Joanna Allen

LS International

LS International speaks with Joanna Allen, Global Vice President for Hellmann’s at Unilever on the importance of a diverse workforce for successful employee attraction and retention. Joanna discusses diversity and recruitment, exploring ‘gender and sexuality, but also diversity in terms of mental processing styles, kind of different strengths and different experiences from geographies.’

During the podcast, we speak with Joanna on the following points:

  • Working with diverse groups of people.
  • The effect diversity has had on recruitment.
  • Unilver promoting female leadership.
  • The biggest challenges for business over the next 5 years.

Lauren: Hi I’m Lauren Stiebing and welcome to this episode of the career success podcast. Today we’ll be joined by Joanna Allen, the global vice president for Hellmann’s at Unilever. Joanna is an instinctive marketer who relishes a challenge and who performs best under pressure to deliver transformational impact. She has a high capacity to learn which provides her with a foundation for crafting a compelling vision for the future. With a breadth of experience and food and beverages as a global and local marketer, Joanna thrives in environments that foster diversity of perspective and demand high levels of productivity. Welcome Joanna.

Joanna: Thanks Lauren, great to be speaking with you today.

Lauren: Thank you for joining us. So basically, having worked across multiple markets globally, working with diverse groups of people is something that you must know very well. What are some of the benefits that this has had on your career?

Joanna: Yeah, so certainly in roles that I’ve had both at Coke and Unilever, I’ve had the opportunity to work in roles with global scope and through this have got the privilege of partnering with an incredibly quite diverse group of marketers from developed and emerging markets, addressing quite distinct challenges and that diversity of perspective is something I’ve realized that I’ve appreciated as far back in fact when I was studying my degree at London School of Economics. That’s one of the UK’s geographically most diverse Universities. So, I certainly had an appreciation for it for a long time. I think from my personal career it’s really made me appreciate more I would say matrix style career paths rather than kind of hierarchical ones. And so, for each role I’ve considered as I’ve developed through my Career, I’ve always ask the question what new learning experience does this present and then what kind of unique experiences or capabilities do I bring that will add a kind a differentiated value to the role versus potentially the other candidates.

Lauren: And has this had any effect on your recruitment strategy at all?

Joanna: For sure. Earlier this week actually I was reading Wendy Clark’s article in campaign ahead of her chairing the Glass Lions jury at Cannes and she talked about nurturing mosaic teams and that was something that really resonated with me; with my own approach. And as I think about the team’s I’ve led, I’ve had the opportunity to recruit and work with talented marketers who represent diversity across so many dimensions. And of course gender and sexuality but also diversity in terms of mental processing styles, kind of different strengths and different experiences from geographies. I think it’s easy to recruit people based on kind of natural affinity.

Lauren: Sure

Joanna: But I think I would challenge a team that all kind of thinks the same way or operates the same way to really deliver transformational business ideas as they kind of say “you need a bit of grit to form a pearl”. I’m a big believer in terms of actually some of that diversity can really challenge a team and make it operate at a high level.

Lauren: Sure and I know Unilever is the company that highly promotes female leaders. How do you think other companies can continue to bring diverse initiate to the forefront?

Joanna: Yeah! It certainly is and I think under Aline Santos’ leadership there’s a really strong diversity and inclusion agenda at Unilever. I think two things stand out for me when I think about the actions that other companies can take to drive the diversity agenda. I think the first is around ensuring an active mentoring program. It doesn’t have to be a formal program but I think somewhere that is encouraged. If you think about the role that you can play in an organization of helping somebody reach greater heights. I think I’d say that’s one of the most powerful contributions a leader can make. The second thing that I think is really important is shining a spotlight on the role models. I think there’s enormous value if you can identify with someone who’s forged a path similar to one that you want to take. And whilst we all aspire to be pioneers sometimes is easier if you’ve seen someone tread that path in front of you. I think that’s easier for some organizations or even within organization, some functions more than others but I think if you don’t have the opportunity to showcase great female talent internally, there is always the opportunity to show that talent outside of your organization. I think that the time now is for action rather than just talking and so I would encourage organizations to take those first even small steps today rather than considering you know talking and acting less.

Lauren: Sure. I know as well you know even from managers or mentors you know more senior people that you’re working with it’s always good to get some feedback. I wanted to ask is well what is the best feedback you ever been give?

Joanna: Interestingly as I think about the best piece of feedback I’ve received it’s not coming from a colleague or a boss in the work environment. It actually came from a medical professional.

Lauren: Okay

Joanna: So, if you’ll indulge me a little, when my son was born, he was born with a limb deficiency essentially, he’s missing a hand on one of his arms and that was discovered quite early on in my pregnancy and so obviously we sort out a team to make sure that we have the right support for James once he was born. There was an amazing professional called Dr. Colleen Coulter who shared with me that I would be amazed at how adaptable James would be with what we felt was a quite a significant challenge. So, I think, I mean, it certainly helps he’s a very determined little boy, but as I went through that experience actually it challenged my leadership style at work as well. I really try to coach more rather than direct my teams. I’m an absolute advocate of teams asking for forgiveness rather than permission, and then, from a personal perspective, I think in the face of constraint or challenge I think about how I can be adaptable to a situation, rather than just get frustrated so we can always learn a ton of things from our kids and sometimes the teams that support them as well.

Lauren: Yeah, that’s great. Well, as well let’s shift a bit just to discuss the FMCG food industry. I wanted to ask as well, what are the biggest challenges that your business will face in the next five years.

Joanna: Yeah, I think it’s a challenge that is not unique to foods but in many respects food because food culture as in so much at the forefront of culture I think it’s a challenge that is facing foods as much as anybody else.

Lauren: Okay.

Joanna: I think it’s the opportunity and the challenge that comes from mass segmentation. And so, whether that’s about how we reach out and engage with our consumers, or say that the fragmentation of channels that consumers can purchase our products or even kind of the opportunities as we understand more about DNA for micro personalization. I think this is demanding a massive transformation of how people do business. And arguably that’s tougher, it’s a tougher challenge on the more largest established companies I think, than sometimes it is of the small local businesses.
As I said it’s a challenge but I think it’s also an opportunity and I think the benefit of working with a very sort of future facing organization like Unilever is that everyone recognizes the need for change.

Lauren: Sure

Joanna: And so, you know, just a couple of examples I think of how we are already kind of responding to that challenge, you know, because I look at How come we’re challenging ourselves to make sure our brands a fit for purpose within the eComm channel.

Lauren: Okay

Joanna: Adopting platforms like Celtra or Google’s Vogon platform which are now enabling you know mass customization of relatively simple pieces of content that can then be deployed from a programmatic media perspective. So, I think it’s certainly a challenge. I think that they were taking some of the steps to make sure as a business that we’re fit for the future but certainly one that will transform what our organization looks like and many organizations over the next five years.

Lauren: Sure. And, I mean, there’s a lot of discussion as well around the political state at this moment globally we’ve entered into a new age of political extremism. Do you think businesses can be a bigger force for good in society?

Joanna: Absolutely. And frankly, it’s one of the many reasons I joined Unilever, it’s one of the many reasons many people join Unilever. From its very foundation Unilever is a business that talks about value and values, so the perspective that we can have this kind of compounding growth model that benefits all stakeholders not just investors. I think in the context of political extremism, I’ve had the opportunity to spend time with the Edelman team who led the trust barometer and there some great information about that online even if you don’t what with the Edelman team directly and I think it was really interesting to see that, you know, in the context of the political situation that we’re all operating in you know in business actually is secondary to NGO’s in terms of levels of trust. While government continues to kind of be really significantly challenged, it’s exacerbated.
I think that the new context that were operating in, certainly something that people have been a lot of dialogue over and that in the last year is this sort a notion of the echo chamber where some would argue that facts matter less, that opinions become self-reinforcing. And there was an interesting piece within the trust barometer that talked about search engines. Arguably, even with their own biases, they are better at curating news than human editors. And so, I think, you know, the challenge particularly for Brand marketers in that kind of new phenomenon of an echo chamber: actually, how do you connect with consumers? How do you penetrate that echo chamber?

Lauren: Sure!

Joanna: I think we’re just at the beginning of understanding the role that Influencers can play because often, actually, if you have shared values they can be a better forum for sharing your point of view than necessarily even hearing it directly from a brand. And I think you see that in food as much as you see that in any other category where the role of the micro blogger, the food blogger, the role of mum’s forums can be, actually, an incredibly powerful asset within your marketing campaigns beyond kind of the more traditional routes to engage in with consumers.

Lauren: Sure! Joanna all your input has been very insightful and I’m sure our listeners have really enjoyed it so thank you so much.

Joanna: It’s been a pleasure, thanks for the time.

Lauren : And thanks to all of our listeners for joining us on this episode of the Career Success Podcast.