Growing up in a small town near Calcutta in eastern India, Apala Ray was inspired by her mother’s teaching career and never once felt that being a woman would stop her pursuing her own ambitions.
“In India, 30 years back if you were a well-educated girl you would maybe be a teacher, those types of jobs, but in the past decade or so many different types of career opportunities are appearing for women,” she says.
While doing her Master’s thesis, Apala had the chance to study in Germany. Several classmates of hers had second thoughts about leaving India and worried what their parents might think - but not Apala. She never had those inhibitions. “I was selected alongside two boys, and I went. It was my first time out of India.”
Apala joined ABB in 2008 as an associate scientist, completed her PhD at Mälardalen University in Sweden in 2017, and is currently employed as global cyber security manager, Industrial Automation Process Industries in Bangalore, where she is responsible for the technical cyber security portfolio and compliance with ABB standards on cyber security for the global process industries business.
When she joined the company, she immediately felt equal to her male colleagues. “There is freedom and openness here,” she says. “I am a woman, but I am also an individual judged on merit and hard work.”
Reflecting on her engineering studies at college, Apala recalls being in a class of around 70 students, of which perhaps only a dozen were girls. These days, companies - specifically in her homeland, India - are making more efforts to encourage girls to enter engineering and are consciously addressing gender diversity within their businesses.
“I don’t like generalisations – I believe in the power of the individual – but women are perhaps sometimes more adept at thinking outside the box, seeing a problem from a different angle, and managing multiple things together,” says Apala.
She takes her personal inspiration from such women. She cites Mother Teresa for her benevolent work, Oprah Winfrey for her oratory skills and Marie Curie for her pioneering research and two Nobel prizes.
On inspiring other girls to become the engineers of tomorrow, she says: “Success comes through discipline, hard work and being true to yourself,” says Apala. “Traits that are inside every woman.”