After more than two decades of a career as a woman in STEM, D Sangeeta launched Gotara, a platform to offer professional support and advice to other women in the field, amidst the pandemic. She had noticed that although female participation in STEM education has increased to a gender ratio of 50-50, things tend to go downhill when women join the workforce.
The most common reason is believed to be that women reach the age where they want to start a family and focus at home, but Sangeeta saw a different reality as she began interviewing women who were on leave, had quit, or opted for part-time roles.
Sangeeta explains, “I found that maybe five percent of those women really, really want to be mothers and nothing else. About 95 percent of these women wanted a sense of belonging and intellectual stimulation, and did not want to leave the workforce. They were either pushed by the work environment, or the home environment.”
Building a women’s tribe in a man’s world
Founded in June 2020, Gotara hopes to create a community of young and experienced working women who can advise and share tips on steering through both the ‘home and work environment’ to thrive as a woman in STEM.
Growing up in IIT Kanpur as the daughter of a chemistry professor to completing further studies in STEM in India and the US, and working at corporations like GE and Amazon across fields of material science, metallurgy, and then aviation energy technology, Sangeeta was used to being the only one or one among a handful of women in most arenas.
“But at times, well-meaning leaders would make decisions for me and say, ‘Oh, I thought you have a little daughter; you don’t want to travel’. That should be up to me to decide whether I want to travel or not. Don’t decide for me,” says Sangeeta who holds a PhD in materials chemistry and owns 26 patents.
Sangeeta learnt that through her interactions that more women want to be valued and given opportunities to improve, rather than flexibility and the benefits that are deemed to be the key factors for women to leave or be part of the workforce.
“Women are often dumped on at work too. They are asked to organise for certain parties or meetings and take notes. Why is it women and not men? And the interesting thing is, in my whole career, I didn’t have to do this and I didn’t even understand what they were talking about. But women get asked all the time; this is a question I get a lot on our platform. And you have to give them some ammunition in a way that is not pointing fingers, but changing the dynamics,” Sangeeta explains.
The beauty of having a community like Gotara, she says, is that women can seek guidance from others who have walked similar paths, anonymously. Headquartered in Cincinnati, Ohio, and Seattle, Washington, Gotara has a core team of 60 people and 2,100 members across 89 countries. After the US, most of the members hail from India.
As a for-profit enterprise, Gotara operates on the B2C and B2B models. Under the former, it deals directly with its members, women professionals who can be part of the community for free. It also works with employers to help them nominate female employees to participate in the programme, and help them retain and grow talent to create the future leaders.
“The cost of replacement is huge for employers and we help them figure out how to retain and grow female talent. So the next time a position opens up, maybe that woman gets that role,” she adds.
Starting up during the pandemic and building a team virtually has been the biggest challenge.
Bootstrapped with over a million dollars at the moment, Sangeeta says raising funds has also been a challenge, especially from venture capital funds as they seek exponential growth or infuse funds purely based on financials.
As the platform looks to raise funds, Sangeeta aims to build Gotara into a go-to platform for women in STEM and all kinds of analytics roles – to help them grow professionally.
It also hopes to truly understand why women stay or leave certain workplaces.
“A lot of studies are based on surveys that are different from their behaviour. It is what you say versus what you actually do. We will be tracking what women say and do. If they said they wanted to quit, did they quit? And we have the data to do that,” Sangeeta says.