Harboring an aim to become a forensic scientist in her teenage days led Imeshi Sahabandu into the field of Biotechnology, Chemistry and Genetics. Eventually pursuing her higher studies with an undergraduate degree in Biotechnology, she is now the Senior Manager, Innovation: Beauty, Grooming and Wellness at Hemas Consumer Brands of Hemas Holdings PLC with a keen desire on answering the ‘why’ and helping translate science through effective means of design and communication.
As an innovator and woman of STEM, Imeshi initiated her career as a technical assistant for Malaria research with the University of Colombo and Asia Pacific Malaria Elimination Network. In time, Imeshi – the youngest intake – was one of the twelve out of thousand applicants to be chosen by Hemas Holdings for the trainee program. “I’ve been at Hemas for the past 10 years, and worked my way through product development of different product categories”, she proudly states. Having been a part of the FMCG industry for a decade long, Imeshi is determined to give back to the community through effective product designing while also sharing her experience as a woman of STEM.
Tasked with powering strategic beauty and innovation, Imeshi leads the teams towards designing and developing new personal care offerings with a target in delivering inclusive, accessible and functional products that enrich the consumers’ lives. Further elaborating the process she says, “Powering strategic beauty for the company means to look at the product’s design end to end while envisioning consumer needs and being on top of all the technology that is being innovated in the beauty and consumer space, getting a head start on it and bringing that into the business as viable solutions for the consumers.
Imeshi‘s biggest challenge to date was amidst the launch of Vivya – A First In the World Skin care range with Sri Lankan Heirloom Rice, a natural ingredient made with Hemas owned Golden Trice Technology. “The designing and development of the entire range, working with cross functional teams and innovating amidst a pandemic was truly challenging”, she explains. “But bringing forward the goodness of Sri Lankan Heirloom Rice and unlocking it through technology and teamwork in order to provide a safe and effective skin care range by also adding true value to the consumer needs was in fact a delightful experience.”
Elaborating further on Vivya, Imeshi stated that the entire proposition was unique as the range was carefully curated for the Sri Lankan women. The range aims towards augmenting our innate skin tone while bringing out a radiance that we naturally possess. With Vivya range being a true testament to the synergy of consumer insight, the product encourages all Sri Lankan women to develop a skin care routine in order to help restore and rejuvenate their skin.
While the field of STEM remains to be an emerging space that many trailblazing women have set foot into, Imeshi admits that securing employment remains to be a challenge for many. “I was lucky and incredibly privileged to have been recruited by Hemas Holdings who truly powers their employees with opportunities for career growth across disciplines”, she says with a sense of gratitude.
Urging all who are interested in this particular field to conduct a self-assessment of skills and competencies early on, she also goes on to mention the vast array of roles present in the STEM field. Making it a point to emphasize the importance in understanding which role brings joy into the work one does, she says “Do you find joy in roles respective to academic research? Or sharing your knowledge as an educator? Do you like practical laboratory work or do you like an integrated role of tech and marketing? Mine was communication, creativity and love for design, therefore a very integrated, application centric role of STEM.
Despite there being an increase in demand for female representation in the STEM field across multiple industries, the tenacity and determination brought to the table by one is a factor to be reckoned with. “Assess your appetite to be agile and look at prospective employers or shadow companies that emulate what you want to do and be in future, see if they have interesting paths for you”, she explains.
Be it men or women, it is paramount to hone their soft skills and technical skills while also being able to communicate themselves and their craft side as a person of STEM. “This means that attention to detail must be given to your overall appearance, communication and negotiation skills, and you need to bring in 360! It will become a key aspect why people believe in what you have to say and what you create”, Imeshi remarks.
When asked about how the betterment of people and process can be bought around in the corporate environment, Imeshi lists down a few worthy points, with the first being simplicity. “I truly believe that the best answers lie in simplicity and often channeling them through a consumer lens helps to simplify the solutions we are trying to offer”, she expresses.
Furthermore, she also mentions the necessity of building a dynamic team with cross functional expertise and combating ageism. “As someone who has been the youngest in the room from the beginning of my career and to date the youngest at different forums, I can easily say the challenges around ageism are real at both levels.”
Irrespective of challenges, every journey leads to reaping rewards. From seeing how the manufactured products impact the consumer’s life with confidence and light to simplifying science in order to make it accessible for all, Imeshi finds her sense of reward through such aspects of her career. Additionally, she also finds pride in consumers coming around to buy and placing trust in local products that are made with the help of the nation’s very own ingredients and scientists.
Parting with inspiring words to all the young leaders out there, Imeshi highlights the importance of a positive attitude with a learning and growth mindset. “Finally, irrespective of how you feel, get up, dress up and show up!”