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Deepika Chandrasekar

Deepika (Indian New Zealander) manages the quality and safety of Whittaker's chocolate and its ingredients.

What do you do on an average work day? He aha tō mahi ia rā, ia rā?

Portrait of Deepika Chandrasekar

Work at the Whittaker’s chocolate factory starts quite early. I’m usually at work between 6-7am. I start my day with emails before heading into the factory. Most days, I attend a few meetings where we discuss improvement projects, production planning or new products.

As the Quality Assurance Manager at Whittaker's, my team is responsible for ensuring that every single bar that leaves the factory meets our high quality and food safety standards. As part of our regular product audits, we check the ingredient quality, the weight of chocolate bars, organoleptic profile and packaging. We also maintain a quality programme that meets the expectations of MPI, export regulations and all our customers.

The Whittaker’s factory is full of passionate, dedicated and fun-loving people. I love the energy of the factory and no two days are the same.

My job also takes me to different countries as I conduct audits on our ingredient suppliers. It is very important that our ingredient suppliers share our vision and passion for quality. I have had the opportunity to travel within New Zealand as well as to Australia and Fiji. Next month I am off to Europe for a food safety conference and a couple of supplier audits. I am very passionate about food, travel and culture so this is an aspect of my job that I really enjoy.

I manage a team of 14 staff, so a considerable amount of my day is dedicated to spending time with my team. We are constantly looking to improve our systems and reduce waste. Overall my job requires me to interact with people and eat a lot of chocolate, both of which I love doing!

What did you study at school? And after high school? I ako koe i te aha i te kura? I aha koe whai muri i te kura tuarua?

Science has always fascinated me. In school, I enjoyed biology the most and found mathematics challenging. In high school, I focused on core science subjects – physics, chemistry, mathematics and biology. When I was introduced to the genetics module, I was hooked. I knew I wanted to explore this subject further.

I also wanted to get out of my comfort zone and decided to move to New Zealand for my undergraduate studies. I secured a scholarship and chose to study a Bachelor’s in Biotech Engineering - but after my first year, I changed my mind and pursued a Bachelor’s in Genetics and Microbiology. I found my tech degree was heavy in mathematics and I wanted to play to my strengths and interest.

At the time, I was very nervous to make this change and I didn’t have the right avenue to voice my concerns but looking back, I’m so glad I followed my instinct. I had some amazing lecturers in both majors, I enjoyed every paper I took and achieved good grades.

Deepika in front of Whittakers store in airport

Was your study directly related to what you do now? He ōrite tāu mahi i taua wā ki tāu mahi o ināianei?

I use my microbiology degree every day and often find myself referencing my university books.

A good understanding of microbiology is essential in the food safety sector. In fact there are so many papers from my degree that I use on a daily basis - like biochemistry, instrumental physics and interpersonal communication.

What would you like to share with young women who are thinking about their career choices right now? He aha āu kupu hei āwhina i ngā rangatahi wahine e whakaaro ana ki tā rātou mahi mō te wā kei mua i te aroaro? 

The future is female! While the real world is a lot more challenging for women, around the world we are proving gender stereotypes wrong and breaking glass ceilings - so don’t confine your choices.

There is no substitute for hard work. Nothing is easy - which is why passion is so important. Step out of your comfort zone, challenge yourself and remember the importance of education. You never stop learning, so keep expanding your knowledge base.

The world is changing at an extraordinary rate and that means career choices are also changing. So, while seeking career counselling, make sure you tap into some younger minds for relevant choices. Expand your information stream by reading books, listening to TEDTalks, joining discussion groups etc.

Surround yourself with like-minded, supportive friends. Your friends play a huge part in your development. If you're still at high school, it also pays to explore, investigate and network with people who are in university or have just started work.

Learn to speak with confidence, you are just as smart as everyone else in that classroom or meeting room. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, give opinions and learn to negotiate. And never underplay your strengths. This will go a long way in closing the gender gap.

Make time to travel! Workplaces today are culturally diverse and travel teaches you to succeed in these environments.

Don’t be afraid to start from ground zero. Sometimes things don’t go according to plan, so be willing to adapt. I recently read Michelle Obama’s book where she states that after years of working hard to be a lawyer, she realised she didn’t like being one!

Deepika in India with a group of young girls

What are some of your career highlights so far? He aha ngā painga o te umanga e whāia ana e koe?

When I started my career as a microbiology technician with AsureQuality, I was fortunate enough to have an inspiring and hardworking mentor, which was reflected in my first year of work when I was awarded the ‘Best Technician of the Year’. My achievement made me realise the power of good leadership and mentoring.

A few years later, I was able to give back what I had learnt, as I was given the responsibility of leading a team of 25 staff in New Zealand’s first automated microbiology laboratory. It was in this role that I realised I liked mentoring people and that I was good at it!

I moved to Wellington after my wedding and started at Whittaker’s as a quality technician to cover for maternity leave – a role that was quite different to what I had been doing. After just 8 weeks, I was offered the opportunity to become the QA (quality assurance) manager!

As a FutureinTech ambassador, I enjoyed visiting schools to give career talks and to help with science projects. The last project I helped a student with was to determine the average microbial load on a mobile phone screen.

It has been five years since I started at Whittaker’s and my job has grown along with the company. I work with some of the brightest minds in the country and I have the unique opportunity to work in a family-owned company where the directors are so involved in everyday activities.

Deepika in her Whittaker's uniform

Why do you believe engaging in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) is important to New Zealand? He aha a STEM (pūtaiao, hangarau, pūkaha, pāngarau) e whai take ana ki Aotearoa?

STEM subjects are critical to many sectors of the economy, from manufacturing and food production to healthcare, especially in the context of globalisation and technological advancements.

In a knowledge-based economy, as consumers of technology, we need to keep ourselves updated so that we can make informed choices for the development of our country and for the future of the planet.

Despite being a small country, New Zealand has already made its mark in the world for high-quality produce and a high standard of living. We now have to delve further into innovation and value added commodities.

Why is it important to have more women working in STEM? He aha te take me whai wāhi ngā wāhine ki STEM?

Diversity is important in every industry including STEM. Diversity of gender, age, race and socioeconomic backgrounds contribute significantly to the economy and the overall development of a community.

As women in the workplace, we all play an important part in bringing about this change and building equality. Be kind to one another and support each other. You don’t all have to compete for the one spot. Make more spots! We may have come a long way but we still have a long way to go.

Deepika skydiving

Deepika is the Quality Assurance Manager at Whittaker’s Chocolate. She was born and raised in India and moved to NZ at the age of 17 to complete her undergraduate degree at Massey University.

This profile is part of our series of girls and women in STEM.

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