Pursuing her BTech in food technology and processing, Priyanka Agarwal never thought that she would one day enter the beer industry.
A shift brewer at United Breweries Ltd (UBL) today, Agarwal, as part of its central technical cell, works in the ‘new product category’ team where she takes care of the complete lifecycle of beer brewing across all of UBL’s breweries in India.
When UBL came to her college for placements, she was intrigued about the possible roles in this industry and wanted to see if her learning could find meaningful applications in the beer industry. “So I gave the interview and got selected. Once I entered UBL, the work was everything and more than what I had imagined,” she says.
“We experiment with new flavours while brewing our beer, try different recipes, and work towards making a particular product recipe efficient enough to produce in our breweries. From planning to execution, we ensure that the beer that goes out has the best taste and quality,” she adds about her job.
Being a brewer in the beer industry isn’t a conventional career path for women in India where even women drinking beer remains a taboo still for many. The alco-bev industry has traditionally been male-dominated owing to social taboos. However, the gender bias seems to be fading away to some extent with a growing number of women, especially millennials and GenZ, redefining the industry by choosing to learn and grow their careers in it.
People Matters spoke to three young women professionals – also known as Queenfishers – at UBL who realised that the beer industry was their calling and followed their passion with determination and courage.
UBL has women across all roles – from management trainees to business unit heads and from brewers to tasters, playing a key role in building and growing the company since the past few decades.
“While traditionally the beer industry has been considered a male-dominated one, things are rapidly changing. At United Breweries, our purpose of brewing the joy of true togetherness to inspire a better world guides us as we shape our people policies which are aligned to this very thought. We believe skill and attitude trumps everything else, regardless of gender,” says Kavita Singh, CHRO, UBL.
‘The stigma is all in the head’
When Agarwal joined UBL, she realised that the stigma was all in her head.
“After I got an offer letter from UBL, I told my parents and they had absolutely no problem with it. All they asked of me was that I do my job with all my dedication. Once I had their approval, the opinions of others did not really matter to me. Some of my relatives were not very pleased with my choice but that didn’t deter me,” she adds.
Jayati Shekhawat, business unit head at UBL, feels that people reflect what you are thinking. If you believe this industry is a taboo and not suitable for women, then others around you will feel the same and judge you.
“But if you are confident and if you feel you are contributing to the joy of people, then nothing can go wrong. I am fulfilling the purpose of brewing a better world and I believe in it and that is what drives me,” says Shekhawat, who currently manages the quality of an entire brewery. She now aims to become a cluster head at UBL.
Shekhawat comes from a family where women have been extremely independent. “The men in my family were all in the army so the women had to manage everything. Because of this mindset, working in the beer industry wasn’t considered a taboo, it was just like any other career where you had to do your best to excel,” she says.
What excited Shekhawat to become a part of this industry was the fact that she was part of creating a product that brought joy to people’s lives. “UBL being the largest manufacturer of beer, motivated me to join this company,” she adds.
Aditi G Katti likes defying cultural norms and UBL gave her an opportunity to do that. She currently works as a shift brewer at UBL and takes care of everything there is to brewing, from barley to the bottle.
“I was fascinated by the beer industry. I thought if I could enter the industry and show how promising it is for people, regardless of gender, then maybe, others would get inspired to pursue a similar career,” she says.
Having learnt how to brew a good bottle of beer, Katti now wants to get involved in the creation and planning of new products and grow the brand portfolio of UBL.
Katti says there is no denying the fact that the world is not equal and they have miles to go together to make it more equal. “I have always maintained that women can do great things, why can’t they get into the beer industry?”
‘Best comeback to a person’s judgment is your performance’
There might be no dearth of people who think women couldn’t brew or work in a beer company but that doesn’t seem to have stopped any of the Queenfishers, who are successful examples of the contrary.
Shekhawat says the best comeback that you can give to a person’s judgment is your performance.
“Everybody has opinions and having a perception is not necessarily bad or wrong. However, making a judgment based on those perceptions is an issue. People who have misjudged me have been proven wrong by my performance and that, according to me, is the best comeback,” she adds.
Agarwal has always been someone who does not get offended by the comments of other people. “Over the years I have realised that you cannot change someone’s way of thinking. You can only change your way of working and your work is the best comeback that you can give to people who doubt you,” she says.
What is it like working in the beer industry?
Katti says her journey in the industry has been “absolutely amazing”.
“One would never imagine the detail and complexity that goes into brewing a bottle of beer. At UBL, I learnt about this complexity which made me appreciate our beer even more. What I had learnt about brewing from reading up on Google was just the tip of the iceberg and getting to know the nitty-gritty of the entire process is just exhilarating,” she says.
“I am always awestruck by our recipes and the thought that goes into making our beer. I would love to experiment with new recipes and try out different taste variations for our beer. One passion project that I want to undertake is to incorporate facets of Indian culture into the taste of our beer,” adds Agarwal.
‘Just dive in and try it out’
To women out there who wish to pursue a career in the beer industry, Agarwal says, “Never think you cannot be part of the beer industry, just dive in and try it out. It is an amazing and promising industry with tremendous growth opportunities. As long as the people you care about support you, no force in the world can waver you from success.”
“Social taboos about a particular industry being just for men, is all in our heads. This is a promising domain that women should seriously consider as a career option. Once you join this industry, only the sky’s the limit,” adds Katti.