DIVERSITY STORIES #5

I was born in London.

Both my parents emigrated there from a region in northern India called Punjab, so I have Indian roots but a quintessentially British attitude. And later in life I added Switzerland to the mix, which has been my adopted home for 30 years. Life became extremely eclectic, because I moved from London to Appenzell in the Swiss Alps to marry my husband, Thomas, and have our two daughters, Alisha and Shirin.
I became comfortable with always being the multifaceted (different) one in the room. And that has opened up skill sets for me in life and work. I’m flexible, curious and very open–minded.
For me, my most personal story around diversity is my name, Anju Rupal. It is a name I’m proud of, because it shows my Indian heritage. In London, my school friends would try and change it to Angie, telling me “it fits better” and would be easier to pronounce. And in Switzerland, I was told I should carry my husband’s surname, “Dörig,” which is very typical of our region. I would find it easier to get a job, they said, and to assimilate in my new surroundings.
I kept my name and have never looked back.

However, being a mother ripped my heart many times. Children can be so mean and hurtful to one another, and the name calling my one daughter experienced was something I wish I could have spared her from. But despite the taunts, both girls went onto selective secondary schools and have a solid foundation that I’m proud of.

If there’s a lesson I have learnt, it’s to speak up and protect vulnerable individuals. I think this has a lot to do with my parents and the values they instilled in me. Throughout my entire life, they have stressed the importance of contributing to society. And I think because of those lessons, I became passionate about gender inequalities and using my voice to support women and create opportunities for them.
Diversity also means understanding, accepting and valuing differences between people, be it differences in gender, age, race, ethnicity, religion, disability and sexual orientation. It also includes differences in education, experience, knowledge, skill set and personality. Each of us brings a diverse set of perspectives and experiences, and the power of this diversity can only be realised once we recognise these differences and learn to respect and value them. And here I need to learn to listen and respect when, for instance, a farmer wishes to share his stories with me. Someone who I know has never stepped out of his canton, but turns out to be the pulse of an eco-system so deeply needed by us all.
Because everyone deserves to be seen and heard.

I’ve also been fortunate to travel the world. I have always needed the stimulus of a city, the arts, and theatre, but now we’re all in a lockdown as I write this. Appenzell was always my safe place where I would recharge my batteries from my constant travel, but as the world was forced on its knees during this pandemic, I found my peace here in nature and do not have the urge to leave and wander like I have always done. Appenzell and its beauty has nestled itself deeper in my heart, and now I joke that I may one day land in one of the elderly homes in Appenzell and will once again be the different one. My own personal karma!

I work in beauty, which is an industry where you are expected to always look perfectly stylish. So my first zoom calls of lockdown were an orchestrated perfect performance. And then as my calls shifted to other countries that went into lockdown—for instance the US and India—that reality check made my effort to look perfect seem frivolous.
My company, Abhati Suisse, is more than just skin and haircare products—we’re building a purpose-driven brand. Through our daily actions of stepping into the shower, we all become a philanthropist when using Abhati products, because every product sold sends a girl to school. So my calls with our partner NGOs, which have been struggling during the pandemic to keep our girls protected, have been heart wrenching and put everything else into perspective. I stopped caring about the aesthetics during these calls and went into “solution solving” mode. As a leader, you have to open yourself up to connection, which is tough when suddenly your entire work life is conducted through a screen. But what I’ve learnt is there is a power in this vulnerability when you leave your mask behind.

If I think about the future, I feel a lot of hope. I’m a positive person and believe humans are dexterous and agile around change. I haven’t seen my parents this year, and that’s something I’m looking forward to—and I’m hopeful that day will be soon.

ANJU RUPAL
Age: 55
Nationality: Father & Mother Indian
Role & Company: Abhati Suisse CEO/Founder
If my life were a book, what would be its title? The Art of metamorphosis

Text: Anju Rupal   Photos: Tomek Gola

 

Businessfrauen Schweiz im Portrait – zuerst erschienen im Business Magazin für Frauen – Ladies Drive No 52 (3.9.2020)
Die Business Sisterhood der Schweiz, Deutschland und Österreich. #BusinessSisterhood

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