Nirupa Chander – Country Service Manager, Singapore ABB
First jobs can have a profound effect on future career paths. And so it was with Nirupa Chander, the eldest of three daughters of an Indian diplomat who was a global traveller before she had finished high school. Working as a project engineer in the power generation sector of the Indian giant, BHEL, Nirupa’s first senior boss was a woman.
“It made me think about what I would like to do with my career and set my ambition.”
However at that stage Nirupa was unaware of a lack of diversity in senior positions. “I just didn’t ‘get’ how big the problem was until I moved to Australia. I had more female role models in India than I had in Australia – there were so few women in strong operational P&L roles. This was such a surprise for me.”
The disparity fuelled Nirupa’s ambition further. “To help others succeed, I needed to succeed! I didn’t need to do anything radical – just being in a senior role would make a difference.”
ABB Australia was the employer fortunate enough to harness the energy of the new Australian arrival. As a project engineer in the power generation business, Nirupa travelled to remote and mining sites, taking on some very largescale projects and eventually running operations in Grid Automation and Microgrids. “My team in Microgrids Australia was part of the the global centre of competence in this technology and we have been doing world leading projects in this space,” explained Nirupa. “It was incredibly interesting and rewarding to be contributing to the greater good of sustainable development.”
Recognising her talent, ABB nurtured Nirupa through the ‘young leaders’ program.
“ABB is a $40 billion global company. Being invited to meet the senior leadership team and country leaders, seeing how strategy meetings and planning at that level operates, and actually participating through this program was incredible.”
However, it was having her first child that became her greatest ambition driver. “I took 6 months off while in a midlevel management role, transitioned back to work with 2-3 days/week, then back to full time.”
My husband was very supportive, but he couldn’t do the basic baby care such as breast feeding. I also had a job with a lot of travel. I had a choice – give up my career or find a way to incorporate my baby into my career!” Reading Sheryl Sandberg’s ‘Lean In’ was pivotal for putting things in perspective.
Nirupa would leave the office for 30 minutes at lunchtime every day to feed her daughter. “I used to feel so guilty leaving the office until I consciously put a stop to that line of thinking. After all, I was as productive as before and just need to make some adjustments.”
Arranging interstate childcare enabled Nirupa’s daughter to travel with her, sometimes even joining executive dinners – a deliberate move on Nirupa’s part to challenge people to understand. “It was very hard to have the courage to do something so silly but I want to share that I did! It was great for my daughter!”
When Nirupa was approached for her current role, she knew she needed an overseas assignment to progress her career. Then she found out she was pregnant with her second child.
“I shared this with my employer immediately and it was not an issue at all. In fact they were happy for us as a family and extremely supportive”
Nirupa and her family are now settling into life and work in Singapore and her pregnancy is progressing well. Her ‘secret’ to having a baby, raising a family and having a successful career? Don’t be afraid to make & demand adjustments as needed.
“I will demand change where I need it – from the organisation or from myself.”
1. What led you to a career in operations?
Science has been a key focus since high school. After studying electronics engineering, I landed my first pivotal operational role with BHEL India. Having a daughter was also an incredible driver – I want a career that my daughter can look up to.
2. What have been some of the unexpected challenges you have come across?
How many times I had to talk myself out of things to avoid falling back and not pushing forward/taking my foot off the gas pedal. There is so much responsibility on me – I can’t say this is up to someone else. It is up to me to drive myself forward.
3. What advice do you have for operational businesses seeking to attract and retain more women?
Give women the opportunity. I had a very supportive boss who was willing to ‘get out of my way’ – he enjoyed recognising the people in his team who were achieving great things.
Develop the pipeline of strong potential within the organisation. Young women joining the workforce need to see women – single, pregnant, married with children, different cultural backgrounds – in senior roles.
Avoid the stereotype of it taking a ‘certain type of woman’ to succeed. Be aware of the leaky pipeline and why women become disengaged.
4. What advice would you give women embarking on a career in operations?
Take control of your own career. Don’t let you hold yourself back. Before you get into senior operational roles try to get as much exposure as possible across all of the different areas of your business – at the end of the day, competence is an important piece of the pie.
I constantly try to find inspiration from different people and have found so many mentors – mostly informal relationships – along the way. Some help with big things and some with little things. As Sheryl Sandberg stated in her book that being a mentor is not a crown you can give to someone – it is an organic relationship where someone can help you to reach your potential.
5. What impact has your/your organisation’s nawo membership had on your career to date?
NAWO was a source of huge inspiration for me – there were a lot of women in senior roles juggling families! Completing NAWO’s Transition to Executive Leadership program helped me to boost my career goals – from career planning and networking to building my profile and sharing what I was doing.
At the organisational level, ABB is a Gold NAWO Corporate Member, has had senior representation on the NAWO Board and has been actively involved. We try to get as women as possible through NAWO programs and this has had a great effect. We also host and attend NAWO Quick Bite events – a great initiative!