Q&A with Hanneke Faber - “From ‘good intentions’ to real progress”
DEIDiversity
Article Icon Interview
March 01, 2018
3 min read
DEIDiversity
Executive Summary
What role does D&I play in shaping the future of business? What should organizations focus their resources on? 
Hanneke Faber-interview.jpg

 

"From 'good intentions' to real progress"—Pieter Ligthart and David Mills interview Hanneke Faber, president of Europe at Unilever, on how organizations can push for progress within diversity and inclusion.  

"In this world of exponential change, it is absolutely critical that organizations have diverse points of view in the boardroom, on the executive team and throughout the organization. And yet, despite the speed at which the world is moving, progress toward gender parity is incredibly slow."

Hanneke recently joined Unilever to run its European business. Previously, she worked as the chief commercial officer of Ahold and, after the Dutch supermarket chain's takeover of Belgian rival Delhaize in 2016, she became responsible for e-commerce and innovation at the merged company. Hanneke also holds a non-executive role at Bayer. She is a passionate advocate of diversity and inclusion in the workplace and is on the advisory board for a retail- and CPG-focused organization called LEAD (Leading Executives Advancing Diversity). 

Q: What role does diversity and inclusion play in shaping the future of business? 

A: We live in a world of exponential change. What you think is happening fast today is going to be faster tomorrow, and the day after, faster yet. In this world of exponential change, it is absolutely critical that organizations have diverse points of view in the boardroom, on the executive team and throughout the organization. And yet, despite the speed at which the world is moving, progress toward gender parity is incredibly slow. There are good intentions, but there is a lack of urgency and this is preventing significant progress. 

Q: How can organizations move from "good intentions" to real impact and progress? 

A: I am on the advisory board for an organization called LEAD (Leading Executives Advancing Diversity), which is an industry group focusing on gender diversity in retail and CPG. Last year we came up with four key principles, created from an amalgamation of numerous existing studies and opinions. Approaching the topic in a systematic and structured way has helped us to focus our efforts. 

Firstly, efforts must be led from the top. The chairman and CEO need to drive these initiatives actively, not passively. This means diversity and inclusion must be written into the organization's strategy. In your one-page document detailing what your organization is about, if diversity and inclusion are not in there, it already shows that the chair and CEO do not truly understand their importance.  

Secondly, organizations must focus on providing training and networking opportunities, for example, unconscious bias training or sponsorship programs. We need to focus more on actively promoting women in the workplace through sponsorship. Mentoring is, of course, important, but I have often heard many women say that they feel over-mentored and under-sponsored and that there is a universal lack of women being actively championed rather than guided.    

Q: We often hear the same. And the third? 

A: The third is pretty straightforward: What gets measured gets done. You need to know how many women you have and at what levels in your company. Organizations must set goals, at every level, and review them every quarter, becoming so familiar discussing the topic that it becomes just the same as any other business KPI. Make the numbers visible, share them with your team and maintain a constant dialogue. 

Finally, gender-neutral structures and policies are critical. For example, flexible working arrangements must be available to everyone and not just women—as well as promotion and hiring opportunities—making sure that there is a 50/50 split. Gender-neutral policies ensure that everyone at the organization is given an equal opportunity to succeed. Our #UNSTEREOTYPE movement is disrupting the way we see stereotypical gender roles, and our brands are at the forefront of this revolution. We want to disassociate from unhelpful stereotypical portrayals of gender and deliver exciting campaigns that are more relevant to today's consumer. 

Q: And who leads these four principles? 

A: The CEO should lead all four. This is critical in pushing for progress. The CEO must actively walk the talk on all four principles. In my experience, these principals have resonated with CEO because they are actionable, numbers-based and structured—all features that people are comfortable with in business.   

Q: The CEOs that you have seen really get this right. What are they doing that others are not? 

A: Managing diverse teams and truly harnessing the power of all the voices in the room can be difficult and often requires certain leadership attributes and skills, such as curiosity or the ability to ask good questions. The "my way or the highway" CEOs are unlikely to benefit as much from the diversity of the team. It is a curiosity-driven leadership style that will truly unlock the power of diverse teams. 

Thank you, Hanneke.