At the recently held Indian Space Congress 2023 in New Delhi, Interstellar was privileged to cover an exciting panel discussion titled “Breaking Barriers, Inspiring Futures: Women in Space.” The panel saw early-career and well-established women personalities who spoke their hearts about their experiences, challenges and successes.
The panel featured esteemed speakers, including Dr. N. Ranjana, Director of the Directorate of Systems and Technology Analysis (DSTA) at Defence Research and Development Organization (DRDO); Space Entrepreneur Dr. Susmita Mohanty; Ms. Isabelle Mauro, Director General of GSOA; Ms. Nidhi Vasaikar, APAC Regional Partnerships Manager from the Space Generation Advisory Council (SGAC), Ms. Laura Roberti, Director of Licensing and Market Access at Telesat Canada and Ms. Devleena Bhattacharjee, Founder, Numer8 Analytics.
Dr. N. Ranjana chaired the panel discussion and highlighted the need for mentoring. “To educate other women, women must mentor other women.” she said.
Susmita Mohanty pointed out ISRO’s similarity to NASA’s past mistakes and called for bridging the gender gap. She expressed concern over NASA taking 50 years for the first all-women spacewalk, emphasising the need for change. She stated that the tech industry has women but needs more leaders. Encouraging women to assume leadership roles is vital for progress and inclusivity in the space exploration domain.
Isabelle Mauro passionately emphasised the need for more female voices in discussions encompassing space, economics, strategies, science, and technology. Isabella further conveyed that a STEM background is not the sole path to pursuing a career in space; a genuine passion for space should be the driving force for entering this field. Addressing the Imposter Syndrome prevalent in many sectors, she highlighted that women often hesitate to seek promotions and pay raises, creating a need for change.
Nidhi Vasaikar emphasised the growth of the space industry and its significant reliance on manufacturing. She stressed the importance of providing females a platform to express their voices, inviting them to actively participate and contribute to the industry’s discussions and progress.
Devleena Bhattacharjee shared her experience of facing gender bias when applying for a business loan and being asked for a male family member’s PAN details. She also highlighted the societal expectation for women to prioritise their role as primary caregivers, often leading to career breaks. The pressure to marry early and manage work and home responsibilities becomes challenging. Bhattacharjee emphasised the need for men to share caregiving responsibilities across professions.
Contrasting the past with the present, N Ranjana believes that progress is now faster than 30 years ago. She emphasised the need to recognise the inherent strengths of women, noting that they are often exceptionally hard-working, driven by the desire to prove themselves. At DRDO, efforts are consistently made to empower women, and she expressed optimism about the imminent emergence of women leaders in the space sector.
Despite the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Equality Report 2023 indicating that full gender equality may take another 131 years, the growth of women leaders in the space industry, including the rising stars from India, is a powerful source of motivation for young women worldwide.