Sudha Murthy brought a compelling change in the lives of thousands of women through a hard-hitting postcard/ letter that she sent to JRD Tata for hiring women candidates.
Sudha Murty has inspired millions of men and women across the world for multiple reasons. She inspired us with her simplicity in a world obsessed with luxuries, her thought-provoking parenting lessons, and her acts of kindness towards humanity during the tough times. And, because of these characteristics, many women are able to relate to her.
Here’s another reason why many women should be thankful to Sudha Murthy as it was her letter to JRD Tata that forced him to start hiring women candidates.
Forty-seven years ago, an advertisement put by Telco (Tata Motors now) at the Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru left a young woman engineer furious. The advertisement called for young, hardworking engineers. But in the end, the advertisement mentioned:
“Women candidates need not apply.”
Though Telco wasn’t the only company that was not giving the opportunity to educated women but this last line deeply affected Sudha Murthy, who was a young student at IISC. But rather than letting it go, Sudha Murthy chose to stand for herself and all the women of the coming generation. While sharing the details about that incident, Sudha Murthy mentioned:
“Though I was not keen on taking up a job, I saw this as a challenge. I had done extremely well in academics, better than most of my male peers. Little did I know then that in real life academic excellence is not enough to be successful.
After reading the notice I went fuming to my room. I decided to inform the topmost person in Telco’s management about the injustice the company was perpetrating. I got a postcard and started to write, but there was a problem: I did not know who headed Telco. I thought it must be one of the Tatas. I knew JRD Tata was the head of the Tata Group; I had seen his pictures in newspapers (actually, Sumant Moolgaokar was the company’s chairman then).
I took the card, addressed it to JRD, and started writing”
This is what Sudha Murthy wrote to JRD Tata in the postcard:
“The great Tatas have always been pioneers. They are the people who started the basic infrastructure industries in India, such as iron and steel, chemicals, textiles and locomotives. They have cared for higher education in India since 1900 and they were responsible for the establishment of the Indian Institute of Science. Fortunately, I study there. But I am surprised how a company such as Telco is discriminating on the basis of gender.”
Sudha Murthy put down her thoughts and sent her hard-hitting post directly to JRD Tata, who was the head of the Tata group.
In less than 10 days, Sudha Murthy received a telegram asking her to appear for an interview Telco’s Pune facility at the company’s expense. . Despite not being serious about the role, she made the trip to Pune. While sharing the details, Sudha Murthy shared:
“I was taken aback by the telegram. My hostel mates told me I should use the opportunity to go to Pune free of cost — and buy them the famous Pune saris for cheap! I collected Rs 30 each from everyone who wanted a sari. When I look back, I feel like laughing at the reasons for my going, but back then they seemed good enough to make the trip.”
Then she mentioned what happened during an interview that changed her life forever. While sharing the details, she mentioned:
“There were six people on the panel and I realized then that this was serious business. “This is the girl who wrote to JRD,” I heard somebody whisper as soon as I entered the room. By then I knew for sure that I would not get the job. That realization abolished all fears from my mind, so I was rather cool while the interview was being conducted.
Even before the interview started, I reckoned the panel was biased, so I told them, rather impolitely, “I hope this is only a technical interview.” They were taken aback by my rudeness, and even today I am ashamed about my attitude. The panel asked me technical questions and I answered all of them.”
During an interview, an elderly gentleman gave her the explanation behind the advertisement. He said:
“Do you know why we said lady candidates need not apply? The reason is that we have never employed any ladies on the shop floor. This is not a co-ed college; this is a factory. When it comes to academics, you are a first ranker throughout. We appreciate that, but people like you should work in research laboratories.”
But Sudha Murthy had her own thoughts about the issue. While sharing her response, she mentioned:
“I was a young girl from small-town Hubli. My world had been a limited place. I did not know the ways of large corporate houses and their difficulties, so I answered, “But you must start somewhere, otherwise no woman will ever be able to work in your factories.”
Finally, Sudha Murthy was told that she was selected for the job.
By becoming the first female engineer to be hired by Telco, Sudha Murthy broke the glass ceiling and paved the way for many others to follow suit.
While women are still struggling to be treated at par with men at home and at the office, we are very thankful to those women who shattered the glass ceiling and opened the path for many more women to dream.