The year was 1967, when second-wave feminism was in its ascending phase. A 25-year-old Damyanti Hingorani approached Motor City, Detroit to seek a job at Ford Motors Company. The job profile was that of an engineer. She was rejected the first time, but she tried again. The HR person was confused looking at her resume. He said, "You're applying for an engineering job, but we have no females here." She retorted, "I'm here, and unless you hire me, you'll never have any." Thus began the story of Damyanti "Rani" Hingorani who became the first degreed female engineer to be hired by Ford. For the next 35 years, Damyanti was associated with Ford and her story is nothing short of inspirational. Today, Time Magazine honours her achievements, working as a lone woman in an industry dominated by men.
Born in 1942, Damyanti was forced to migrate with her family to India when she was just five from their native land in Sindh, Pakistan, in the bloody aftermath of Indian independence and the partition. Leaving the riot-torn region, and their wealth and property behind, the Hingorani family arrived in Mumbai (erstwhile Bombay). The family who were wealthy landowners lost a lot in a very short period. But her mother Gopibai Hingorani made her a solemn promise: that she was going to give her daughter something no one could take away, education.
When she was 13, Damyanti had the chance to hear the then Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru talk about the future of Indian industry. The incident changed her life. Nehru said, "after 200 years of British rule, India has no industry and that we need engineers. I’m not just talking to you boys; I'm also talking to the girls." It was the first time she heard the word engineer. The speech had a lasting impact on her, bolstering her will to become one of the first female engineers of her country.
She was admitted into an engineering college in India where she made history as the first female mechanical engineer there, marking the beginning of her life in a male-dominated space. Being the only girl there, Damyanti had to travel a long distance on a bike to access a restroom. When the dean came to know about her ordeal, he set up a bathroom just for her.
At 19, she read the biography of Henry Ford and was left inspired by his story. She aspired to be a part of the empire that he had built. Her parents put in all their savings of a lifetime to send Damyanti to America. And rest is history.
She met her future husband Subhas Gupta while working at Ford. She soon became a mother to two boys, Sanjay and Suneel. At the time, it was customary for employed women to leave their jobs once they were in the family way. But Damyanti returned to work and was soon promoted within three months. Her sons also went on to become accomplished in their own right; Sanjay Gupta is a neurosurgeon and medical correspondent for CNN and Suneel Gupta, a lawyer and MBA, is now running US Congress.
Damyanti receives emails from women all over the world today as she has been honoured by Time along with Oprah and Hillary Clinton as iconoclasts of their respective fields. Considering how difficult it is for women even today to get equal pay and to break the glass ceiling, Damyanti's struggles to carve a niche for herself in a predominantly male environment is nothing short of a feat.