An engineer by qualification, she was one of the first woman to join as a project engineer in composite plants team of process industries. Almost two decades later, she is managing a team of 7 in the role of Engineering and Technical Bid support Manager for IAPI business line. Having had a first-hand experience with almost all industries of Process Industry segment, she is still as passionate and continues to inspire others. Meet MJ Suma, Engineering and Technical Bid support manager, IAPI, GISPL.
When she joined ABB as a management trainee in 2001, little did she know how life would pan out for her. An academically inclined student in her college, and a distinction holder, her journey has been one of crests and troughs. But as she says, “I now realize every problem has a solution, it may look in big in the beginning- really mammoth but a few years down the line, it won’t matter much.”
Within 6 years of joining ABB, she was elevated to the position of a team lead, managing 5 people and gradually the count increased to double digits. She was a young manager and a woman, a combination that pushed her to demonstrate her people skills at best.
20 years ago, things were different, making it more challenging for women to come out and work. Her family though has been a strong support, raising her with dreams and ambitions. “The common perception at that time was, eventually girls will focus only on their families after marriage. The society at large believed you would work temporarily, and one fine day just quit owing to more important things. It’s like work was optional for a woman”, remarks Suma.
Hailing from a family of science graduates, becoming an engineer was almost destined for Suma. Her mother too had a degree in the discipline. Like Sudha Murthy mentions the highly skewed percentage of women engineers in her college, Suma too had faced similar challenges. In a class of 100 electrical engineers, there were merely 17 odd girls. “But it wasn’t a deterrent. I knew where I am headed, so did my family, rest all was secondary.” Says Suma.
She’d found her advocates early on, first within the family and later, in ABB. “My managers have been a great support. When you join an organization fresh out of college, you come with an impressionable mind. You are absorbing things around you like a sponge, wanting to learn and learn and learn. A good manager can give you lessons for a lifetime. I have been able to stick around with an organization, because of the people I met in this journey.”
After motherhood, her life changed with her having to manage both the personal and professional fronts. Being in a nuclear set up added to the challenge even more. “It was honestly difficult, there’s just too much that you suddenly have to manage.” Her parents, again, stood like a rock choosing to be the caretakers while she went about her job. “Thankfully, my life partner too was as passionate about me continuing work, as I. Initially we did think about the societal norms but eventually decided we need to do whatever it takes.” adds Suma.
With a diverse experience within various industries, she has pearls of wisdom to share for those who are straddling between the personal and professional. “RISE – the mentorship program organized by ABB, has an eye-opener for people like me. I learnt how we need to embrace ourselves and accept our feminine ways of dealing with things instead of trying to subdue those qualities. If empathy comes naturally to us, so be it. If I also tend to have a more gentle approach to things, so be it. You don’t have to necessary be aggressive to be a good leader.”
A good advice for many of us.