My D&I Journey with:
Board Member, European Women on Boards
Former Chief Diversity Officer, Barilla
1. What was your journey into diversity and inclusion?
My journey into DEI was ‘atypical’, as I spent most of my career in business roles around the world. I am a chemical engineer by training and I have worked for over 20 years in R&D, first for Kraft Foods/Mondelez in Chicago, Australia and Germany, then for Coca Cola, in China, and finally for Barilla in Italy and Singapore.
In 2013, maybe because of my diverse background, I was asked to join Barilla’s first D&I Board. In the course of my career, I have developed a passion for D&I, based on my experiences as a woman engineer in the very masculine food manufacturing industry, and as a foreigner in many countries, not speaking the local language, and needing to quickly learn to function in different cultures, often by trial and error. These experiences fueled my passion for inclusion of often over-looked or marginalized differences.
2. How would you describe a typical day in your role?
One of the great points about working on DEI is that there is not a typical day! But there is a common thread of interacting with colleagues from around the world, using your influencing skills to, little by little, take steps that increase inclusion locally, in every country, with each different cultural challenge. Culture change to more inclusion is a journey that takes time, needs engagement from all employees, visible leadership commitment from the top and a clear roadmap with measurable KPI’s. The specific actions you take on this journey will be very much dependent on the country culture and your company culture….and our role is to engage as many colleagues as possible to join the journey with us.
3. What is the best part of your job?
Continuous learning! If you are a curious person who likes a steep learning curve (ongoing….not just at the beginning of a new role), a D&I job is right for you. A day never passes where I do not learn something new and fundamentally necessary for the D&I journey.
4. What advice would you give to someone looking to move into D&I?
If you are passionate about making the invisible needs of the minority visible to the majority and letting their voices be heard, then working in DEI is definitely for you. But you need to go into this area with a clear understanding that there are no ‘quick fixes’, no ‘cut and paste’ from one country to another and that culture change takes time and a lot of energy and resilience. Talk to any DEI professional and they will tell you that you will encounter resistence, you will be frustrated at times, but if you persevere, you will experience those energizing moments that come from more openess and inclusion.
5. What are the main challenges faced by D&I professionals at the moment?
The biggest challenge to increased inclusion has not changed: engaging more employees at all levels (but most specifically in management) to be more inclusive leaders. Now add on top of this ongoing challenge the risk of taking steps backwards in D&I due to the future hybrid way of working. Are we going to be valuing more, either consciously or unconsciously, employees who want/are able to come to the office? Are we going to ‘forget’ those who work more virtually, so now we have certain groups whose performance is assessed lower because they have not been present in a ‘see and be seen’ culture? Who miss out of those informal mentoring and coaching opportunities at lunch or around the coffee machine? For me, these are the main challenges we are all facing.
6. Name three skills that support you to succeed in D&I
– Empathy: you need the ability to see the other point of view, put yourself in the other person’s position, without judging.
– Manage complexity: culture change for increased D&I should be managed as a business project (it is a business imperative), with many moving parts. You do not need to manage all the parts, but need the ability to see how these key elements interact and are linked to achive the overall D&I strategy.
– Positive outlook: as I said above, the role can sometimes be frustrating, so an ability to ‘recharge’ from the small wins that you experience will keep you motivated and enthusiastic.
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Online Training Workshop
The Foundations to Being an Effective D&I Leader
This one day online CPD Accredited training workshop has been designed for professionals who have recently taken on responsibility for leading, or helping to deliver their employers diversity and inclusion strategy, as well as those who aspire to do so. 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.