Viksita Singh Menon is the Regional Marketing Director- Luxury, APAC at Coty. With rich South Asia exposure straddling both Marketing and Sales, Viksita has spent 17+ years in the FMCG industry, managing an exhaustive portfolio of brands and categories (skincare, haircare, haircolor, makeup, female depilation, homecare) that cater to a diverse set of customers.
Can you tell us about your career progression into your current role?
One of my 1st assignments was that of being the 1st female Area Sales Manager at a top MNC in India. After a successful stint which saw me as one of top 3 Area Sales Managers, I transferred to the Marketing team to head their personal care portfolio, where I developed three new campaigns within two years, one of which was adjudged among the top 10 best communication campaigns worldwide.
Soon after, I joined L’Oréal in India, where I started on Garnier haircare before anchoring the biggest portfolio of Garnier skincare. In 2013, I moved to Singapore as part of the startup team for the South Asia region to lead L’Oréal Paris Female skincare and Makeup in the region and was subsequently promoted to head the complete brand. In late 2017, I took on the Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) assignment for the Consumer Products Division in Singapore to head Marketing for L’Oréal Paris, Maybelline New York, Garnier and NYX Professional Makeup.
And just five months back in March 2020, I joined COTY in the continued pursuit of my passion for envisioning Beauty in everything we do!
Looking back on your career, what are some key moments that have helped or hindered you in getting to where you are?
The genesis of me being a working mum came early in my life and is close to home and my heart. Having come from a family where both my mum and grandma were working women at a time when it was more of an exception than a norm, it became a way of life growing up as I didn’t know otherwise. I saw them balance their personal and professional lives with aplomb; dawning their work caps in the morning and smiling with equal ease when they returned home, only to find us kids whining and fighting over almost anything.
Not only did it help me understand the value of financial independence but also that of mental stimulation, creative satisfaction and the literal high one gets when they are making a difference in their own way.
Another thing would be the cases of “baptism by fire” that I faced at work. Whether it is the daunting task of being the 1st ASM in a male-dominated sales system or the more recent move from looking after the India market to being a part of the nascent South Asia regional team in Singapore, these challenges were new and real, and through hard work and commitment, I realised that there is no mountain too high.
What are some key factors that have helped you the most throughout your career?
Self-belief and resilience.
I have worked through the ups and downs of a business, experiencing both good runs and tough situations where we needed to turnaround. Something that kept me going onwards and upwards through these journeys was the belief that I can do it and make a positive impact, and the resolve and attitude that this too shall pass. Being resilient during such times also helped me emerge as a stronger leader.
Do you have a mentor/role model in your career? What’s the value of having a mentor or being a mentor?
Yes, I have been blessed to have mentors at different stages of my professional life, from both within and outside the organisation and across various functions.
The main value I seek from my mentors and something I try to embody for all my mentees is to be a sounding board, yet being transparent in providing honest feedback.
I’ve always enjoyed the candid, no holds barred conversations that I would have with my mentors or mentees that have been nothing short of enriching, positive and objective.
Do you think that your gender has ever hindered you or blocked any personal progression?
No, personally I have not faced this. In fact, if anything, being part of the Beauty industry only paved the way for a woman’s insights and creativity to be harnessed even more.
How do you balance long hours with your personal life successfully?
We women tend to be quite harsh on ourselves that we want to go that extra mile and do everything possible. With that being said, I am a strong believer that the balance isn’t about the quantity but much rather the quality of time you spend with your loved ones.
A few practical examples that I follow:
I try my best to return home during the weekdays at least an hour before my kid sleeps. That way we can have dinner as a family and I can tuck him in before I return to my calls or laptop.
My husband and I both have jobs that entail travelling, so we have a mutual understanding that we will try our best to plan our calendars in a manner that one of us is always home with our son.
Weekends are dedicated as “family time”, whether it is taking our son to his sports classes, going out for family dinners, or just completing homework, our family has that unwritten rule that during weekends, “us time” will be prioritised.
Singapore is also great for quick getaways that not only helps us disconnect from work but also acts as the perfect opportunity to have pristine family time – playing games, eating out, doing sightseeing or simply lazing around and sleeping.
Looking back at your career, can you pinpoint when you first noticed an emphasis on diversity and inclusion around you?
It started pretty early in my career, back when I applied to be a Key Account Manager at an MNC. After several rounds of interview, I finally got the job and was told I’ll be the 1st ever female Sales Manager in their organisation. I was ecstatic yet apprehensive but took on the challenge regardless. It was not only to prove myself in the male-dominated sales organisation but also as a responsibility to do good in that role which I knew could pave way for other female Sales Managers. It took grit, determination and absolute resolve, and I am happy to say, within a year or two, we started seeing far more diversity and inclusion within the sales force.
It also made me realise that sometimes in the corporate world, life places a bet not only on you as an individual, but on a much bigger cause instead, which you could be lucky to be a part of.
Do you believe there's a glass ceiling for women in the workplace, and has it changed?
We have enough examples of successful women leaders to prove that if there is a glass ceiling, it exists for men and women alike. Be it Indra Nooyi, Sheryl Sandberg, Jacinda Arden or even COTY’s new Power CEO, Sue Nabi, all of them have successfully challenged the status quo and emerged on top of their game.
In your experience, what are the benefits of diverse teams and diverse organisations?
The BIG advantage I see from being diversity-centric is the eclectic experience and different perspective that such myriad characteristics and backgrounds bring to the table.
From my experience, organisations that encourage diversity tend to be more creative, more inclusive in their approach, solve problems faster and are better at decision making.
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?
Firstly, there needs to be the acceptance and acknowledgement that gender diversity is indeed an issue, and then work towards building a plan and strategy to address that.
I have seen some organisations with a clear intent to enable more women to work and more importantly to succeed. Some examples I can think of will be having WFH policies or offering flexible hours (even pre-COVID), which is extremely important for working mums who are trying to balance their personal and professional lives. A few organisations are also going the extra mile by providing day-care facilities for returning and new mums, which from my personal experience is a huge comforting factor.
Lastly, having adequate representation in senior forums like management committees and leadership teams also helps show that the organisation is serious about the issue.
Have you noticed any specific challenges in terms of achieving better gender diversity within the Consumer industry?
The Beauty industry has far more diversity and inclusion, with women centricity and people with different ideologies and cultures. Personally, I came to Singapore to lead a team dominated by locals. That is the biggest entrustment an organisation can have for someone non-local/expat to lead a local market and work towards building a more profitable and sustainable business. That speaks volumes on the company’s effort in promoting diversity.
What are some of the obstacles you foresee for future generations of women and is there anything we can do about them?
I feel it would be relatively easier for generations to come as we are witnessing an increase in awareness and acceptance nowadays. There are also visible efforts in making a difference which makes the task much easier.
The one piece of advice I would share is to create a sisterhood, a network where we support and empower each other, starting with our basic principles of who we are, our morals, values and integrity. Be humble, show togetherness, passion, excellence and enthusiasm towards laying the foundation for our progress through our work.
What’s your advice to leaders who want to create a more diverse and inclusive culture?
As leaders, our words and actions have a great impact on workplace diversity. While there are things that I self-practice, I would like to see more people do the same, to help make our workplace more inclusive while also boosting morale and improving performance.
Foster open and candid conversations with your team members and colleagues because one of the keys to diversity is to embrace different opinions and POVs. These conversations may not always be easy and I have personally witnessed some awkward ones, but what one needs to remember is to be open, inquisitive and respective.
And always remember, listen to understand, not to reply!
On top of that, create an environment that encourages everyone in your team to challenge ideas and offer their own.
It is also important to lead by example, which means looking at your own privileges and acknowledging your responsibilities as a leader to make the space more welcoming for others. I encourage this in terms of my team compositions as well, for example not being biased to always have women working on the makeup category.
Is there anything you are doing to help emerging female leaders within Coty or outside of Coty?
I like to practice what I preach. And hence outside of work, I have my coterie of young, emerging female leaders whom I have had the good fortune to work with, and together we are amidst creating our own ‘sisterhood’, where we guide, support and encourage each other and are always there for advice and counsel.
For more Inspiring Business Women in APAC interviews, please click here.Posted about 2 years ago