Exuding Exuberant Leadership- Women’s Day Special


Women continue to sustain the quest to make a mark in the workplace and balance their personal and family life. Pandemic or not, woman power has not diminished one bit, and it shows in their exemplary achievements in India and the rest of the world. On the occasion of Women’s Day, FFooDS Spectrum salutes 10 inspiring leaders of the food and beverage (F&B) industry, for motivating others around them, breaking the glass ceiling and paving their own paths in 2021. These 10 women are powerhouses in their respective fields, inspiring not just their employees and the people around them, but other women and the next generation of women leaders.

Women’s representation has, indeed, improved across all levels of the corporate pipeline in 2020 and 2021. This is an encouraging sign and worth celebrating after an incredible financial disaster was thrust upon the world, back in March 2020. The theme for International Women’s Day, March 8, 2022, appropriately so, is ‘Gender equality today for a sustainable tomorrow’, recognising the contribution of women and girls around the world to build a more sustainable future for all.

According to the ‘Women in the Workplace 2021’ report by McKinsey, women are rising to the moment as stronger leaders and taking on the extra work that comes with stress and exhaustion. Compared with men at the same level, women are doing more to support their teams and advance diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts.

Also, compared with men in similar positions, women managers are taking more consistent actions to promote employee well-being including checking in on their team members, helping them manage their workloads, and providing support for team members who are dealing with burnout or navigating work–life challenges.

Over the past 18 months, companies have embraced flexibility. More than three-quarters of senior HR leaders say that allowing employees to work flexible hours is one of the most effective things they’ve done to improve employee well-being. However, many companies are missing a crucial piece i.e. without clear boundaries, flexible work can quickly turn into ‘always on’ work, and that is affecting a lot of women lately. Maybe even pushing them to quit their jobs, since they have less time in-hand for the family.

As per the State of Working India 2021 report by the Azim Premji University, the number of women who have had to quit the workforce has been alarmingly high over the last one year, irrespective of their nature of employment. Almost 50 per cent of the women exited compared to only 11 per cent of men. The number of women exiting from any work arrangement is at least twice their share in that arrangement in the pre-pandemic period.

On the brighter side, more women have entered the workforce as ‘freshers’ than men. Also, women are taking up different kinds of jobs as compared to men. A study of the men and women who remained employed in 2021 reveals that women seem to stick around in the same job longer. In other words, women have displayed higher determination in the last one year.


Raising a toast to ‘Women Achievers in F&B’

Out of the many other industries, the food and beverage (F&B) industry in India has seen very few ‘women achievers’ holding  the reins of the business and being instrumental in its growth, at par with the opposite sex. For instance, Indra Nooyi, an Indian-born American businesswoman,  restructured and diversified soft-drink manufacturer PepsiCo’s brands while serving as the company’s Chief Executive Officer (CEO) from 2006 to 2018. The company enjoyed steady revenue growth under her leadership.

It also reminds us of Vinita Bali who joined Britannia as the CEO in 2005, and the company almost doubled its turnover in just four years, growing at an annual rate of 23 per cent, as compared to the previous three years’ 10-11 per cent growth. She led Britannia  beyond its core biscuits business into categories such as dairy and bakery, and moved into international markets with Britannia’s range of products. She left the company in 2014.

Adding on, Meera Shankar, who was India’s ambassador to the US from 2009 to 2011, joined the board of ITC as the first woman  director in 2012, and continues to stay put. Then there is Leena Nair who was appointed as the first female, first Asian, and the youngest ever Chief Human Resources Officer (CHRO) of Unilever in 2016. Leena had worked with Unilever for almost 30 years before moving out in January 2022 to pursue a new career opportunity as Global Chief Executive Officer at Chanel.

Not to forget Sarvita Sethi who in 2016 had become the first woman to head Coca-Cola India’s finances and later became the Vice-President, merger and acquisitions (M&A) and new ventures, for India and Southwest Asia region. She has now moved on  to Amazon Surface Transportation Services.

On that note, FFooDS Spectrum brings to you a list of 10 inspiring leaders of the F&B industry in India, motivating others around them, breaking the glass ceiling and paving their own paths in. 2021 saw these women taking over lead roles in the financial and investment divisions of renowned food companies, receiving recognition for their contribution towards nutrition-based research, and revolutionising the alternative meat space with novel offerings.

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