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Inspiring Business Women in APAC: ​Priyadarshini Sharma

Priyadarshini Sharma is the Managing Director, India & SEA and VP Marketing Asia Pacific at McCormick & Company. She is a seasoned, high-performing commercial leader with 20+ years of multi-country, multi-industry experience in blue-chip companies. She has a strong track record of success in accelerating business growth via premiumisation and leader high-performance teams across the Asia Pacific (Including China, Australia, ASEAN & India).
Looking back on your career, what are some key moments that have helped or hindered you in getting to where you are?

I constantly try to challenge myself and took on assignments I knew would take me out of my comfort zone – for instance, I moved to Hong Kong and then to China. The experience gave me a much broader perspective working with diverse teams transcending language barriers, honed my skillsets and deepened my experience in delivering results across different contexts and cultures.

Also, becoming a certified coach has been very enriching for me, and I am ever so grateful for my coaching journey. I can honestly say (without exaggeration) that it has been life-changing for me. What started as a "self-serving" endeavour to improve my leadership style has gone on to be the "gift that keeps on giving" - not just for myself, but for my teams and family as well.

What one factor has helped you the most throughout your career?
  1. Resilience – the realisation that no problem or issue is insurmountable. Key Learnings are:

  2. Life goes on

  3. Sometimes we don’t know what we want – what we think we want may not be the right thing

  4. Pick yourself up, dust yourself off and keep moving forward

  5. Every situation teaches you something!

Do you have a mentor/role model in your career? What’s the value in having a mentor or being a mentor?

It takes a village to build a career, and mentors, coaches, friends, family, and co-workers all have played an important role in mine. Mentors provide a unique lens of looking at situations based on their own experiences, which makes navigating complex environments easier. They can also be someone to bounce ideas off, get advice and feedback from so we can improve as leaders. When it comes to being a mentor, it’s about paying it forward, we can learn things in the process as well (reverse mentoring is a real thing!).

As a mentor, what advice would you give to your mentees?

We win by playing to our strengths, not focusing on our weaknesses; this is true of people, brands, and businesses. So be aware of weaknesses and ensure they won’t derail you, but really focus on honing your strengths so you can bring the best of yourself to the table.

Do you think that your gender has ever hindered you or blocked any personal progression?

When I joined the workforce in the late 90s, gender was still very much an issue and casual sexism was rampant. Even then I soldiered on and continued to build my career without letting it get in the way. I stayed focused on my priorities and delivered on them. Whether as a spouse, mother or corporate leader, I took time off when I needed to and also leaned in when I was able to – this ensured that my gender (and different roles in life) never hindered my progress.

Now, as a leader with McCormick, I take pride in being the Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) champion for the Asia Pacific Zone. As D&I lead in the last year, I have learnt that ‘Being the change we want to see in the world” is the surest first step in driving change. So, the leadership team and I have been consciously working on building a team with diverse abilities & experiences while ensuring we have an equitable and inclusive culture where our teams can thrive.

How do you balance long hours with your personal life successfully?

I believe it is about work-life integration rather than balance. Sometimes work takes precedence and sometimes, life does. The important thing is that we feel fulfilled as a whole person – and we make time for things that bring us joy. Find your “Ikigai” and then work will not feel like something we need to get away from - it naturally flows together.

At a practical level – I try to “stack” activities so they address several priorities. For example, with the kids, the things we need to do are spend time together as a family; give them meaningful experiences to build their resumes; get physical exercise/fitness. We can check all 3 boxes by doing a sport together (e.g. learn Karate) in one hour – very efficient! Another example is that I go for walks with my colleagues from the office; we get a chance to meet face to face and get in some exercise/nature immersion at the same time.

I also have clear boundaries that I set so I can bring my whole self to both work and my personal life. For example, at McCormick, we implement Focus-Fridays without meetings, which empowers us to use Fridays to clear emails/work and set up for the week ahead. I never travel on important occasions like family birthdays, anniversaries, vacations or festivals, because these are the defining moments when I prioritise my family. When working from home, I carve out the “do not disturb” time and my family knows that I am concentrating so they will give me my space.

Do you have any advice for professionals earlier in their careers on how to progress and succeed?

For this, I have three principles – Work Hard, Have Fun, and No Drama.

By Working Hard, I don’t just mean getting stuff done but also working smart, as delivering results is more important than hours spent ineffectively. You can have a bias for action but begin with understanding the issue and keep the result in mind, focus on what’s important rather than what’s seemingly urgent but unimportant and avoid the temptation to confuse action (making important things happen) with activity (just being busy). Having a proclivity for lifelong learning is the best asset, and so is being resilient.

When it comes to Having Fun, work should be fun as it can lead to great results when skills & challenges align, you can also build a personal rapport with colleagues and form strong bonds with those you’ll be collaborating with closely. Work-life effectiveness is the key here, so do enough of what replenishes your energy. It’s also important to take real vacations, as long as you plan and manage projects accordingly.

Finally, No Drama means saying what you mean and meaning what you say, seek to understand before seeking to be understood. Keep in mind that winning an argument is not important, but the result is, so challenge assumptions/beliefs/ways of working and be open to being challenged. If there is a problem, understand the root cause and take steps to fix it, don’t assume the “victim mindset”. And remember, feedback is a gift, so give and receive it in the right spirit.

In your experience, what are the benefits of diverse teams and diverse organisations?

I am inspired by McCormick’s Purpose-Led-Performance principles, which essentially reflect our purpose, competitive advantage, and ambitions. The approach is two-fold: we’re delivering industry-leading financial performance while doing what’s right for people, communities, and the planet we share. The cornerstone of McCormick’s approach is helping people live better lives – we believe that championing Diversity, Equity & Inclusion enables our team to bring their whole selves to work, enhance their wellbeing, and helps them lead more fulfilling work and personal lives.

Valuing D&I is at the core of McCormick’s principles and strategic business priorities. We know a diverse and inclusive workplace results in business growth, increased innovation, retention of talent and a more engaged workforce. Our D&I strategy is focused on four key areas: Workforce, Work Environment, Marketplace, and the Community. Our 2025 Diversity & Inclusion goals centre around increasing the proportions of ethnically diverse talent and women in leadership positions, launching and leveraging Employee Ambassador Groups, and expanding leadership development programs.

What is the main thing you’ve seen in any organisation that you think works, from a diversity point of view, or that enables women to progress?

I believe that people need to see it to believe it. The more we have women or diverse candidates in leadership roles, the more other women & diverse candidates believe they can also get there. So, the most important thing companies can do is to have visible leadership for diverse groups; this means consciously addressing unconscious bias and taking steps to ensure that we coach and develop a diverse pipeline of future leaders. In addition, I feel that having sponsorship and mentoring for diverse candidates by senior leaders in the organisation can also help in preparing a diverse slate of talent for leadership roles.

What are some of the obstacles you foresee for future generations of women and is there anything we can do about them?

Age-old issues like the unconscious bias against women are still prevalent, even exacerbated to some extent due to the pandemic. The misperception that women should naturally be the ones to bear most of the caregiving responsibilities at home will continue to result in loss of opportunities.

Therefore, unequal distribution of caregiving, and lack of support from employers, will remain a barrier for women at work even after the pandemic. Offering flexible work options, such as the ability to work remotely or with flexible hours may help lessen this burden. Importantly, leaders should look at creating a culture of empathy and psychological safety where women can feel safe to share their needs (for instance, taking time off to attend to a child) and not be judged for it.

According to Deloitte’s 2021 Global Human Capital Trends report, organisations that integrate well-being into the overall design of work will be best positioned to build a sustainable future where workers can perform at their best. We need to ensure our employees can bring their whole selves to work because when they feel their best, they perform at their best.

Are there any specific challenges in terms of achieving better gender diversity within the Consumer/Food Ingredients industry?

Achieving better gender diversity for any manufacturing industry is predicated on having a sufficient pipeline of diverse talent in areas of operations management, R&D and other functions. This is not a food industry-specific challenge; it is one for several industries.

What do you think the industry can do to improve diversity & inclusion?

As leaders, we are in the unique position to identify and implement new and innovative ways to redesign work for our people’s well-being. This is best done by listening to them and recognising what works for them. So, having a good listening strategy within the organisation is critical in this approach. Training leaders on the concept of unconscious bias and how to actively manage it would also be critical in improving D&I.

What’s your advice to leaders who want to create a more diverse and inclusive culture?

Be the change you want to see; it is the first step in creating any cultural interventions. It all starts with you. Put up your hand, be open to having honest conversations and do not judge. We need to take the first step and lead by example.

Is there anything you are doing to help emerging female leaders within McCormick or outside?

I decided to take on the role of D&I champion for the Asia Pacific Zone because I am passionate about making a real difference for women in the workplace through this cause. As a core member of the Purpose-Led-Performance Committee for the region, I am responsible for setting and delivering on our D&I goals, looking at opportunities with the team to ensure we drive the D&I conversation and agenda wherever possible. At the Corp level, we are committed to achieving our 2025 goal of having 50% women in senior leadership positions globally and my role in this committee is to ensure we deliver on this goal for the APZ region. I also coach and mentor several female leaders within McCormick, providing a listening ear, sharing advice and role modelling the McCormick growth behaviours to support and inspire our next generation of talent.

For more Inspiring Business Women in APAC interviews, please click here.

Posted 12 months ago
About the author:
Tom Swain

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