In this segment of #WomenInPackaging, we bring to you the inspiring journeys of women in the packaging sector who are painting the town red with their successful feats.
When I called Ms. Ruma Ghatak for an interview, I was definitely nervous. Well, it is not every day you get to speak with someone with 19 years of experience under her belt and heading Emami’s packaging for international marketing division.
But 2 minutes into the call, Ruma Ma’am had already made me feel comfortable by ranting about how meetings can sometimes get really long and boring, and how Kolkata’s weather needs to really improve.
Excerpt from the interview:
“You know Vartika, once when I cleared an interview for this one job, the manager asked me to go for a walk on the first floor of the factory. I was really confused but when I went upstairs, I realized why. There were 300 men working in the plant and not a single lady there.”
“So, did you say yes to them?”
“Oh, of course! That was my first job!”
Humble and extremely sweet, a sneak peek into her daily life was enough to know this is going to be one exciting rendezvous!
Can you tell us about your overall experience in the packaging industry?
Ruma Ghatak (RG): I have been in this industry for over 19 years with diverse experience in FMCG, foods and paints industry. I have worked in companies like HUL, Asian Paints and am currently working as Head of Packaging for international marketing division in Emami Ltd.
How about on the personal front?
RG: On the personal front, I am a proud full-time mother of two kids and very happily married.
So, why did you pursue a career in the packaging industry? I mean, it’s quite an unconventional choice.
RG: Honestly, I wasn’t even aware of the packaging industry until I had graduated. In fact, I became interested in the field only after securing admission in my Master’s degree, thanks to a close friend.
So what motivated you to continue for 19 years?
RG: Personally Vartika, it really motivates me to see how our efforts see the light of day in such a short while. Be it a completely new packaging designed from scratch, or just a little tweak in the color, one can see the results and get the feedback within a few days.
Also, you are always so close to the customer; that feeling of pride when you watch the same packaging placed on retail shelves is unparalleled! Getting this instant feedback is so encouraging; which isn’t the case, in any other profession.
Seeing your passion, the learning curve must have been huge, right?
RG: You are quite right about the learning curve! Packaging as a career is a very challenging one, and to find the best resource matching with the product specifications from the immense variety in the market is extremely challenging.
When I say learning, it is not only from a technical point of view. It also involved working with a varied class of people, understanding their temperament and driving the projects.
Was there any mentor or role model whom you looked up to?
RG: When I joined the industry, there was no woman at the top level, so there really wasn’t any role model or mentor… You need to understand, for a man, doors would automatically open.
For a woman, she would be stopped and asked lots of questions. With such few women working in packaging back then, I basically had to chart my own path, learn and relearn soft skills, face and overcome challenges in a very hard way. It was an uphill battle every day.
All this hard work would have resulted in amazing outputs. Are there any projects you are particularly proud of?
RG: Oh, I am proud of many of my projects! Did you know the entire paint industry used to operate on steel drums?
During my stint at Asian Paints, we introduced plastic pails that you see today. We did the complete designing and development part of it. Not only Asian Paints, but other companies started switching too! And why not?
Plastic pails are so much cheap as well as consumer friendly. We also patented it and registered the pail design. The other project, I remember was launching a 4-day shelf life Chapatti. It was an instant hit in the market and a huge success as well.
Wow! Working on such interesting projects, I am sure there must have been challenges too. Is there any interesting one you proudly overcame?
RG: Overcoming the gender gap at my first job was the biggest challenge. It was while working at Kumar Printers- a quality vendor of mono cartons and labels based in North India.
My job required me to analyze and resolve the problems faced by customers. This also required field work like going to the shop floor and interacting with workmen running the machines, understand their language, to get the work done.
I am assuming that must not have been easy.
RG: Trust me Vartika, it wasn’t easy at all. Since I was new to this industry, I had never worked with such people before. I had to learn it the hard way on how to connect with them and get the work done under the given deadlines.
How would you compare that to your male counterparts?
RG: See, even the workmen were equally uncomfortable taking instructions from a woman, given the patriarchal mindset and also because they had never worked with a woman before. Soft skills on both ends were at an all-time low.
The labor class is quite sensitive to the way a woman behaves and speaks with them. Compare that to my male counterparts, it was a natural instinct to respond and respect them in any given setting.
How did this challenge help you?
RG: It was definitely a blessing in disguise. I got to learn a lot and this very learning has shaped my work ethics. Quite a few times, the root cause of problems as well as ideas for resolving them, came from this initial experience.
With an increase in women joining the packaging industry, will there be a change in how different departments function?
RG: Currently, the packaging sector has improved manifolds in how it works. As the number of women opting in is increasing, you can already see a massive change in how departments are working. Also, people are becoming more balanced, sensitive and considerate without losing focus on the main agenda.
If you had to give one advice to other women in this field, what would it be?
RG: Thoroughly understand the pros and cons of this career before joining. It is tough to change the mindset, but once you find a workaround for it, it is important to channelize all your energy and put your 200% effort. Overcome whatever mental challenges you face, keep continuing on the journey and just don’t look back!
This interview is the first in our new- Women In Packaging series. To read more such interesting stories directly in your inbox, subscribe to the blog. Trust us, you won’t be disappointed!
We would love your feedback on this new series we’ve begun, share them in the comments section below.
P.S.: We would like to thank Ms. Ruma Ghatak for her efforts, and time amidst her busy schedule to kickstart this series with a bang. (And also for kindly inviting me to attend the melas in Kolkata. Flying in soon to eat some amazing Bengali food, Ma’am!)1