Veena Rawat

Veena Rawat, OC, electrical engineer, civil servant, telecommunications pioneer (born in 1945 in India). Veena Rawat spent nearly 40 years in public service, serving in leadership positions in management and policy development with Industry Canada. A trailblazer in the telecommunications sector, Rawat was the first female to complete a doctorate in electrical engineering at Queen’s University and was the first female president of Industry Canada’s Communication Research Centre. Rawat has been a leading voice in the creation of global regulatory structures for radio spectrum management, championing efforts to make broadband service affordable to all and bring it to remote and rural regions. She is an advocate for gender equality in STEM sectors and increasing women’s presence in engineering fields.

Veena Rawat
Photo of Dr. Veena Rawat, 15 March 2010

Early Life and Education

Rawat was born in India in 1945. She attended the University of Rajasthan in Jaipur for her undergraduate degree and completed a master’s in technology in 1967 at the Birla Institute of Technology and Science in Pilani. She immigrated to Canada in 1968 and enrolled in the electrical engineering doctoral program at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario.

In the 1960s and 1970s, women were rare in the engineering and science fields. Many faced sexism and discrimination. Rawat was the only female in her undergraduate and graduate programs. Her experiences during her doctoral work at Queen’s University were representative of what many women encountered at Canadian institutions. Rawat’s research focused on communications in remote regions and the kinds of radio signals emitted from different types of cable when transmitted in tunnels and mines. A working nickel mine in Northern Ontario was to be Rawat’s test site, but since women weren’t allowed to access the mine, her male supervisor and a male research assistant conducted the tests for her, gathering the location data for her dissertation. When Rawat graduated in 1973, she was the first female to graduate with a Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering from Queen’s University.

Career

In 1974, Rawat began her career as an engineer at the Department of Communications (now Industry Canada), which managed radio, television and telecommunications in Canada. She was the only female in the department. In her early years with the federal government, Rawat focused on programs such as initiating new radio services and determining the regulatory requirements for all radio services. By 1999, she was the deputy director general of spectrum engineering.

In 2003, Rawat joined the Communications Research Centre (CRC), the research and development arm of Industry Canada, as executive vice-president. The CRC is Canada’s largest information and communications technologies (ICT) research and commercialization agency. In 2004, Rawat became the CRC’s first female president, overseeing hundreds of staff and tens of millions in funding. She managed interactions with other national telecom organizations, including the Radio Advisory Board and Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association. During her tenure, the CRC brought broadband services to remote and underserved regions and advanced the technology supporting search-and-rescue satellite-aided tracking. Also under Rawat, the CRC created the first wireless-based cognitive radio-development platform in the world, which enabled networks to automatically identify and switch to available channels, permitting more communications to operate simultaneously (and with improved performance). She guided the CRC through increasing demands for broadband access, the rise of the digital economy and the integration of ICTs into public safety strategies and defence readiness as well as growing requirements for cybersecurity.

Much of Rawat’s work included promoting Canadian innovations at the international level and engaging in discussion with her ICT counterparts in other countries. She quickly became known for her evenhanded management and negotiation style. Rawat negotiated with organizations such as the Inter-American Telecommunication Commission (part of the Organization of American States) and the United States government’s Federal Communications Commission. She also served as co-chair of the Canada–US Radio Frequencies Negotiations Committee, which negotiated cross-border spectrum coordination treaties.

Rawat also led Canadian delegations to, and negotiations with, the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), a United Nations agency specializing in ICTs. In 2003, Rawat became the first female, and first Canadian, to chair the ITU’s renowned World Radiocommunication Conference. As chair, she brought together nearly 200 delegates to deal with a record number of agenda items, including spectrum needs for business services and public services like defence radar and navigation. Rawat received the ITU’s Gold Medal from the secretary-general in recognition of her leadership. She later chaired the ITU’s Study Group for satellite services, which analyzed the use of satellites in emergency communications and as potential conduits for broadband connections.

As president of CRC, Rawat sought to empower Canadians of every geographic region and socio-economic stratum, striving to provide them with access to reliable voice, video and data networks. When she retired from the CRC in June 2011, the Spectrum, Information Technologies and Telecommunications assistant deputy minister stated that Rawat “ensured that [the] CRC [was] truly the government’s centre of excellence in communications R&D [research and development].”

As an international authority in radio frequency spectrum management, Rawat was in demand in the private sector. Soon after retiring from the CRC, Rawat was named the vice-president of Research in Motion’s (RIM) Advanced Technology Team. She also became RIM’s ambassador to the ITU. Rawat continued in the position until 2014. She continues to work as a telecom consultant for Canadian and international organizations and corporations.

Poster about the work of Veena Rawat

Dr. Rawat became the first female to earn her PhD in electrical engineering at Queen’s University. She spent nearly 40 years leading Industry Canada in wireless communications. (Courtesy Ingenium)

Advocacy

With nearly 40 years in the civil service, Rawat’s status as a telecommunications pioneer has provided her with a platform to advocate for gender equality in STEM fields and to promote women in engineering. During her time at Industry Canada, Rawat initiated a university recruitment program for female engineers with public service employment opportunities. She has championed the space industry as a promising avenue for women interested in entering the information and communications technologies sector.

Her work in management and negotiations proved beneficial in spotlighting and encouraging the increase of female representatives in leadership positions on national and international regulatory and negotiating bodies. She has been a guest speaker at numerous international conferences geared to empowering women in technology and the sciences. In 2015, she spoke at the joint United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR)–ITU Women’s Leadership Workshop that was dedicated to expanding women’s participation in radiocommunications. She praised UNITAR and ITU’s commitment to achieving gender equality across their strategies and programs, noting “equal participation of men and women in policy and decision-making, [and] equal access to communication services, benefits society as a whole.”

Rawat has also served on multiple boards. In 2011, she became a governor on the board of the Canadian Telecommunications Hall of Fame. She was named to the audit committees of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission in 2015 and the Canadian Space Agency (as chair) in 2017.

Rawat is also an advocate against domestic violence and for young women’s access to high school sports.

Personal Life

Rawat and her husband, Surendra, both completed their doctorates in electrical engineering at Queen’s University. They were the only married couple in the program. The two moved to Ottawa in the early 1970s to work in the capital region’s burgeoning telecommunications sector. They have two children. Their daughter is a physician and their son has a Ph.D. in engineering.

Rawat is fluent in English, French, Hindi and Spanish.

Honours and Awards

  • Trailblazer Award, Canadian Women in Communication (1999)
  • International Telecommunication Union Gold Medal (2003)
  • Queen Elizabeth II Golden Jubilee Medal (2003)
  • Excellence in Leadership Award, Industry Canada (2003)
  • Canadian Woman of the Year in Communications, Canadian Women in Communications (2004)
  • Industry Achievement Award, Radio Advisory Board of Canada (2004)
  • International Leadership in Government Award, Wireless Communications Association International (2005)
  • Sara Kirke Research Award, Canadian Advanced Technology Alliance (2008)
  • Public Service Award of Excellence, Government of Canada (2011)
  • Communications Society Award for Public Service in Telecommunications, Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (2012)
  • Officer, Order of Canada (2014)