April 06, 2023  

An associate creating new paths for girls to pursue STEM careers

Srijita Chatterjee helped build a network of digital labs in India that is expanding access to tools and education for hundreds of girls.

Srijita Chatterjee assigned important homework on her first day as a volunteer. “Go home, tell your friends about what we’re doing and bring them here,” she told the girls packed in the classroom in front of her. Srijita was there to teach them job interviewing and public speaking skills, and she wanted to reach as many girls as she could.

“I have always been passionate about empowering others,” Srijita says. Her parents sparked that motivation from a young age, telling her there was no limit to what she could achieve. “But not all girls in India receive the same encouragement and opportunity to pursue their goals,” she explains. 

Srijita, an Internal Communications Manager for PepsiCo Global Business Services, is doing what she can to change that. There is a stark digital divide in rural parts of the country. Many families have limited use of computers and smartphones, leaving children — especially girls — without essential tools to learn valuable skills, particularly in the STEM subjects of science, technology, engineering and math. Over the past two-plus years, Srijita has galvanized a team to open four digital labs and one dedicated STEM lab inside girls’ secondary schools in rural Telangana, India.

The labs provide more than 1,200 students with access to computers and science equipment, as well as teachers who can bring subjects such as physics, chemistry and coding to life. “We live in a world of digital evolution and transformation, but some of these students were not even aware of that world,” Srijita says. “We wanted to help them understand how many different pathways there are and how many opportunities they have.”

Srijita and student looking at computer

Srijita with a student in one of the digital labs.

The origin of the labs trace back to 2020. Then the communications lead for PepsiCo’s GBS hub in Hyderabad, Srijita's job was to connect, inform and engage nearly 2,000 associates in India. But with so many working remotely due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Srijita had to find new ways to bring everyone together. Knowing associates rallied around opportunities to give back to their communities, she created a new Employee Resource Group for colleagues to collaborate on philanthropic causes.

At first, the group consisted of just a few associates running virtual workshops for women and girls teaching communication, digital and entrepreneurial skills. But interest rose rapidly. “Eventually, we had close to 500 employees signing up for events," she says. "It felt surreal seeing so many people come together to do something momentous.”

The power of numbers also worked in the group’s favor when it came to funding a more permanent solution. Through the PepsiCo Foundation’s Give Together program, associates who create volunteer events in their communities can apply for a grant funded by the Foundation. The more associates who give their time, the more money they can receive for their project. “Our campaign became about the power of people,” Srijita says. “We said, ‘Your volunteering efforts can help us change lives. Let’s join hands and open a digital lab together.’”

It felt surreal seeing so many people come together to do something momentous.


Once Srijita stepped into a lab, she immediately realized the impact. “I was talking to a girl who was 14 or 15 years old, and she told me ‘I never knew what the internet was before this lab was opened,’” Srijita recalls. “‘Now, it seems like a whole new world has opened in front of me.’”

Srijita hopes opening that new world of possibilities will help create a future where there are more workplaces like hers. Nearly half the leadership roles within PepsiCo GBS globally are held by women. “Raising the bar on talent and diversity is woven into our DNA,” Srijita explains. “Having diverse teams made up of people with different backgrounds and experiences fosters a collaborative inclusive environment where everyone’s voices can be heard.”

Promoting that same diversity to STEM fields in India — where women make up only 14% of the workforce, according to World Bank data — is what drives Srijita. “If we’re going to bridge the gender gap, we need to implement programs that help to build a strong pipeline of women through education and mentorship,” Srijita says. “If our efforts inspire just one girl to realize her full potential and follow her dreams, she can be an example for so many more.”