Dr. Deepali Palta knew as soon as she saw the job description that taking her career to PepsiCo was a “no-brainer.” And yet, for at least a moment in time, she hesitated to apply for a reason many women will relate to: she wasn’t sure whether she was qualified.
“When I interviewed at PepsiCo, I was getting my PhD from Georgia Tech in Polymer and Material Science and had worked with similar processing technology, but for textile and materials, not food,” Deepali explained. “It took me some time to get out of my own way and say, okay, I should at least apply, even though I don’t have the ‘right’ degree. I kept looking at the job description and thinking, ‘I can do that.’”
Deepali knew that her experience was applicable to the food industry, just not in the ways others expected. So, she developed her story, approached PepsiCo’s recruiters, and ultimately landed the job. She’s been part of the PepsiCo family ever since.
“Every role that I’ve held so far in my 11 years here has been a little bit of a winding road,” Deepali, who today serves as Global Research & Development Director for New Process Capability, said. “I started in process engineering but then went into product development, packaging, and business management and strategy. As I grew up in this organization, the constant was the company and its incredible culture, but everything else has changed: my team, my agenda, my deliverables.”
Given all of the career evolutions she’s experienced in the past decade at PepsiCo, Deepali said she’s ultimately “gotten more and more comfortable” in her own skin, in no small part because she “hasn’t taken a straight road.” Challenging the traditional pathway of success may not have been easy, but it’s resulted in a unique perspective that she leverages in her current leadership role. And as PepsiCo’s Corporate Partnership Chair for the Society of Women Engineers (SWE), it’s a perspective she uses to help up-and-coming women in STEM shed self-doubt and take risks, too.
“As women, we tend to not believe in our own abilities right away and stop ourselves two or three steps short before we should,” she said. “I’ve seen junior women I mentor struggling with this, and lately I’ve been challenging them to not be shy about having their points of view heard or being proud of their accomplishments.”
In order to help empower her mentees and the individuals on her team to confidently take ownership of their accomplishments, Deepali believes in creating a culture of trust, something she’s seen demonstrated throughout her time at PepsiCo. One way of extending this trust as a leader, she added, is by not questioning employees when they need to make time for personal matters. (This same attitude is found throughout PepsiCo, as well; women on Fairygodboss consistently rate it as a balance-friendly organization).
“As a leader, regardless of the timelines of projects, it’s about caring about the whole person,” she said. “If my team feels that I’m authentically invested in their development and in their well-being, then everything else works itself out and I don’t have to worry about timelines — it will get done.”
By taking this approach, Deepali added, the end outcome is not only a culture where workers feel supported, but where they’re able to perform to a higher degree, too.
“I find that if I extend my trust to my team in the beginning, and say, ‘Hey, I trust you,’ it just gives them more power and more lift, and makes them want to rise to meet that,” she said.
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