Women need more mentors, more women to attract staff, says Tupperware head of state Shilpa Ajwani
Tupperware, a name synonymous with lunch boxes and containers, is
right up there when it comes to brand recall and trust. “It’s like
a family heirloom that’s handed down generations,” says Shilpa Ajwani, managing
director, Tupperware India, who is as happy
promoting her brand as she is advocating women’s empowerment,
workplace diversity and ecological sustainability. “I sleep easy
because the brand I work with resonates with my own values.”
First up, and into the unknown
When I got into direct selling, it was a very new industry in India, nobody knew anything about it. There were about 40 men who were appearing for the interview, I was perhaps the 41st candidate that day. I thought, chances are I wouldn’t make it. But the conversation I had with a Swedish gentleman was very interesting, and I intuitively thought, “This is the place for me.” And he felt, “You are the person for us.” So, the 41st candidate happened to be selected, for an organisation called Oriflame, a Swedish cosmetics multinational. Nobody knew the name — my best friends thought I had joined a gas company! They asked me, “Are you going to sell gas now?!” But it was a startup in India long before people knew about startups — I had the privilege of working in a true-blue startup.
Being realistic about plastic
I’m proud to say we’re about durable plastic. Still, many people ask, “Tupperware and sustainability —how do they go together?” But you can’t live without plastic, and banning a substance is never a great idea, especially in an emerging economy like ours, where it’s one of the most value-efficient materials that can be used to actually preserve the environment.
And what the government is after right now is single-use plastic. The other issue is that we don’t have evolved waste-management systems in this country. So, we’re jumping the gun. What is the solution? Set up reliable waste-management systems — in the absence of those, most of this plastic is either reaching landfills or the oceans. And at Tupperware, we’re definitely against that.
Standing proudly on her own two feet
My journey in the corporate world now spans more than 22 years. So, it’s been two decades of being fortunate in loving what I do and doing what I love. But I didn’t even realise, for many, many years, that I was a woman. I didn’t sit in meetings, or address large gatherings, imagining that I’m a minority. And I was thankful that I didn’t overthink about it myself, which is why perhaps I am where I am. Because sometimes when women overthink the fact that, “It’s difficult,” or, “I’m never going to make it,” or, “There will come a time when they won’t judge me for my talent,” you start losing confidence.
The road to a level-playing field
I had the power to choose that if I have equally capable men and women, I would try hiring a woman for that role. I tell all women that if you respect what you do enough, you’ll be able to convince people around you. And women need more mentors, more women to enter and stay in the workforce. My mom had to give up because there were no good opportunities where you could look after babies and make a meaningful career and use your talent and education — I have been doing that with women every day for the last 22 years.