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Monday 17 June 2019
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Gender diversity: good for business

Rocio Medina-Bolivar, Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) country representative, Trinidad and Tobago; Amcham CEO Nirad Tewarie; Stephanie Oueda Cruz, head of gender, diversity and inclusion, IDB Invest; Javier Torre, human resource manager, Central Puerto; Lisa-Maria Alexander, country chief marketing officer, JMMB; and Patricio Torres, market head Anglo Dutch Caribbean, Nestle, take a photo at Amcham’s seminar on business and gender diversity. PHOTO BY AYANNA KINSALE
Rocio Medina-Bolivar, Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) country representative, Trinidad and Tobago; Amcham CEO Nirad Tewarie; Stephanie Oueda Cruz, head of gender, diversity and inclusion, IDB Invest; Javier Torre, human resource manager, Central Puerto; Lisa-Maria Alexander, country chief marketing officer, JMMB; and Patricio Torres, market head Anglo Dutch Caribbean, Nestle, take a photo at Amcham’s seminar on business and gender diversity. PHOTO BY AYANNA KINSALE

Gender diversity is good for business.

This was the message the American Chamber of Commerce (Amcham) and the Inter-American Develop Bank (IDB) wanted to share last Friday at the Radisson Hotel, Port of Spain.

In the Caribbean and Latin America, 75 per cent of women make up the labour force. While 29 per cent of executive positions, such as CEOs and CFOs, are women. Yet, in spite of the need to create products and communicate products for that demographic, women occupy only 18 per cent of board-level position.

A panel of executives comprising of Lisa-Marie Alexander, country chief marketing officer for JMMB Group, Patricio Torres, market head for the Anglo Dutch Caribbean at Nestle, Nirad Tewarie, CEO of Amcham and Javier Torre, human resources manager, for Central Puerto – an Argentina-based company – told an audience of executives how to transform their company into a gender inclusive space.

Globally, women make up 60 per cent of the consumer market. A study by McKinsey & Company, an American worldwide management consulting firm, showed companies with gender diverse teams are 15 per cent more profitable.

Eighty per cent of Nestle's business comes from women. Yet, 15 years ago, 85 per cent of their organisation were men and the company did not have a diverse female leadership team, Torres revealed.

"Eighty per cent of our clients are women. We needed to understand how women think. I'm not saying a gender balance should be more women than men, it is about survival. The companies will not survive if we do not understand it. It is simple. We are going to lose market share," he said.

One of the factors that hindered Nestle from promoting international female executives was a rule that an international executive had to have at least 15 years of international experience.

He said women were often considered the primary caregivers in the family. He said women would step back from their careers and return to a lower position. He said Nestle acknowledged this as a disadvantage to women and sought to change the rule.

"Before, to be an international executive you have to go all those years, not anymore. Now you can get the same international experience by doing short visits. We have been allowed technology to have more visibility in our talent. We were forced to change our processes. We have to change everything because we really want to balance our possibilities for everyone to do the same. It is about survival. No one wants to work in a company that is not responsible. Gender balance and diversity is a human right and no one wants to work in a company like that. Our consumer will not buy any product if we are not ahead and respect the human rights," Torres said.

Men need time to pick up children too

Flexi-time was another way Nestle sought to assist their workers. Mothers who needed to pick up their children from school or needed to stay home to take care of a sick child could comfortably do so without fearing judgement or being penalised for taking time off work.

However, men also utilised this opportunity, a flexi-time ramification Nestle did not predict.

"We though of that plan because of the women. Fortunately it is being used by men and women. Fifteen years ago, I could not imagine having a man coming to me to ask to leave Friday early to take care of his kids. Fifteen years ago that was impossible. Now, it is normal to receive it, it is totally normal," he said.

Torres said the policies used to provide a gender balance for women ended up benefiting all the workers.

Nestle set up a gender diversity team to be able to create a workplace that was accommodating to women. However, Torres said checking one's unconscious bias is also important.

Stephanie Oueda Cruz (right) head of Gender, Diversity and Inclusion, IDB Invest, address the audience during the American Chamber of Commerce (Amcham) seminar on business and gender diversity held at the Radisson Hotel, Port-of-Spain recently. Listening in are Amcham CEO Nirad Tewarie and Javier Torre, human resources manager for Argentina-based company Central Puerto. PHOTO BY AYANNA KINSALE

"We have unconscious bias. I thought I did not have one. I like to do business assessments. Unconscious assessment in hiring a woman or man, or not, without knowing it is unconscious, we are not moving forward," he said.

The Institute of Gender and Development Studies did an assessment of the impact of domestic and intimate partner violence on female productivity. Tewarie said the negative impact is huge and unacceptable and companies must make policies to treat with women who may be in domestic violence situations.

"The role of Amcham and the role organisations like us play is to identify policy. Shine a light on issues within the business community and look to our colleagues to say we need to do better," he said. "Domestic violence is a huge issue. It is a huge impediment. It is always going to be a mitigating factor of female participation at a higher level. Men are overwhelmingly the perpetrators of domestic violence. We as male leaders need to be sensitive to signs of that and find out how we can find out what is happening and be allies in the process."

Tewarie said Amcham has only had their second female president Patricia Ghany. He cautions companies to be weary of "good enough" gender diversity.

"Many companies are more conscious of it and you are going to start seeing more female representative and dynamics. I am concerned that some companies are going to do it, one of five, or one of ten, and then we are good, we have done it. That is the real danger we face. I know to fully appreciate the benefit of diversity... and acknowledge that we have a problem that needs to be addressed. We have to keep doing things like this, we have to keep talking about it, monitoring it using the data, keep pushing it," he said.

No women on boys' limes

One way the system works consciously or unconsciously against women is through drinks with the boys, he said. Many times boys limes where male executives lime with workers allows for informally singling out talent in the group. However, if women are not invited to the lime, then they may miss out on a networking opportunity that allows them to shine.

"If we go out for drinks with guys and we say: 'Ralf is a good guy, let's give Ralf a try.' But we are not as comfortable in mixed groups, or the ladies go with the ladies and the men go with the men. This does not apply universally where there are many many companies where people go together. I'm just saying, what are the things that may unconsciously serve as bias. In TT, we have world-class talent across the board and if we are not seeing actual manifestation in choosing particular areas such as gender, geographic or ethnically and do something about it systemically," he said.

Seven out of 16 of Amcham's board members are female. Tewarie said as a CEO he is not allowed to campaign on behalf of anyone but he is allowed to encourage women to put in their nominations.

"We identified that we had an issue. Did some work on the ideal board composition, looked at the skills we needed on the board and gender was a part of that... I am not allowed to campaign for anyone as CEO but I can encourage you to put your nomination in so we deliberately go after competent women in the sectors where we think we are missing board representation," he said.

The rise of automation will swiftly replace jobs in the future. Some of the jobs that will be replaced are heavily occupied by women.

"In manufacturing, a lot of the jobs that are going to disappear are going to be replaced by drones and the jobs that will be created are software development, engineering, or putting those together and controlling. If you have a background in playing video games, that is going to be your primary qualification for using the drones or robots. Boys are the ones playing the videos games," he said.

JMMB, a company founded by a woman – Joan Duncan – is unapologetic about ensuring 50 per cent of their board comprises of women. Alexander said this position stemmed from a demand from their shareholders, board members and consumers to have a gender parity at top level management.

"You have to be deliberate. It is easy if you are not deliberate, you look around and wonder where did our gender balance go? Even though it is there and you just assume it is going to happen... We looked at what skills we require, what we wanted from our directors, and we went out and made sure we got women who could represent our brand. At the local level, we are very deliberate. We are not even apologetic about it. Diversity helps significantly with governance. One of our female directors left and we got another female director. This is what we want and we went out and got it," she said.

In 2017, the IDB in partnered with UN Women and UN Global Compact to co-create the Women’s Empowerment Principles Gap Analysis Tool (WEPs). This free tool helps clients identify gender opportunities via confidential online baseline assessments, and help create a meaningful action plan to improve their diagnostic score.

Alexander said she totally endorses this tool as a way to help make the organisation better.

Central Puerto is an energy company which used to have a predominantly male workforce. They decided to create a gender action plan to challenge the status quo. They received 20 suggestions in that plan and their gender committee was tasked with finding the best solutions to bringing female workers onto the team.

Vacancy ads to 'seduce' women

Torre said to attract female workers the company must make the the job vacancy ad "seductive" for attracting women.

In Spanish all nouns are gendered. He used the Spanish word for accountant, el contador, as an example. In the vacancy ad, he said, they are looking for an el contadora/dor. Giving prevalence to the women from the very beginning. Using pictures of women, or of both sexes, in the vacancy ad is also important to attract gender diverse candidates.

He said when the company released the vacancy ads, they received over 6,000 resumes, 40 per cent of which were women.

It was suggested that a company should not accept any applications from head hunters or CVs presented if one of the people in the top three candidates was not a woman.

He said the gender action plan was necessary for the company to continue to grow and attract young talent. Torre is also a lecturer of HR, and he hears his university students make choices on which company they want to work for based on their policies.

"One of the things we need to take into consideration is the new generation. It is completely different. I am head of HR in the university and I hear about students talking about human resources and they don't want to choose companies because of their environmental policies. I am 52, and I remember when I started working and I never paid attention to what their policies were. I just wanted to be hired. Now it is very important that the new generations will pick the company to work at, according to the policies the company has. The company that does not adopt an active gender policy will be out of the market. Because the customers, the next generation will not buy the product. They will not go by them to work," he said.

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