What enables women employees at PepsiCo India to take on sales jobs

Six years ago, PepsiCo India realised the need to have more women in its sales team. PepsiCo India CHRO Pavitra Singh says the company’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion guiding principle is helping to bring more women into sales roles.
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A key aspect of diversity in any organisation is about ensuring people belonging to a different gender, ethnicity, etc., are represented in a balanced manner across functions and departments. 

However, many departments still lack representation, especially for women, and one such department is sales. 

According to 2019 Bureau of Labour Statistics data, women are underrepresented in B2B sales in most industries, including wholesale and manufacturing (27 percent) and financial services (30 percent).

Pavitra Singh

However, over the last few years, more women are getting involved in sales functions. And, two reasons are playing here — first, more women are coming forward to join the sales workforce, breaking the stereotypes, and second, corporates are implementing several proactive efforts to increase gender diversity in this domain.

And, PepsiCo India is not far behind. Pavitra Singh, CHRO, PepsiCo India, says, “At PepsiCo India, under the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion guiding principle, the team has been working towards creating an enabling culture for women hires.” 

Building an enabling culture 

Yavana T, Customer Development Manager at PepsiCo India, says, Over the last five years, there were multiple instances where I was empowered and valued for my ability and not my gender.” 

Citing an example, Yavana says when she was an area sales manager (ASM), she was the only woman along with 10 men in the team, and all reported to her. 

She adds that PepsiCo India always ensured her safety when she travelled and took necessary steps were taken to provide her with a work-life balance. 

“For example, when I used to travel to rural areas, my manager would respect my decision to wrap up work during daylight so I am back to the hotel/home at a respectable time,” she shares.

While this is a continuous journey, Pavitra says more recently, the team dialled up its efforts in attracting more women in the sales division by taking a conscious call of hiring women in on-field roles. Most importantly, it conducted gender sensitisation of employees to ensure a more enabling culture.

She adds, “We are attracting the right talent and have doubled our women employees in sales compared to what we had about a year ago. Overall, we have seen a great dial up on representation in sales, making our overall sales diversity almost 10 percent, of which representation in senior management roles is over 25 percent.”

However, the company faced two challenges — first, a limited talent pool of women in sales, and second, location constraints or life-stage challenges. 

“To be able to attract talent and increase diversity, we leveraged sales trainee and management trainee programmes. We have expanded sourcing pools other than the traditional ones,” says Pavitra.

Dipti Gupta, Director - Organised Trade, PepsiCo, says, “Working women find themselves pulled in multiple directions. There’s work, home, and multiple things in between. In these circumstances, organisations should strive to create a diverse and inclusive work environment that encourages every associate to bring his or her whole self to work.” 

Finding the balance

PepsiCo focuses a lot on connecting with the women workforce through one-on-one, creating more women role models. These proactive connections helped PepsiCo to understand real challenges and provide the right support at the right time.  

"A couple of years ago, as a mother of a toddler, I had to bring my child to the office as I had no other arrangement for child care, and we had a very important strategy meeting. Being a shy child, my daughter wasn't comfortable being alone in my cabin. My then supervisor asked me to bring my daughter to the meeting.

While she happily scribbled on the whiteboard, we had our strategy meeting, discussing all deliverables and KRAs. The sheer acceptance of my situation and leading with empathy reiterated how PepsiCo India and the leaders are solutions-oriented,” Dipti shares. 

Building inclusive conditions

Other initiatives by PepsiCo to increase women representation in sales functions include:

1. Wings of Dreams Connects: This is an anchor ERG programme, where junior to mid-level women employees are mapped to senior women anchors. It intends to re-ignite sisterhood and conversations around the network, give the right support and confidence, provide mentorship on career and new skills, thus helping prepare them for the next level.

2. Celebrating role models: Recently, PepsiCo launched a coffee table book called #BeUnApologeticallyYou as part of International Women’s Day celebrations for all women in sales that have quotes from all PepsiCo India saleswomen employees.

3. Sensitisation programmes: PepsiCo’s ongoing Masterclass on Inclusion and Gender Intelligence with the top management focuses on the importance of gender diversity and how it can fuel innovation and creativity, DE&I tools and practices, and inclusive leadership. 

In fact, in sales, each of the sales leaders leads these sessions highlighting the importance of gender diversity and inclusive behaviours. 

“We have leveraged different formats to create awareness — classroom training, e-learning, and “street theatre” in multiple languages to bring out existing biases through various scenarios in a non-threatening way. We ensured coverage of all employees/contractors, including in our plants and field sales, in different locations,” says Pavitra.

4. Basic infrastructure: The company continues to look at every aspect of offering a safe and healthy environment for women in sales, including ensuring safety and feminine hygiene stops at various distribution points.

5. A 360-degree approach to solving problems: For this, PepsiCo is ensuring frequent dipstick to understand women employees challenges, addressing them proactively.

6. Daycare support at the creche in the office: Pavitra says this initiative will continue once its offices open up. Nonetheless, amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, PepsiCo launched virtual child care services like summer camps that suit a child’s requirements. 

“We have partnered with ProEves — a childcare benefit provider — to provide varied virtual childcare services, including summer camps, skill camps on dance, art, math, science, history, and trivia to keep them meaningfully energised, and coaching for parents with kids (from toddlers to teenagers) who can provide counselling on pertinent topics,” says Pavitra. 

In fact, PepsiCo also keeps a constant check on lead and lag indicators — hiring, promotion, performance, attrition, and surveys to ensure that it understands the pulse of the women employees and help them if required.  

Geetha Radhakrishnan, Associate Director - Franchise, PepsiCo, says, “PepsiCo India not only has a vibrant and diverse workforce but it also pays special attention towards helping its women employees make dynamic business leaders and foster their career and personal growth.”

Post her maternity leave, the company understood her apprehension about travelling and offered Geetha a role at the headquarter office.

She says, “When I wanted to get back into sales, they gave me the right role in a different city. However, I had to shift with my daughter and be away from my husband. I again asked the company to transfer me to my home city, where at least I have parents who could be my support system, and they understood my situation and shifted me to Hyderabad.”  

“Over the years, I wanted to be back with my husband, and the company was very forthcoming in recalibrating and recalculating my role and empowered me with options to do more at work. I could manage my personal and professional life beautifully together,” she adds.

Edited by Suman Singh

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