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Embrace Difference International Women's Day panel

Industry panel discusses making every man an equality ally

March 10, 2020
By Alana House

Drinks industry leaders have revealed the advances they’d like to see in diversity and inclusion over the next 12 months to advance equality.

Rose Scott (VP Sales, CUB), Trish Unwin (General Manager Organisational Effectiveness, Coles Liquor) and David Smith (Managing Director, Diageo) joined an “in-conversation” panel at Embrace Difference’s International Women’s Day event on March 6.

Embrace Difference International Women's Day panel

Scott (above) said: “There have only been two female CEOS in my time. Let’s hope it’s three by next year. Underpinning it all for me is that we need to change the behaviours. Rather than just talking about polices, the industry needs more inclusive behaviour. You can offer all these things, but unless the culture of the organisation is supportive, its just a policy.”

Smith (above) agreed, saying hoped every company in the room would have more female representation in 12 months time, together with career path development to ensure more female CEOS.

He also discussed Diageo’s new Allies program and said: “I’d love in 12 months time for every woman in this room to feel that every man is an ally.”

Unwin noted: “There are 400 people in this room and you each have a sphere of influence and have the chance to make a massive difference. We decide, you decide, I decide how this changes.

“When you go back to the office will you remember this as a nice event where I enjoyed some great wine and good conversation, or are you going to put these ideas into practice? If you want to see big change, this room has the power to do that.”

How CUB, Coles & Diageo are shifting the dial

The change champions shared their perspectives on what “embrace difference” means to them and discussed the diversity and inclusion achievements made by each of their companies to date.

“We’ve discovered we have some systemic issues that mean we’ve made some career pathways unattractive to women,” said Unwin (above, right).

“One of the ways you used to get to store manager was going down the night-fill route or dry grocery, which involves lifting a lot of things. So our pathways were traditionally male. While we weren’t obviously putting barriers in place for females, the shifts and tasks we were asking people to do were unattractive.

“So we’re made the rosters attractive for everyone.”

She added: “At the heart of it is flexibility. If you unlock flexibility for all team members, you actually unlock gender balance, accessibility, pride, indigenous programs. And you start looking at how you can say yes instead of why you would say no.”

Scott revealed that a three-year stint in Shanghai helped her bring a new perspective to her role at CUB.

“English was everyone’s second language other than mine,” she said.

“I had Chinese, Korean, German and French nationals. And everyone was speaking English so we could navigate in that one place together. It taught me a lot about inclusion and diversity.

“When I was in Australia, I believed I was curious. You go to meetings thinking you have an open mind, but you’re often not really listening to what people have to say, most times you’re sitting there with preconceived ideas in your head, or you’re thinking about what your next question or statement will be.

“When you have a group of people who have to navigate a language together you have to listen intently. You have to leave everything outside the door.

“You have to check in: what was the message I wanted to give, is that the message that everyone heard in the room?

“As a result, the discussions were the most incredible I’ve ever had because we spent a lot of time talking and listening and aligning to check we were saying the same thing and going in the same direction.

“When we got to the end and we knew what we wanted to do we went really fast because we had covered so many bases and looked at things from so many different perspectives. We never came in with preconceived ideas.

“I saw the power of that environment and I thought how can we do that more as teams and people?

“Collaboration is a journey but it’s a powerful thing and that’s what we strive to do all the time at CUB.”

Smith revealed his D&I awareness “started out as a cultural piece”. In January 2003 he was part of a Diageo think tank to create flexible working policies for the company to roll out globally.

“At the time I had a little boy and I was in the mindset because his mum had gone back to work and I was taking him to childcare every day, but I hadn’t really thought about it.

“And after 10 days we had no flexible work polices because we realised that you can’t write policies like that unless you have a cultural base. We needed a different cultural tension in the organisation and a value about how we relate to each other and treat each other and respect each other.

“We told the global exec team that we didn’t have any flexible working policies for them, but that we needed to add another value to the four values of the company, one for living.”

He also discussed the success of Diageo’s new 26-week family leave policy for all employees.

“It’s been going about nine months we’ve had 18 family leavers so far and we’ve got 10 booked to go,” Smith said. “One of the challenges we thought we might have is getting guys to do it, but 50% of them are men, which is great.

“It’s been interesting to see them deal with it and also everyone who’s been involved. Men have seen what women go through when they need to potentially put their careers on hold to go away and have a child and go through the maternity leave piece.

“It’s created nervousness and fear and that empathy has been good for us all. They’ve all enjoyed it, although they’ve said ‘I’m glad to get back to work for a rest!’

He admitted to being worried about doubling the number of people on leave and said there had been challenges in dealing with it.

“But I’m thrilled with the way people have embraced it and worked together and how our customers have leaned in,” he revealed. “They’ve said ‘we understand what you’re trying to do and we support it’.”

Smith referred to Sheryl Sandberg once saying that careers today aren’t a ladder, but a jungle gym.

“And our jungle gym is looking good,” he said. “We’ve flexed up a lot of people into different roles. People have gotten opportunities much sooner than previously. We’re being braver with cross functional moves. We’re saying ‘who’s talented who can step into this role for six months?’

“And that is really creating a great dynamic where people are growing faster, careers are being accelerated, so that’s good. Our retention rate has gone way up, the quality of people we’re attracting has gone way up, the number of people we’re attracting has gone way up. So while there are challenges I recommend it to all businesses in the room.

“There will come a time when it’s the norm, but don’t wait for it to be the norm, let’s make it the norm. And it hasn’t cost us a huge amount of money. It’s really been positive for us.”

The five-year plan

Scott said sales was the area that needed particular focus to grow the female talent pool.

“How many women are in a sales function in the room?” she asked. “I think that’s the interesting thing, when you look at our industry and the customer relationship part that that we do. The sales talent area is where we are going to need to grow that capability. How do we build that capability?”

Smith agreed that Diageo’s female representation was “let down by the factory floor and middle management in sales”.

He said the company needed to explore the measures mentioned by Unwin to make careers in these areas more attractive for women.

Unwin added that there needed to be a cultural shift in attitudes to flexible working hours.

“It’s not the overt ‘let’s go to the strip club’ comments playing out any more, it’s a lot more subtle. And it may not be intended, but it’s the comment about someone leaving at 4pm who started at 7am. When it’s said repeatedly it sets the tone that the environment is not OK.”

She said employees were often reluctant to call out those sort of remarks.

“You don’t want to be the person who makes waves. We try to help empower everyone to have a voice and give feedback.”

Scott concluded: “To get to 50-50, firstly it’s the policies and frameworks that need to be established.

“There are a lot of companies that have done the heavy lifting, so how do we share that more across the industry and learn from one another?”

“It’s not a competitive advantage in there, it’s a way to make us a great industry that people will want to be a part of.”