The journey of a compassionate leader & a quintessential multitasker
With women achieving higher levels of education, they are being employed in more prominent positions and this in turn has helped them increase their access to leadership roles across organizations. Women leaders are known to be empowering, accommodating and their relentless work towards making their fellow associates able and competent is a truly commendable feat!
Shalini Puchalapalli, Director - Category Leadership lives by the mantra of allowing success to make noise, while working in silence. Read more to discover her journey at Amazon and her association with non-government organisations that help empower children.
How are you working towards transforming the way people are buying online, what is your thought process and how is your team solving the barricades of online buying?
India is one of the fastest growing economies and market for ecommerce and we are experiencing a huge market shift and change in customer behaviour. We, at Amazon are enabling that shift by building an experience that customers love and trust. My team at Amazon, are building this marketplace by focusing on:
1. Enabling the sellers to bring in the largest selection of products. With 50 million products from sellers across India, we offer the largest selection in India. However, Indian sellers have a multitude of products to offer, be it appliances and décor for Home or the best accessories for your bike and we want to bring it all to our customers by growing selection on Amazon exponentially.
2. Enabling the right customer experience, be it as a single source of truth with our display page and personalising their discovery of the products.
3. Enabling customers to receive the products at the speed they want and innovating in terms of delivery experience. We know that our customers want products much faster than they get them now.
When you joined Amazon India three years back, how did you feel to be an incumbent of such an important role?
I have had an exciting three year journey at Amazon, first as the head of Amazon Business and distribution and now as the category leader for other hardlines, which in itself is a diverse set of categories from Home to sports and automotive. While I have worked in different industries in diverse verticals, Amazon stands out for its unique culture of learning and innovation. It is a privilege to be part of the company that is driving the transformation of an industry and democratising the process of buying and selling especially for people who have a very limited choice and pricing in small towns. Another fascinating thing about Amazon is the opportunity to work with my team and other teams who are extremely driven, smart and constantly innovating on behalf of customers.
At the bottom of the funnel when people start working there is a good mix of both men & women, but as the career progresses women seem to fall off the funnel. What has been your experience in seeing this disparity of women leaders?
In India, the Employee Female Participation Rate (EFPR) is 23% - one of the lowest in the world. The reason is the socio-economic factor. I did my engineering at IIT Madras and with a batch of 350 students only 20 were women. It starts off with skill building at a very early stage, with different attitudes for bringing up a girl child over a boy. Over the years, it is this small group of women coming in who don’t have the network to build off each other. Banking is one sector where women do well because for a long time women have been working in that sector and building it. If there are more women in a group they tend to do better.
Amazon as an organisation has been very supportive towards women at all life stages.
Amazon as an organisation has been very supportive towards women at all life stages. Not just with the policies and infrastructural abilities where we can work from anywhere but also from our leadership principles.
Outside of your work, what are some of the things you are passionate about?
In India, one in 10 girls don’t survive beyond the age of 5. A change in this requires a change in attitudes towards girl child. We need to build a society where a girl is wanted at birth and is not discriminated against in any way – nutrition, education, opportunities to work to name a few. I volunteer my time with a grassroots NGO called Aarti Home, which is working with women and children across life stages. I help in creating the right structures, mechanisms and implementing the solutions and help in transferring practices that work well for us in corporate world to the non profit world. I am also on the board of two other NGOs working with women and children – Womens Empowerment program and Miracle foundation. Additionally, I believe transformation needs to happen with greater involvement of all sections of society and hence I am a part of CII women’s network.
What are your thoughts on STEM education and how you are involved in this work with your non-profit association?
Women remain scarily under represented in all fields of STEM across the world. With our labour force participation being low, this becomes even more stark. With technology transforming every aspect of our lives, it is critical that we enable women to get into STEM. A few years ago, as a part of my work with Aarti Home, we created a mobile computer lab and reached out to 8 rural schools. We found that enabling equal opportunities led to more girls coming in and getting comfortable in with technology. Long term, we saw a significant impact on their performance and interest in STEM. I believe we need to create opportunities. In one of the schools, where I continue to be involved, we saw girls topping the class.
Take all the support you can. It is going to be difficult trying balance all roles. Be gentle on yourself. Stop being too self-critical.
Do you have any advice for the women who are in the workforce, who doubt their potential about growing their career and trying to find a balance?
Take all the support you can. It is going to be difficult trying balance all roles. Be gentle on yourself. Stop being too self-critical. Focus on learning – everything else will come.