[Women in tech] How this scientist-turned-engineer is helping other women in the field progress
Ruby Tomar is the Technology & Innovation Manager, Partner Experience, Sales, at HP. An award-winning engineer, she looks back at her career from being a scientist to an engineer, and how that has led her to support more women in science.
Ruby Tomar grew up in a family of scholars, with her grandparents being academicians. Her Father is a PhD in Mechanical Engineering and her mother is a PhD in Microbiology and runs a non-profit microbiology lab.
So, choosing science was quite a given for Ruby Tomar, Technology & Innovation Manager, Partner Experience, Sales, at HP. But it didn’t devoid her of the gender biases that she had to face in her professional journey.
When she started her career in the late 90s as a scientist at the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), she was often asked “Can she sweat it out on the tarmac during missile launches?” or commented, “she must be insane to be pursuing complex challenging projects”.
Despite the under-confidence displayed by people around her, Ruby overcame these challenges and was honoured for her performance. At DRDO, she got a chance to work on the Akash Project under late former president Dr APJ Abdul Kalam.
“Gender bias had a significant impact and posed a major challenge throughout my career and personal journey. However, I have come out strong with determination, self-confidence, and hard work. Having learned from my experiences, I am committed to advancing women in business and helping eradicate challenges that I faced in my career by encouraging more and more women to take up STEM courses,” Ruby tells HerStory.
Over the years, Ruby moved to core software engineering and has been with HP for 15 years now.
In an interaction with HerStory, Ruby talks about her accomplishments, how HP is ensuring equal opportunities to women employees at all stages, the work scenario during the pandemic, and her advice to women in science and tech.
Edited excerpts from the interview:
HerStory (HS): Tell us about the ‘Women Impact Network’ initiative and what are your key learnings from the programme?
Ruby Tomar (RT): The Women’s Impact Network (WIN) is an Employee Resource Group (ERG) for women at HP. We transitioned to the terminology of Impact Networks as our ERGs are entrenched in our culture and impact employees on a day-to-day basis. WIN’s primary objective has been competency development, retention, hiring, and rising together-group learning activities, development of women in leadership and women in technology, and employing women who have taken a career break.
As a WIN leader, I've been able to broaden my perspective, accept various ideas, and create multicultural agility and influence. Additionally, it has provided me with a platform to operate across several roles and areas, therefore widening my network. These experiences have empowered me to approach my learning and career journey holistically, which resulted in my most recent job change from R&D to sales operations.
WIN members are very passionate about their purpose, and I have been drawing from their strengths, energy, and exuberance. It fosters bonding – which is even more critical in today's remote work environment.
HS: How does HP ensure women employees are given equal opportunities at all stages?
RT: HP India aims to accomplish 50/50 gender parity in leadership positions at the company by 2030, as well as more than 30 percent technical women and women in engineering jobs. HP as a company has always recognised the power of diversity in the workplace.
Since the beginning, the focus has been on ensuring an equal workforce with streamlined attention on hiring, retaining, and investing in women through a series of development training, workshops. Some of HP’s initiatives include - The Disha Programme, an initiative to increase the readiness of HP India’s women talent through a structured six-month blended learning programme.
The programme has completed five successful cohorts with 169 graduates. Since its inception in 2017, 57 percent of Disha graduates have experienced a role change, laterally or vertically.
One strategy that has worked for HP is its intentional emphasis on encouraging inclusivity and support for aspiring professionals despite gender and ethnicity. Being at the forefront of cultivating diversity and inclusion at the workplace, HP strengthens its role as an enabler of women, offering equal opportunities and encouraging the participation of women in diversified roles.
HS: During the pandemic, everyone was restrained in their homes and fell back to working from home. This scenario increased women’s unpaid labor work even when they had a job. How did you process this time and what are your thoughts on working from the office v/s working from home scenario?
RT: Working from home was initially difficult for me and my female co-workers. It is easy for a woman to be taken for granted when working from home. To maintain a healthy work-life balance, self-awareness, relentless prioritisation, and sharp focus have helped me survive this period. It is important to set and enforce clear boundaries regarding work hours and household chores.
Working from the office has its own merits - uninterrupted work time, social interactions, and serendipitous learning. It also helps provide the much-needed break from the monotony of being at home. My workplace is a vibrant one, throbbing with energy! I used to draw inspiration from my team, experimenting, prototyping, and delivering ideas.
To pivot working from home during the pandemic was difficult to start with. However, in the future, I look forward to a hybrid working model that allows for both in-person time and flexibility.
HS: If you have to change one thing in the science space for women, what would it be and why?
RT: Women have had to work considerably harder to prove themselves in male stereotyped professions, which adds to the stress of an already challenging profession. If we could suspend judgment, recognise, acknowledge, and take steps to remove unconscious bias and create role models and supporters, we would ease a woman’s work life to be as natural as the other activities she pursues.
HS: What is that one message you would give yourself in the past (do share how old you were back then) when you didn't have enough faith of making it this far as an engineer?
RT: I was in my early twenties, fresh out of college, at Bharti Airtel, setting up the first private telephone network in India, very unsure of how I will cope surrounded by these huge switching racks!
My advice to my younger self would be - believe in yourself, you have come this far. Leverage the various learning opportunities available to you, try to surround yourself with people who believe in you, and chart your career trajectory. Don’t worry if you're the only woman on the team, use your voice with courage and conviction. You are only limited by your own imagination.
HS: What are the top three accomplishments in your career?
RT: From being a gold medalist in Bachelor of Engineering to writing papers published in international journals, participating in Women in Tech conferences, and achieving awards, including SWE 2021 (Society of Women Engineers), I have achieved several awards and recognitions. However, if you ask me, the real accomplishment for me has always been to grow and nurture talent. It gives me immense happiness and pride when a protégé or mentee comes back to thank me for the impact I have had on their learning, career trajectory, or growth.
Edited by Megha Reddy