My D&I Journey with:
Gareth Whalley, Director, Global Inclusion, Belonging & Connection,
The Coca-Cola Company
1. What was your journey into diversity and inclusion?
With a degree in French & Spanish I started my career in Travel Management, so probably not your traditional path for a DEI leader! I moved into HR around 2007 and spent about 12 years in a variety of roles across shared services, HR business partnering, compensation and benefits, recognition and wellbeing. Deepening my understanding of the links between recognition, wellbeing and inclusion is what really opened my eyes to the world of DEI, and I realised this could be a new path to helping me fulfil my own personal purpose of improving as many working lives as I can.
2. How would you describe a typical day in your role?
I try to spend a lot of time in research and design mode, thinking about initiatives that can help us improve the experience of inclusion, belonging and connection at the company. This requires me to talk to a lot of external partners as well as my own team, HR and business leaders, and folks from our Inclusion Networks. With our HQ being in Atlanta, I have the great advantage of being UK-based with a 5-hour head start on many of my colleagues. This means my mornings are often very focused but with space for meditation and exercise. Once the US wakes up, I typically head into meetings to track progress, influence action, and co-create solutions.
3. What is the best part of your job?
The people I work with, without a doubt. I have a phenomenal boss and a great team, and some wonderful partners both internally and externally. Also, since we have employees in 90+ countries I get to talk to people all around the world, and I get to see my work come to life on a truly global stage. This means the solutions and initiatives I’m designing and rolling out have to be deeply considerate of local nuance and create space for country-specific adaptation and expression. This enriches the experience for me personally, but also makes it more challenging.
4. What advice would you give to someone looking to move into D&I?
Spend time with DEI practitioners to understand what they really do every day and what their challenges are. This work has become more sexy in the last few years, and it is incredibly fulfilling, but it’s also slow, difficult, sometimes emotional, and often quite exhausting. If you’re still up for it after having done your research, find out if there are networks or projects you can get involved in that test your appetite to do it on a full-time basis – most DEI teams are under-resourced so they will usually be looking for help!
5. What are the main challenges faced by D&I professionals at the moment?
As trust in governments continues to decline, multiple stakeholders expect businesses to do much more to drive positive change both internally and externally, with DEI and social justice representing a large part of the ‘S’ in ESG (environmental, social and governance) actions. For DEI practitioners this means we’re under pressure to create greater impact than ever before – not just for our own employees but also outside – and to be very public and committed to what we’ve said we’ll achieve. It’s hard to balance, but I think it’s a positive development.
6. Name three skills that support you to succeed in D&I
– Number one is empathy. There’s not a DEI practitioner in the world who has lived experience of the challenges of every marginalised identity, but developing and practicing the skills of cognitive, emotional and behavioural empathy (and teaching others to do so too) is really fundamental to being authentic and impactful in the role.
– Next is resourcefulness. You need to research, network, partner and explore opportunities and solutions often with limited resources.
– And finally, self-compassion. It can be tough, emotionally draining work and progress can feel slow, so being kind to yourself is absolutely vital to prolonged success. As RuPaul says, if you can’t love yourself how the hell are you gonna love somebody else?
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This online Level 1 CPD Accredited training workshop has been designed for professionals looking to move into a D&I role, or those who have been in a D&I leader role for less than 12 months.
It offers a unique opportunity to learn the foundations to being an effective D&I Leader directly from three experienced D&I practitioners: Gamiel Yafai; Fiona Daniel and Toby Mildon.