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ITC Taps Woman Power to Fire Up Its Growth Engine
The Economic Times - 16 Apr 2013

Company wants the proportion of its women employees to go up to 30% from 16%

When Ananya Ukil, 28, passed out of ISB and joined ITC two years ago, she had little expectation that she would spearhead the marketing of a new product range so soon. She is the brand manager for the Vivel Cell Renew range of moisturisers, creams and lotions, launched this February as part of ITC's push into the Rs. 7000 crore skincare market. None of her ISB batch mates are yet handling such responsibility, she claims.

Like Ukil, Kavita Chaturvedi, divisional marketing manager (snacks), is part of the team that launched ITC's instant noodles brand Sunfeast Yippee in 2010. The brand has gained a 12% market share in two years, competing with market leader Nestle's Maggi. Similarly, two more women brand managers — Debolina Bhaumik and Promita Saha - are leading ITC's assault on Hindustan Unilever and Godrej Consumer Products in the soaps and face wash categories. Real intent, not coincidence, is the reason women managers are taking on greater responsibility at ITC. The high-walled Virginia House, ITC's headquarters in Kolkata - a male bastion since its mainstream cigarette business is mostly shunned by women - is now laying the red carpet for women professionals, fast-tracking their career growth and building a pipeline of candidates who can take on senior management roles. ITC wants to double the proportion of women employees to 30% from 16% to catalyse new growth engines. Such as the personal care, packaged food business, lifestyle retail and hospitality, where the marketer has to either appeal more to homemakers and women consumers, or where women professionals can have a distinct advantage, says ITC's executive VP (corporate HR) Anand Nayak. Starting this year, 30% of its campus recruits will be women. "We have to shape our talent pool in line with our business requirement. ITC's transformation into a diversified Indian enterprise will enhance gender diversity," says Nayak.

FMCG Biggies Turn Aggressive on Fair Play

Put in perspective, other consumer-facing companies like Hindustan Unilever and Coca-Cola have more aggressive diversity goals - both want to become gender-balanced organisations with 50% women employees.

But by ITC's own standard - women accounted for less than 1% of its managerial workforce a decade ago - these are lofty goals. But it is making progress.

It has identified a pipeline of more than 20 midto-senior level women managers to be fast-tracked into succession planning and Nayak expects at least some of them will graduate into higher roles over the next few years.

Already, some women managers have been promoted to higher roles. Benita Sharma, who started off as a front desk executive, is the general manager of Welcomhotel Sheraton, New Delhi and also the area chief for ITC Mughal, Agra and ITC Rajputana, Jaipur.

Manisha Bhasin is the senior executive chef at ITC Maurya, New Delhi, Vasudha Narasimhan is leading the key accounts portfolio of the packaging and printing business while Gurpreet Kalsi is principal scientist at the ITC Life Sciences and Technology Centre. Women professionals account for 42% of the workforce at this centre.

Mukul Rastogi heads HR for the lifestyle retailing business (including ITC Wills Lifestyle and John Players) and is also part of the divisional management committee for the business.

Several women managers also play key roles in corporate functions like HR, communications, legal and finance.

In a way, ITC signalled its intent when it roped in Meera Shankar, the former Indian ambassador in US, to its board last September. She is the first women director in the company's 103-year-old history.

ITC does not have special schemes such as flexi time or special leave provisions for women managers.

"We instead ensure that women managers are comfortable at the workplace and have the freedom to balance their personal life with work. We are sensitive to the special needs of women managers," he says.

Women professionals are also taking charge of purely male-dominated roles like the cigarette business or field sales force, points out Nayak. Bhavani Parmeshwar is the president at King Maker Marketing, which is ITC's FMCG marketing arm in the US.

Similarly, Anubhuti Nath is regional sales manager taking care of the modern trade portfolio in the North.

The company recently inducted 18 women in its frontline field sales force to sell both cigarettes and FMCG products in kiranas and pan shops, says Chandana Ghosh, ITC's HR head for trade marketing and distribution.

"This pilot has worked extremely well for ITC, with equally high performance output. We now want to scale this up."