This year has been one like no other for the consumer goods and grocery sector. With the pressure to keep the country moving and feed the nation, our sector has responded with resilience and strength – with role models stepping up to do the right thing.
Against this backdrop, it has been a particular privilege to spend the last few months interviewing senior leaders in our sector for our latest publication: Role Models in Consumer Goods and Grocery. This Index, produced in partnership with IGD, is the first of its kind in scale and detail in the sector, featuring in-depth conversations with more than 70 role models from across the consumer goods and grocery industry. The leaders have been nominated and selected because of their inspiring leadership, their wider contribution to the sector or society, their success as a mentor or sponsor of D&I issues and their track record of supporting and publicly committing to D&I initiatives.
Last year, together with IGD and PwC, we launched a first-of-its-kind report into the state of D&I within the consumer goods and grocery sector. The report demonstrated that there is still a long way to go to achieve diversity in the sector, finding that, for example, more than half of companies did not have a coordinated diversity and inclusion strategy for example. However, the level of engagement from business leaders was hugely encouraging and the desire to move the dial was palpable. Researching that report, role modelling was identified as one of the most successful tools for promoting D&I in the workplace.
Role Models in Consumer Goods and Grocery was produced with this in mind, and is designed to highlight the depth and breadth of inspiring talent within the sector. This publication has been a truly inclusive exercise that has encompassed all aspects of diversity including gender, ethnicity, social mobility, nationality, sexual orientation, age and disability. I am thrilled to share success stories of leaders who reflect the full spectrum of diversity that exists in the industry and the communities it serves.
“This publication has been a truly inclusive exercise that has encompassed all aspects of diversity including gender, ethnicity, social mobility, nationality, sexual orientation, age and disability. I am thrilled to share success stories of leaders who reflect the full spectrum of diversity that exists in the industry and the communities it serves.”
The conversations have been invigorating, colourful and, at times, heart-wrenching – but ultimately inspiring. My hope is that these stories will not only inspire us all to dial-up our focus on D&I, but also encourage the next generation of talent to enter this exciting and inclusive sector.
On Wednesday, it was a real privilege to launch the index at a virtual event, attended by over 100 leaders from the consumer good and grocery sector. Chaired by Moira Benigson, and with a foreword from IGD’s CEO Susan Barratt, the evening included a panel discussion featuring four of the role models: Steve Murrells (CEO, Co-op); Christine Cross (Portfolio Non-Executive, including ODDBOX, Clipper, Coca-Cola European Partners and Hilton Food Group); Georgiana (Jojo) de Noronha (President Northern Europe, The Kraft Heinz Company); and Zareena Brown (Chief Human Resources Officer, Britvic).
The conversation was fascinating and broad-reaching, looking back at lessons from 2020 and offering personal insights to weigh in on the biggest and most pressing topics surrounding diversity and inclusion.
The conversation began with a reflection on the importance of role models: “Every single person has role models, a mentor and a team,” Jojo offered, “not even Bill Gates was on his own. Realising this and bringing it with you through your career can be immensely valuable. I wish I had remembered this when I’d been nervous or self-doubting at points in my career.”
Indeed, Steve Murrells has acted a role model for many in our sector – and beyond – this year, not least because of his timely and powerful denouncement of racism following the murder of George Floyd. He shared his thought processes with the attendees: “Throughout Covid-19, I’d been struck by the inequality that exists in our society,” he said, “and then seeing the appalling murder of George Floyd really accelerated the sense of injustice. As a leader with a platform I knew I couldn’t stay silent – I had to come out and say something. Since speaking up I’ve committed both personally and as CEO of Co-op to open up, listen hard and make sure the words I’m speaking match up with the music of the organisation.”
“Speaking up I’ve committed both personally and as CEO of Co-op to open up, listen hard and make sure the words I’m speaking match up with the music of the organisation.” – Steve Murrells, CEO, Co-op
On this point, Jojo noted the shift in stakeholder expectations for businesses to speak up and take action on the issues that matter: “We don’t have a choice,” she said, “the younger generation won’t let us not take a stance. I was holding interviews for entry level roles and every one of the candidates asked about diversity and inclusion. These are the people who will be working in our organisations and buying our products – and if businesses want to succeed then they have to use their voice and take action against injustices.”
“We don’t have a choice, the younger generation won’t let us not take a stance.” – Jojo de Noronha, President Northern Europe, The Kraft Heinz Company
Steve compounded Jojo’s point, with the panellists agreeing that the best way to embrace diversity is from the top-down: “Behaviour feeds behaviour. It is easiest to drive diversity from the top, and then see those values trickle down throughout the organisation. People are looking for evidence that you do what you say – and the composition of your board can be that evidence. A diverse leadership team acts as a catalyst.”
“What’s important is peeling away the labels around race, ethnicity, gender and so on and focusing on cognitive diversity,” Christine suggested, “on boards in particular, we need diversity of thought in order to creatively problem solve, challenge others and see things in a way we might not have done previously.”
“The bar has been raised and expectations have skyrocketed: boards need to be able to lead with empathy, to operate with inclusion and engage with intersectionality.” – Zareena Brown, Chief Human Resources Officer, Britvic
Zareena developed this point, commenting that achieving true diversity and inclusion goes beyond simply composition and representation on the board: “The bar has been raised and expectations have skyrocketed: boards need to be able to lead with empathy, to operate with inclusion and engage with intersectionality. They have to be adept in dealing with external stakeholders and putting pressure where it’s needed.”
Zareena continued, noting the unique time we’re in and the challenges that presents: “We can’t take our foot off the gas now. Expectations from stakeholders and the public are positive – but there’s a real short-term risk that we’ll lose focus as we deal with the fallout of Covid-19. We must avoid taking shortcuts when hiring talent, even though it can be tempting to hire tried-and-tested people who can hit the ground running.”
“Cognitive diversity allows for greater agility and a much faster pace, as there are no established norms.” – Christine Cross, Chair, ODDBOX
Drawing from her own experience, Christine shared with the audience the benefits of pointedly hiring diverse talent: “I’ve seen how diversity can work first-hand,” she said, “I work with lots of young investment companies and it’s clear in fast-growing tech businesses that cognitive diversity allows for greater agility and a much faster pace, as there are no established norms. When you have a diverse population, you learn much more quickly as your people challenge everything. At ODDBOX, we have 46 employees and 29 different nationalities!”
It has been a privilege to spend the last few months listening to each of these role models’ phenomenal stories, and it was a real joy to hear again from some of these leaders on Wednesday. Whilst the experiences have been incredibly varied – and all of the role models represent businesses that are at very different stages in their own D&I journey – this is clearly a united community calling powerfully and resoundingly for change. You can read the full index here.
Who do you think has been a role model in the sector? We would love to hear your thoughts.