked up in America as well?
Yes, it’s different, for different industries, like in our industry it’s not possible, because we go six days a week, you know, and then six nights a week, yeah, I’m not I don’t go to work six days, I go five days, but the plants running all the time, it’s a continuous operation. So obviously, our industry is different. But it we have flexible hours, you know, we have some managers who leave at three because they have to pick up their kids and men who need to take care of home. And, and women too. So that’s definitely there, that’s that has always been there which is nice, manufacturing is still in the 70s. And sometimes older field, it’s still an older workforce too.
So I suppose the demands on what you’re producing, and the rates that you need to produce that is got to make that sort of change difficult.
you can’t go, I’ll take that machine home. And I’ll just plug it in, you know, pick up the kids and let it run in the back room all over. So it doesn’t work like that, you need to be there for it to actually do what it’s doing.
So we’ve kind of covered off. I’m gonna say the Leaky Pipe, in a way. So the whole retention elements, how do you keep people in you, except that life happens and your out, and then your back in and some of the solutions. I’m saying that technology is a really big one.
But we also talked to a lot of employers the co-founders or CEOs or CTOs and some big companies who really want to promote diversity, and they bring their aspect to so we did a mini series called men supporting women, where we had these nonprofit founders who are literally building the nonprofits to support women in STEM around the world. And they you know, so the Curiosity was, why are you doing it? You know, why is this important to you? And, you know, how can others join this this cause with you, and we had a great, had great conversations, and we talked a lot about breaking echo chambers, like, you know, just making sure that we talked to the men also enough, and not forget them all together. Minorities should talk to majorities to ask for what they need. And, and then we can have a healthy dialogue on what needs to be fixed. So a lot of these dialogues are just getting to the bottom of the problem. And just like saying, Okay, what can I do? So it’s little things like, you know, make sure that if there is a mother in your team, you know, make sure you go to a bar or something, if you go there, like go earlier at night, like don’t try to go at like nine and then exclude this person or don’t try to, you know, just think about inclusivity, the more we think about diversity, I think the more we realise that diversity cannot happen if you’re not inclusive, and that’s the glue that’s going to keep, you know, retention and diversity, for sure. So we talked a lot about inclusion. Yeah.
I think that’s great. Because one of the things I think that probably happens a lot is, it’s not that people are trying to exclude other people as they haven’t really thought about how, you were saying before, where it’s like, yeah, that person has children. So maybe do it earlier. And you go, Oh, yeah, hadn’t thought about that.
Men are always like that. I every time I speak to men, they don’t even know like, they’re not aware, they’re not doing it on purpose. You know, they just never taught any better. So they never share, we expect people to know everything. And I know, there’s a lot of burden on minorities to educate other people. And that can become very burdensome. But at the same time, just make sure that if you are promoting and teaching something, make sure you teach it to more diverse people as well, it’s very important to open those channels that are uncomfortable or may not seem like the natural thing to do. But if you do that at work, if you do that at home, I think you can become more inclusive in all all parts of your life.
Yeah, what do you see the future of engineering to be like?
I think it should be very bright. If all women joined forces and came into engineering, it’s really fun. It’s a lot of, you know, women are good at problem solving. We do this all day, if you raise kids, if you manage, or take care of the house, you know, you do all these tasks, and you get to the bottom of problems. So it’s a perfect fit for women. And I hope that you know, we can take that at least take that number, and at least double it in the next five years or so. Which is our ambition. Obviously, I’m not doing anything to to change that yet. But I but I feel like if we can double the number, especially in mechanical engineering, I always say this, but I think stem needs women and women need stem. So it’s like a very great combination, if we could just communicate it, and and have people understand the real power of it, that would be great.
And so for these people that were trying to get in, what would you say to people that are just starting out?
I would say just stick with it, just, you know, finish your courses, don’t give up too soon, you know, have open minded when we’re teenagers, or we’re just starting out, we don’t have the perception of time and you know, just stick with something that really makes you passionate and happy. You may not know it when you start but stability is very important. financial stability is probably the most important tool that women can have for like their empowerment. The reason we have more talk about women empowerment is that one generation has actually been able to, in some ways break the ceiling, and you know, has the resources and the money to talk about these issues. Finances brings privilege, in terms of people will listen to you because you are well settled in the society. So So it’s very important that, think about financial stability. Don’t think about like, oh, someone is going to rescue me. And you know, I’ll marry a rich guy or whatever. Like, you know, that’s just very short term. So I feel like like women should be confident and you know, they just go for it. Just whatever makes you happy. Just go for it.
I like that it’s not a Disneyland story right now. Yeah, you need to be your own superhero, actually. So that’s a great note to, to wrap up on. We like to end up with a sort of short, sharp question. What’s the piece of engineering that impresses you?
I love the internet. I would say the internet would be the one because it obviously connects us. So I think it’s pretty cool
It is, I actually thought you’re going to go with trains because of that love and
I haven’t ridden in a trailer in a long time. So it’s not… I shouldn’t say that. Actually. I was in Japan. And I got to ride the Shinkansen. So that was like last fall. So that was pretty cool.
And just to wrap up, do you have an engineer that you admire?
Oh, yeah Kalpana Chawla. She was my role model. She was an astronaut at NASA, who went to the space station twice. And then she perished in the Columbia space shuttle crash. And she was from where my mom is like, her hometown. And I actually went to UT Arlington in Texas, where Kalpana Chawla went to do her masters. So I sat in the same classroom like her, and her space suit was outside. And it was pretty cool. So I think she’ll always mean a lot because when she was going, like all Indian channels, were showing her all day. And you know, all the all of us like we were little like I think it was in eighth grade or something. And it was pretty cool to like, see someone who looks like us, and who could go to America and the space station and stuff like that. So it’s pretty cool.
It very nicely wraps up, if you can see it, you can do it. So the fact that you you saw her you kind of walked in her steps in a way it gave you strength and courage and conviction to go on the path that you’re on now. So that’s that’s a wonderful way to wrap up the story today
Yeah that’s great. Thank you so much for joining us.
Of course. Thank you so much for your time.
And thank you for tuning in to another episode of Engineering Heroes. If you’ve enjoyed today’s show, please go and tell some one. The more people who know the better and the stronger we will be. our main point of call for all information about us and what we’re up to and what’s going on is on our website, www.engineeringheroes.com.au. Thank you so much for taking the time to listen today. We look forward to you joining us next week when we bring you another interview with one of our engineering champions.