The Power Women of the Wire Harness Industry
by Melissa Femia
Savita Deshpande is the Engineering and Quality Manager at Amphenol-CTI in Ontario, Canada. As she worked in the wire harness industry for many years, she has a strong overall knowledge of wire harnessing. Savita moved to Canada from India, where much of her family still resides.
Savita attended the school system in India and also attained her college degrees in India. Her Bachelor’s degree was in Mechanical Engineering and her Master’s degree was attained in Computer Management. She had exposure to engineering fundamentals through her family connections as well as via the school system. In India, all students were required to take physics, chemistry, math, and biology as core classes in what would be considered the equivalent of high school in the United States. At that time, she considered a career path in either engineering or in the medical field. Both were on her radar as her father derived from a family of engineers and alternatively, her mother’s family yielded several physicians. Both sides of the family had strong math skills, so strong that Savita describes her mother as being a ‘math genius’. In her final year of high school, Savita was accepted to both the medical and engineering universities. Unlike college in the USA and Canada, Savita pointed out that admission acceptance in to each of the programs was very difficult to attain. Between the two fields, she opted to attend engineering school. She admits that she did not prefer biology, which was a large component of the medical program. Also, she had early experience in engineering as she attempted to help her father with engineering projects. At first, her support was a simple as folding schematics, fortuitously taking time to review the content. When she was only in 5thgrade, she surprised her father by mastering the slide-rule, a predecessor to the modern-day calculator.
After completing her degree in Mechanical Engineering, Savita took a position with Phillips Consumer Electronics. There, she worked on audio systems including car stereos. After about a year, she was moved to their Research and Development (R&D) Division. In this position, she was involved with equipment design for products such as oscilloscopes. Phillips had a large presence in India; Savita worked with about 2000 people on site with another 7000 located nearby. Savita noted that she was the only female engineer in the R&D group of her company at that time. After working in the group, she was later asked to be the Mechanical Design Leader of the team. While there, Savita learned several skills including plastic molding, which would benefit her later in life. She also attained her Master’s degree while working at Phillips.
After leaving Phillips, Savita took a project-based position in Osaka, Japan working with Fujitsu on computer-aided parametric design for buildings. This project enabled her to combine her mechanical engineering experience with the IT background as the focus was on 3D building software. Although Savita was offered to stay and work on the 2ndphase of the project, she had already received notice that her immigration request was approved. She and her family would be relocating to Canada, where her husband was offered an engineering position.
Once in Canada, Savita started to work for Beck Electric as their Design Engineering Supervisor. Beck, later NOMA automotive, specialized in automotive wire harnesses including ignition cables. NOMA later was acquired by Prestolite. At that point, large pieces of business were moved to Mexico. Savita was responsible for the technical knowledge transfer from Canada to the Mexico team. Subsequently, Savita was again involved in transferring projects from Mexico to India. After the transfers, her previous boss at NOMA asked her to consider a position at CTI , a wiring harness manufacturing company where he was now working. She took the position and is now the Quality and Engineering Manager for Amphenol CTI Industries (Amphenol bought CTI).
She acquired her P.Eng. license from Professional Engineers Ontario. Also while at Noma, Savita was given additional responsibility as a quality manager. In order to be prepared for her new assignment, she completed two certifications from the American Society of Quality (ASQ): certified quality engineer and certified quality manager. She became more involved with this organization and continued on to be on the ASQ executive committee for the last 16 years, holding positions such as Volunteer Committee Chair, Special Projects Chair, and Outreach Chair. She is now the Chair-Elect for the Toronto section of ASQ and will be the Toronto section chair next year. Congratulations to Savita for reaching this honorable position!
In terms of her experience as a female in a professional engineering environment, Savita advises that she never felt that she was treated any differently than her male counterparts. In her first month of training, she designed a part and requested the tool room employees to build this prototype part for her. They declined, advising her that the part was not manufacturable. So, she asked them if she could utilize the lathe and other equipment to attempt the part construction herself. They approved so she spent the next 8 hours building her own prototype in the tool lab. She processed the part in two different sections, then conjoined the pieces. Ultimately, she successfully built the part that the experienced gentlemen in the tool room suggested could not be made. Through that effort, she gained their respect—they even asked her for guidance on some future build initiatives. In this instance, she may have been overlooked somewhat because she was female but perhaps also because she was an inexperienced, recent engineering graduate.
Savita recommends that female engineers choose a job by selecting an area that they really enjoy and then stay with the company to gain exposure in different areas. She is not an advocate for moving from job to job. She was able to work in different areas at a couple of different companies, gaining experience and exposure. Through promotions and increased responsibilities, her management recognized her efforts and achievements. She also advises that anyone should not feel embarrassed to seek help from others. She has no hesitation in learning new things from experienced operators or junior engineers as they have different perspectives and knowledge.
Thank you, Savita, for sharing your history and insight with Wiring Harness News.