[Women in Tech] Organisations need to offer flexibility and support to attract and retain women, says Anusha Rammohan of Myelin Foundry
With an early background in signal processing and data analysis, Anusha Rammohan has more than nine years’ experience in research and technology and three years in leadership roles, leading diverse multi-cultural and multi-disciplinary teams to drive customer and business outcomes in different industries (O&G, Energy, Aviation, Healthcare, Media and Entertainment).
She currently leads a high performing team of AI engineers at— a deeptech AI startup that allows users to access high definition streaming experiences, delivering key products that transform human experiences and industry outcomes in the media and entertainment and health and wellness verticals.
The team works by building AI algorithms on video, voice, and sensor data for edge devices. Anusha is also an active member of the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET), an international engineering body.
She has several patents and publications to her credit. In recognition of her research efforts, she was selected as one of the TOP 10 Innovators under 35 in India by Mint-MIT Technology Review in 2017.
In an interview with HerStory, Anusha talks about her journey in technology, her role at Myelin Foundry, and the challenges of working during the pandemic.
Edited excerpts from the interview:
HerStory (HS): Tell us a little about yourself and where you grew up?
Anusha Rammohan (AR): I was born in Tiruchirappalli in Tamil Nadu, where I did my early schooling. My father worked for BHEL and my mother was a Bharatnatyam dance teacher. Life in a township is quiet, laid-back and almost idyllic. We later moved to Chennai, where I finished high school.
Growing up, my younger sister and I were fortunate enough to have had incredibly progressive and supportive parents. We were constantly reminded of the importance of hard work and good education as a means to financial independence, a luxury that most women of my mother’s generation couldn’t afford.
HS: Did any particular incident draw you to STEM and technology?
AR: Ever since I was a child, I always prided myself on being driven by logic and reason in all that I did. When we were growing up, my parents’ constant concern was that we do well in science and maths in school. When it came time to pick a path for undergraduate studies, I briefly contemplated taking up science because it was a childhood wish of mine to become an astrophysicist. But practical considerations won out and I chose to pursue engineering instead.
From there, it was almost a natural choice for me to take up signal and image processing during my early career as I loved its math and logic components. As I navigated my mid-career years, it was but a short leap from signal processing to data science, and then onward to AI and ML.
HS: Please take us through your career journey…
AR: I did my bachelor’s from BITS Pilani in Electronics and Instrumentation Engineering, and my master’s from Arizona State University in Electrical Engineering specialising in signal processing and communications. After completing my master’s, I joined GE’s global research centre as a research engineer in the non-destructive testing lab, working on algorithm development for inspection and process monitoring applications for GE’s businesses. I worked on projects for GE Aviation, Energy, Oil and Gas and Healthcare building signal processing and data analysis algorithms.
As I graduated from being an individual contributor to a project leader for large and complex projects, I added project leadership and stakeholder management to my ever-growing skillset. I was selected for GE’s prestigious Accelerated Leadership Programme (XLP) and did two assignments in leadership roles in GE Oil and Gas as Regional Product Strategy Leader and at GE Aviation Services as Analytics sub-section manager.
I’m currently the senior technology leader at Myelin Foundry where I lead a team of AI product engineers and develop AI products for multiple verticals – media and entertainment, industrial IoT, and automotive.
HS: Tell us about your roles and responsibilities at Myelin Foundry.
AR: My role at Myelin Foundry involves people leadership, project leadership and product management. I lead a high-performance team of AI engineers and we work on building edge AI products and solutions for customers in multiple industries. Being in a startup and a deeptech one at that, I wear multiple hats so to speak and work closely and hands-on with the team on cutting-edge technology development. As a member of the IET, I work closely with the IET India team on initiatives for knowledge sharing, collaboration and building expertise within the engineering community.
HS: How did you face the challenges of working during a pandemic?
AR: Unfortunately for me, I don’t quite conform to the stereotype of women being great multi-taskers. Before the pandemic, I was only able to manage work and family by compartmentalising everything and drawing neat boundaries around them. Having an extremely supportive and understanding spouse went a long way in tackling the lockdowns with a toddler at home. But to deal with the multiple demands on my somewhat limited time, I learnt to break them down into shorter periods and deal with them one at a time to the exclusion of everything else. Although it was difficult at first, I had to get used to not having those neat boundaries between work and home that I had before.
HS: What can be done to retain women in the tech workforce?
AR: It is common knowledge that a big factor for attracting and retaining women is the flexibility and support that an organisation is able to offer, especially as most women juggle multiple demands for their time. What a lot of organisations get wrong is that the kind of flexibility and support that each woman needs may be very different, and a one-size-fits-all approach to retain women employees can have the opposite effect. Every woman’s career ambition and professional goals can be unique and they also change as their personal lives evolve. Organisations and their leaders need to listen to individual women and allow them to seek the support and help they need to achieve their own specific goals.
HS: What have been your biggest successes and challenges?
AR: My biggest success was being recognised for my innovation and research by Mint-MIT Technology Review as one of the top 10 innovators in India.
The biggest challenge in my life was going back to work after my maternity leave when my son was six months old. I had taken on a new role in a new team and a new organisation at the time. That combined with managing an infant was overwhelming at times, even when I had help from my husband and with a day-care in the office. I was surprised to find how taking care of an infant can lead to a lot of sleep deprivation, affecting focus and productivity. I learned some valuable lessons in prioritisation and time management along the way.
HS: Why is networking absolutely essential for women in tech?
AR: The unfortunate reality for women in tech is that there are so few of us. I’ve lost count of the number of meeting rooms where I’ve been the only woman in a much larger gathering of men. It can feel isolating sometimes and create unnecessary pressure to meet or exceed expectations as the sole representative of a gender.
The numbers for women in tech will likely take more time to get to parity. But women can start to create their very own support network by building and maintaining both professional and personal connections, not to mention champions and mentors that can help them grow. For a long time, I didn’t realise the importance of having a trusted mentor until I managed to get one.
HS: Why should every organisation have an equal opportunity mindset?
AR: To me, this is a no-brainer. We live in an increasingly “VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous)” environment and to survive in such a complex world, organisations need diversity of thought and the agility that comes with that diversity. It’s not just important to hire people with diverse backgrounds and skillsets, one factor being gender; it’s equally important to retain them and actively encourage but productively manage differing perspectives and points of view.
Edited by Kanishk Singh