Leaders must effectively use their voice to bring about positive change

Growing up in Hamilton, New Zealand in a family that had migrated from Fiji, she was witness to the sacrifices and struggles of her parents. With both sets of grandparents and parents running their own businesses, she experienced the ups and downs of an entrepreneurial family.

The experiences of her childhood influenced who she aspired to be and became. It instilled in her a sense of responsibility to ensure each generation moves forward. A purpose driven life that makes meaningful change for the next generation to have a more positive experience and live in a better world.

Komal Mistry-Mehta, Global Director of Sports & Active Living at Fonterra, the New Zealand-based global dairy giant took time to share with AsiaBizToday on her professional journey and value systems.

Your initial experiences in the corporate world

Overwhelming. My first foray into the corporate world was as an Associate at Deloitte in London. For me it was many firsts rolled into one. My first real job and first significant move away from home to live and work on the other side of the world. I remember stepping out of the tube station in London at Oxford Circus, 20 years old, completely overwhelmed. I had never in my life been in a city so big, with so many people, moving at such pace. The first few months were tough personally and professionally.

It’s fair to say that I was out of my comfort zone, but this forced me to grow and equipped me with skills that remain part of who I am today. As I navigated my way through, the biggest lesson I learnt was the power of our ‘learning agility’ as humans.

The people agility we have to build new relationships, the change agility within us to adapt quickly to our circumstances, and most importantly, the mental agility to navigate ourselves through challenging times. My first foray into the corporate world was definitely a ‘plunge into the deep end’ which was rich with learning. It was challenging but I wouldn’t have it any other way. 

Challenges of being a woman of colour

Growing up I witnessed first-hand some of the challenges my family faced. I believe although we have come a long way as a society, we are not there yet. I’m proud of being a woman, a woman of colour, and strongly believe the more diverse the table is, the stronger that table is, so I prefer to look forward and focus on how we can achieve this together.

The state of diversity and inclusion today

I definitely believe things have improved and are improving. The first step is always awareness, and I do believe there is a growing awareness on how we can create more diverse and inclusive environments. This awareness and therefore change starts with all of us as leaders; Am I creating an environment where people feel safe to voice their opinions? What are my unconscious biases and what message am I sending? Who needs my support and encouragement today? How can I create a culture at a scale that empowers people to be the best versions of themselves? As leaders these are the questions we should be asking ourselves and keeping them front of mind in order to make meaningful change.

Your role as a woman leader to ensure better representation

For me personally it comes down to two things; 1) as leaders how do we use our voice and influence in a positive way and 2) where we spend our time. Having a balanced workforce with diverse representation, and ensuring the environment created is one that respects and leverages the power of this diversity, ultimately leads to better business results. It’s that simple.

As a female leader within a large global organisation, I am passionate about working alongside people and therefore using my influence to create diverse teams, to ensure we continuously improve our environment to allow voices to be heard and people feel like they can thrive.

The second focus area for me is where I spend my time. As a leader I believe it’s my responsibility to help those that are coming through – instilling confidence in them, helping them navigate their careers, and supporting them as they move through the organisation. I am purposeful on where I spend my time, that it is balanced on both growing the business and on growing our people. On a daily basis I spend time mentoring and supporting people around me to be at their best.

Fonterra’s initiatives at encouraging employees

Most people see Fonterra as a global dairy giant, a US$15 billion revenue cooperative from New Zealand. Coming up to nearly a decade with the company, I can tell you there is much more than meets the eye. Fonterra is owned by 10,000 New Zealand farmers who put their life and soul into producing world class sustainable milk. And as employees we are tasked with creating value from every drop of this milk.

Given the small population of New Zealand we have had to get very good at exporting globally, innovating, and studying the science behind every component of milk. This has meant that being creative, entrepreneurial, and customer-led is within the organisation’s DNA.

The culture within Fonterra has a deep connection back to the farm through our farmer shareholders, seen through our humble honest Kiwi style which our customers respect. We also pride ourselves on having an environment that has very little hierarchy and bureaucracy. Instead, we are focused on creating premium, science backed dairy nutrition for people around the world. Being owned by 10,000 hands-on entrepreneurs, this culture is translated acrossour organisation. 

Your message to young and ambitious women

Continue to learn, grow, and invest in your own journey of self-improvement. Learning about yourself and building your mental resilience will become your greatest asset. Surround yourself with people who challenge you, ground you in the values that are most important to you and push you to be the best version of yourself. Be intentional with your time, it’s limited. Lastly, believe in yourself and never settle – the braver we are, the luckier we seem to get.