Today we celebrate International Women’s Day – it’s a day that I didn’t use to like in my student days, because I wanted every day to be the 8th March! But today I see this day as a chance to honour achievements and reflect on the opportunities and challenges ahead of us as we work towards a more inclusive world.

Creating an environment where everyone can reach their full potential, regardless of gender, age, sexual orientation, ethnicity, religion, ability or socio-economic background, is key to driving any business forward. Only diversity in the workplace can produce truly innovative solutions for our customers and consumers.

Sanda Parezanovic, Group HR Director

A pipeline of female leaders

In 2017, we passed the 35 percent mark of female leaders. Clearly, there is still work to do to continue this upward trend and to ensure more women in senior positions. This requires a strong pipeline of female talent, but equally a support network to help women in our business to share experiences and find solutions to common challenges.

One initiative that enables this interaction is the monthly webinar series that we have created for women, which provides insights from successful female leaders from across industries, offering career advice, personal experiences in the workplace and fostering debate on the specific challenges facing female leaders. The invite to these sessions is extended to 1,300 women from across our business, and I am keen to build participation in even bigger numbers, including men. That way we can really broaden awareness and understanding on gender differences and how these affect individuals and the organisation as a whole.

Looking beyond gender

But we are also looking beyond gender to focus on inclusion in its broadest sense- building a diverse workforce where every employee thrives from experiencing a sense of inclusion and belonging. This means facilitating an open and transparent environment where different ideas, opinions and perspectives can thrive.

In addition, inclusion has been identified as one of the Growth Behaviours that will drive our strategy – to include and value diverse people for stronger teams. For this, we need to learn how to embrace the power of productive friction - understanding how opposite styles can complement each other in balanced, productive teams.

But it’s also important to understand that inclusion is not the same as treating people equally.

Equal treatment is not inclusion

Sometimes businesses try hard to treat everyone the same, but in the process, fail to take account of employees’ different needs and aspirations.

That’s why we need leaders with the commitment and capabilities to create a truly inclusive environment. To this end, we are creating a programme to support development of our male and female leaders to become ambassadors of inclusion, through developing an enhanced awareness and understanding of cultural dynamics that affect individuals, workplaces, and whole societies.

Diverse perspectives

As a company constantly looking to innovate and grow into more categories and occasions, it is vital we remain relevant to changing social trends. The only way we can do that is by ensuring that the diversity of perspectives and backgrounds among our consumers is reflected in our workforce, particularly our leadership. The economic empowerment of women and their purchasing power and influence makes female representation in our senior leadership even more important.

I am in no doubt that promoting an environment in which all can fulfill their potential is a competitive advantage that will drive our success in the years to come.

In the meantime, Happy International Women’s day to all!