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 lead, 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 pile”. 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: OkayJoanna: 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.
“If you want to go fast, go alone. But if you want to go far, go with others”. Combine the wisdom of this old African proverb with the pithy saying that “Your network is your net worth” and you will get the essence of this article: Networking is vital to personal and professional success. And yet, so many of us just don’t realize how important this skill is, or worse, make no attempt to build our networks.
Rambo is only in the movies!
Human beings are socially interdependent creatures. This applies in the context of the families we are a part of, the communities we live in, the organizations we work in and ultimately, even across the planet as a whole. An organization’s success ultimately depends on how well different departments, teams and individuals perform their respective roles. In any field it is simply not possible to be a Rambo and realistically expect to consistently accomplish missions successfully. Networking helps to build an informal ecosystem that we as individuals can rely on for advice, assistance and support.
Networking is not just exchanging business cards
Networking starts with introductions and an exchange of business cards, but it certainly does not end there, as some people mistakenly believe. Their thinking is that “once people know who I am, what I do and how to reach me, they will contact me when they need my services”. This is an erroneous assumption because yours is only one among many cards that people will collect.
And unless you have been able to stand out from the crowd because of your gregariousness, credibility or knowledge, chances are your business card may not get a second glance.
Networking is about engaging with people who do not know you and building in them the desire to keep in touch with you. This happens only after you build rapport and mutual trust. In fact, real networking is about staying in touch after the initial interaction. During the initial networking interactions, you may not even know if- and how- the other person can help you; all you are doing is creating goodwill and trust that you can draw on as needed. Networking works on the principle of reciprocity, i.e. give-and-take. You may be called upon for assistance by others. If you are in a position to help, you should, as long as what is being asked of you does not violate company policies, your personal code of ethics and morals or the laws of the land.
You must network both inside and outside the organization you work in. Each provides different benefits.
Strong networks within the organization- both within our own departments and outside- can be valuable resources. For example, they can help us access people we may not directly know, but need information from. A quick “Hi John, Susan from HR wants some info about the Executive Search firm we use in Europe. She and I used to go to the same gym. I have asked her to write to you with what she needs. Appreciate your help” kind of voicemail/ email is likely to work much faster than you writing to John introducing yourself and then stating what you need.
More effective collaboration is another benefit of networking. Let’s say you’ve volunteered (or been volunteered!) to be part of a cross-functional team that has been formed for a specific project. If some of the other members are people with whom you have networked in the past, you need much less time to break the ice. Also, you can be more confident that your ideas will get a fair hearing (and even support, if they are good) during meetings.
In global organizations, mobility across regions is common, as companies seek to deploy their best people in key markets or divisions. As an expatriate who has to relocate in a couple of months, imagine how much easier your life (and job) could get if you reached out to colleagues from the new region and networked with them.
The key to successful networking is to identify possible common areas that can help forge a bond. Other than working for the same company (albeit different departments), maybe some of you live in the same community, or have kids attending the same school or playing in the same little league. Or perhaps you go to the same gym or place of worship. Such neutral meeting grounds are great to get early conversations flowing.
If you think you are not a “natural networker”, start honing your skills by building networks within the organization; the experience will make you more adept at external networking.
Networking outside the organization is just as relevant. You could meet people at industry events or professional conferences, in airport lounges, on flights or even while on vacation. The people you meet could be functional experts, motivational speakers, leadership gurus or even potential customers/clients or employers. By networking with them, you could learn about industry developments-information that you can use in your own jobs. Or you could gather insights about self-development that will help you be more effective in your job. Or you could learn tips to manage your people better. There really are no boundaries to how networking can benefit an individual.
Knowledge apart, networking can enhance your personal brand. For example, at an event if you are a speaker or panelist or ask great questions, you will be noticed. Use coffee/lunch breaks to network, and you could discover potential hires for your team or even meet potential employers. You could even meet executive search consultants who could help you with that next career move or hire the kind of people you are looking to hire for your team/organization.
Even networking with competitors can be useful. You could gain insights into how your organization is perceived in the marketplace. Such information is very valuable as it can help shape strategic or tactical responses. Networking can also help make it easier to work with peers across companies to brainstorm collective responses to issues impacting the community or industry.
As you can imagine, a good networker can use his skill to gain significantly. But remember that those who are good at this craft are givers and sharers too. Sustainable networking is about giving others the confidence that you are approachable and willing to provide reasonable help- and then living up to the perception you have created.
The importance of networking is perhaps best summed up by Success Coach Dennis Waitley’s observation that “If you are not networking, you are not working”.
Here’s a list of conferences which I have gathered from my network that you may find useful, depending on what industry you are from or what functional role you play. These conferences are mainly around specific industries; however, most of them include sessions on HR topics, Leadership, Technology etc.
I have often been asked by family, friends, former colleagues and of course, clients why I chose to become an executive search professional. A few days ago, on a flight back to Barcelona, I gave the question deeper thought and even made some notes. As I reviewed the notes, I realized that I could actually identify and categorize the reasons and drivers into three distinct but inter-related buckets:
Who I am
What the job requires
How I benefit
The “Who I am” is essentially about the kind of person I believe I am. I see myself as a caring human being who likes to build relationships with other human beings. I genuinely like interacting with new people and getting to understand their experiences, aspirations- and often times, even fears. I enjoy change and keeping in touch with how industries are evolving under the influence of technology, regulations, customer expectations, business models etc.
Because of who I am as a person and the strengths I bring to the table, it perhaps becomes easier for me to be and do all that being a good executive search professional needs to be and do:
A good listener- to be able to understand people and assess their strengths and weaknesses
A clear communicator- to act as an effective bridge between the client organization and candidates so that information about the role, culture, compensation etc. is clearly shared.
Avid reader- to be aware of the many ways in which industries and organizations are evolving, and consequently, appreciate what skills and competencies are key.
Possess high emotional intelligence- in order to be able to separate person from issue, objectively evaluate people’s reactions and responses and remain calm through a process that can take many months and involve a series of emotional ebbs and flows.
Have a global perspective- because more and more businesses operate globally, and are willing to hire the best talent irrespective of nationality or ethnicity. Just as true is the willingness of talent to live and work in new locations far away from their home countries.
Digital savvy able to use a combination of resources to research candidates and thereafter, connect and engage with them. This also requires the ability to function effectively in an omni-channel environment, to choose the most appropriate channel to connect.
An innovator with the ability to connect even faint dots so as to identify talent for cross-industry roles.
A persuasive person who can convince organizations to give them the search mandate and then, persuade candidates that they are the best fit for a certain role.
For me, the how I benefit bucket goes far beyond the monetary rewards of successful placement. I derive immense satisfaction from helping people succeed and grow as professionals. There is also great joy from helping organizations succeed by helping them attract the right talent. This gives me the pleasure of knowing that I have contributed more directly to the client organization’s transformation than just helping them hire good talent.
There is also the fact that in the course of a day or week, one gets to wear so many hats and play so many roles. Being part of a boutique firm also means I share responsibilities for formulating the firm’s strategy, managing financial and human resources, driving expansion into new geographies or industry sectors and so much more. Each day is different because one gets to interact with different people and organizations. Each such interaction for me is an opportunity to learn. Sometimes, I learn to improve, and sometimes I learn how not to be. For an executive search professional, every engagement and every candidate is a unique story, although there are some similarities. So hey, what’s not to love about a job that enriches me in so many ways?!
Aristotle is believed to have said “Pleasure in the job puts perfection in the work”. I would be lying if I claim to be perfect. But I can honestly say that I take pleasure in my job. With each passing day I strive to become a better head-hunter- and human being- than I was the day before.
Taking the LEAD in addressing the challenge of inadequate women in senior leadership positions
Last week, I attended a meeting in Barcelona organized by the LEAD Network (Leading Executives Advancing Diversity), whose members believe that “organizations can create more sustainable value by leveraging the full talent pool” (i.e. women as well as men). Its mission is to “attract, retain and advance women in the retail and consumer goods industry in Europe through education, leadership and business development”. Many of the world’s leading organizations are already members of the LEAD Network in their European Branches. I was lucky to attend this event and meet some great people, but overall left with some takeaways I would like to share.
Why under-representation of women in senior positions is a challenge may be appreciated from the following data points:
Women account for just under 50% of the world’s population and represent almost 52% of Europe.
In the US alone, women control US$4.3 trillion (yep- trillion with a “T”) of consumer spend.
Both in Europe and the US more women receive advanced degrees than men in most fields of study.
In 2017, women held 51.6% of all management and professional positions. Yet, only less than half (25.7%) of new Directors on the Boards of S&P 500 companies were women.
The current situation is unsatisfactory
Although diversity has been on corporate agenda in Europe and North America for many years, hard data reveals that the number of women in leadership positions is not in line with their overall proportion in the population. LEAD Network reports that on average, women constitute around 25% of Management Boards in European Retail/FMCG/CPG companies (although women constitute 55% of the total workforce in these industries). The magnitude of the gender diversity challenge at the senior leadership level can be gauged from the fact that despite many of the world’s top FMCG/CPG companies and retailers themselves being members of the LEAD Network, the best performers are P&G (32%) in FMCG and Scandinavian Retailer ICA (around 40%) is the overall leader.
Three impediments identified by the LEAD Network in this Event
The meeting discussed the following three principal categories of roadblocks women face in their quest to reach the highest echelons in organizations:
Unconscious gender bias
Work-life integration issues
Women’s fear of advancement
Unconscious gender bias
Despite regulatory requirements and company policies, many organizations are still run as “Old Boys’ Networks”, where members’ own cultural, social and familial norms and personal affiliations tend to influence decisions around hiring and promotions. This leads to candidates in their own mould being favoured- e.g. Alpha Males. Indeed, the absence of such traits is viewed as a lack of “talent”, while strong emotional intelligence traits such as listening and empathy can be ignored. The irony of this situation is that L&D programs in the very same organizations work to reinforce the need for male executives to develop precisely these competencies.
Unconscious gender bias is defined as “unintentional and automatic mental associations based on gender, stemming from traditions, norms, values, culture and/or experience. For example, managers do not assign certain projects to women because the nature of the work requires extensive travel or late nights. Funnily enough, the manager may justify such decisions on the grounds that women may not be comfortable or equipped to deal with such requirements because of their other commitments (even now it is implicitly assumed that it is the woman’s primary role to care for the family). Women are thus assigned work that the manager sees as being more suitable to a woman- and possibly, less challenging or having less organizational impact. Creditable performances are seen as no big deal and given a lower weightage. This inherently discriminates against women who shoulder the additional responsibilities of primary caregiver- e.g. those with younger children or ailing family members. A McKinsey report even cites “unfailing availability and total geographic mobility” as a criterion for selection to leadership positions at one company.
The fact that such biases often manifest even without the individual’s knowledge exacerbates the challenge. An online study by Harvard found that 76% of the 200,000 participants are gender-biased. These biases manifest in the form of “micro behaviours” and body language that make candidates less confident (e.g. interviewers leaning forward less or not being expressive). In turn, this erodes confidence that is interpreted as unwillingness or inability.
Work-life balance or integration
Work-life integration (earlier known as work-life balance), was another reason cited to explain why women are not adequately represented in senior corporate roles. The very concept of work-life integration was developed to take a broader view of life. In addition to work it is meant to include, personal well-being, home/family and community.
Those who are now in their early 20s to mid-30s have very different priorities in life and are more able to make trade-offs. As workforce demographics get more weighted in favour of Gen Z and millennials, there will be a greater force for change. Today, it was mentioned, it’s practically a must that companies offer flexibility, for example to work from home, to be able to attract more members of these generations.
I was surprised that there wasn’t more discussion on the role that maternity leave plays in keeping many women out of senior level roles at organizations. Studies have shown that the wage gap between the genders too can be attributed to the woman’s decision to go on maternity leave, as mentioned in this LS International Article. And this is a topic that, in my point of view, is still pending on a global accepted solution.
Women’s fear of advancement
The first two reasons discussed have to do with people other than the woman herself. The third reason discussed has to do with the individual. It was posited that a psychological phenomenon known as “Impostor syndrome” or “Fraud syndrome”, a term coined about 40 years ago, may also be a reason for why women hold back. Despite their qualifications or external evidence of competence, some individuals fear that their achievements are due to “luck”, or that they do not deserve what they have got or that they are “frauds” for having led others to believe that they are smarter than they really are. Early research on the “Impostor syndrome” focused on women. However, it is now recognised that the syndrome affects both men and women. Therefore, while manifestation of this syndrome could certainly be a causal factor in many cases- especially when the woman vocalizes her fears of not being worth it- it would, in my view, be incorrect to attribute this as a major reason why a larger number of women fail to reach the topmost levels of organizations despite their competencies, expertise and experience.
Highly-successful women who have been reported as suffering from this syndrome include Kate Winslet, Oprah Winfrey and Sheryl Sandberg. Women who have a high degree of impostor syndrome are reportedly more tenacious. “Their self-doubt makes them more competitive, so although they may not negotiate to their own benefit, they make highly-driven leaders”.
To women (and men) who experience this syndrome, these tips may help:
In a hyper-competitive corporate world, nobody gets ahead if they do not really possess the skills or the ability to acquire those skills. Maybe it is your sensitivity or lateral thinking ability that gave you the edge.
Nobody knows everything- including those rivals who are insinuating in hushed tones that you do not deserve what you got. Therefore, be open to learning all the time.
Keep a tab of your achievements, and don’t just maintain a list of “improvement needs”.
Seek help from friends or a coach who can be objective and hold the mirror to you. But stay away from sycophants (including those in your own team).
Set yourself high standards but refuse to let yourself be measured by other’s yardsticks.
Finding a solution
Arguably, reasons and excuses are perhaps two sides of the same coin. Just as arguably, progress depends on intent. If there is honest intent, human beings have the inherent resourcefulness to find ways to move forward. But as Ernst & Young’s Jorge Aguirre points out, many companies have taken symbolic steps to ensure that more women climb up the corporate ladder to the highest levels. These are clearly not enough and the time has come to find solutions that will deliver results quickly while also being sustainable in the longer term.
Pepsico’s Quique Hernandez made the following suggestions at the conference:
Build a business case to showcase how the qualities that women candidates possess will benefit the organization- especially for global, matrix organizations whose leaders must display higher levels of cultural sensitivity and empathy and have superior listening skills because they will need to engage with direct reports and colleagues from around the world.
Increasingly, consumers are becoming more discerning in their preferences. Companies and brands are responding by taking stands on societal issues. So companies that take the lead in creating pathways for women leaders (based on merit) can expect to not just attract talent but also tangibly differentiate itself.
I would add that companies institute in-house coaching/mentoring programs if they don’t have them in place already. Where they have such programs, a case can be made to reengineer them because of some hard-hitting data that was presented at the LEAD Network meeting:
28% of women reported that they lacked high-visibility assignments. Companies should bring in greater transparency, objectivity and consistency in the way high-visibility assignments are awarded by including this in the internal governance model. Factors such as family, ability to travel etc. must be considered after the basic suitability of candidates has been established. The candidates being considered must be given a choice in the matter and where possible, the organization must allow for flexibilities such as home-travel every two weeks or allowing the child/nanny to travel or whatever makes sense in the context of work-life integration.
29% of women were reported to lack female role models (from whom they can learn how to achieve higher levels of work-life integration). If the overall issue is addressed, this too will be resolved over a period of time as more women make it to the top.