On a seasonally cold winter’s evening, nearly 150 Chairmen, CEOs, NEDs and HRDs from across the food and grocery sector came together at the IoD to hear the findings of our recent report: Diversity in Food and Grocery.
The evening was spent exploring the compelling case for diversity in the workplace, and highlighting the many great strides being made by companies in the sector to drive positive change. The event opened with presentations on our findings from IGD, PwC and The MBS Group – followed by a response to the findings from an expert panel: Jo Whitfield, Chief Executive Food at Co-op, Sarah Arrowsmith, CEO Grocery at ABF and Roger Whiteside, CEO at Greggs.
It was wonderful that so many illustrious leaders could join us for the event – and as noted by PwC’s D&I Lead Jon Terry – there was nearly an even gender split in the audience. Andy Higginson, President of the IGD, opened the event with a rousing address calling attention to the vital role our sector plays in society more generally. “Our industry is a big employer,” he noted, “and as a consequence of that we are a mirror of society. We should be able to influence change within our own sector… and if we get it right, that will be a model for society.”
The moral case for diversity is clear – but diversity and inclusion must be recognised as a lever for workplace productivity and a key driver of profit. Jo Whitfield, Chief Executive Food at Co-op, had a particularly compelling story about her experience on Co-op Food’s diverse board, which benefits from an almost 50/50 gender split, significant BAME representation and members of all age groups. “It has added a huge amount of value, bringing a richness of thought and diversity of challenge. Every day is a school day and you learn as much as you answer. It makes you think much more carefully about the business.”
Over the course of the evening we discussed the findings of the report along with several key themes: the importance of ensuring meritocracy for all; the clear business case for inclusion; and the necessity of embedding diversity and inclusion into business strategy, amongst others.
One idea that resonated particularly strongly – and came through as a key finding in the report – was the importance of data in driving diversity and inclusion. Food and grocery is a data-led sector (as Jon Terry at PwC quipped: “you’re all geeks when it comes to data!”), but the industry falls short when it comes to collecting data on diversity.
In his address, Jon posed a vital question: “How do you know that you’re in a meritocracy if you don’t have the data around how quickly it takes a black woman to progress from middle management to senior management compared with a white man?”. Without accurate available data, companies lack the framework by which to measure their current performance, calculate progress and drive real change.
One CEO echoed this point in the panel discussion: “it starts with the data – and we don’t have the data. When I ask ‘can I have all the data on recent promotions by gender and ethnicity,’ all I get is blank looks.”
These observations mirror the research in the report, which highlighted a real dearth of available data in certain areas of diversity – specifically ethnicity, sexual orientation and disability. It is perhaps no surprise that the data collected for the report – based on conversations with over 100 Chairs, CEOs and HRDs – found that the companies which gather data on diversity were the companies making the most significant progress on the D&I agenda.
Helen Webb, Chief People Officer at Co-op, told the audience about how they are seeking to overcome the data absence, and tackle unconscious bias in the business. “We’ve looked at our advertising and our recruitment process to help us remove bias. We’ve found that things we never knew we were doing – like using certain words to represent a role – were evidence of unconscious bias and may be dissuading people from applying. We’re also doing a report that looks at every people process within the organisation. I hope this means that when we get challenged with a question like ‘how long does it take different groups to be promoted?’ – we’ll know the answer.”
Our research also flagged the need for our sector to work closer together to share best practice in solving diversity and inclusion challenges. For example, very few companies surveyed could give examples of schemes in place at other businesses, and only 57% of interviewees could name an organisation working to a ‘gold standard’ on diversity. The examples of best practice that Co-op, ABF and Greggs shared during the panel discussion were hugely insightful.
Sarah Arrowsmith detailed how ABF’s mentoring scheme – pairing up high-potential junior women with senior men in the business – was not only providing advice and support to younger colleagues but also encouraging men to recognise the challenges faced by women in the sector. “Inclusion is reliant on individuals sharing their experiences,” Sarah told the audience, “we really encourage the women to make sure their mentor understands what it’s like to be a woman in the business, what problems that creates and how they overcome those issues. And it’s been a huge success – we’re always hearing men saying: Oh I never knew that.”
Roger Whiteside also gave a compelling explanation of Greggs’ social mobility initiatives. The company runs a number of ‘Fresh Start’ programmes, which aim to engage those who might find it hard to get into, or back into, the world of work. By partnering with over 50 charities (covering ex-offenders, homeless people, refugees and victims of modern slavery) Greggs has fostered an environment of equal opportunity, and Roger’s pride is palpable when he tells us that over 100 ex-offenders are now employed at Greggs. “And,” he adds, “our people benefit from these interactions – it makes them feel great about working at Greggs.”
From the floor, Susan Eilfield, VP of People and Culture at Coca-Cola European Partners shared their approach to diversity, by adopting an ‘I over D’ strategy. As Susan explained: “while diversity is important, it felt more engaging to lead on inclusion and to engage everyone in the debate. As such, inclusion has become our no-opt-out philosophy.” This intentional change has been a successful: “it has really galvanised our workforce. They want to stay. They feel they belong.”
It was exhilarating to hear the great strides being made by so many companies to drive change in diversity and inclusion across the sector. Events like this illustrate the power of organisations like the IGD who have the ability to bring so many leaders from across the sector to share ideas and best practice – and importantly, ensure D&I remains high on the agenda. If you haven’t yet read the report, I’d encourage you to do so.