Making 2021 about diversity
In 2020 Mars made a significant push towards better diversity by creating a global role dedicated to taking a systemic approach to people processes, reviewing and re-designing them to enhance diversity. Rosie Cook, who took the position as Global I&D Integration Lead, talks us through what that means for the future.
Having returned from the Christmas rest period, launching straight into 2021 may well be a daunting prospect for HR – especially as 2020 was so, well, exhausting. Not only does 2020 data show that burnout, working hours and instances of bad mental health were on the rise, it seemed that major business decisions all rested on HR. As one CPO took to LinkedIn to write, circa halfway through the year: “Everything became about HR.”
I stepped into the role, and almost immediately realised that I loved it
However, all areas of HR’s remit still demand attention – perhaps even more so as businesses look to mitigate against continued change and uncertainty. And one area that definitely will need attention is diversity. In fact, the global changes of 2020 brought renewed focus on this area. Covid’s unequal impact on people and working conditions, the latest node of Black Lives Matter Protests and poor improvements in general diverse representation made D&I a key agenda item. With good reason, too. From worker wellbeing to talent attraction, D&I is a crucial factor. Latest Glassdoor data states that 50% of current employees want their workplace to do more to increase diversity whilst another Gallup study found that 45% of workers experienced discrimination or harassment in the past year.
To properly create a strategic response to the above issues, iconic multinational corporation Mars – who create pet food as well as famous food brands – made the role of Global I&D Integration lead to ensure that it was meeting its promises to increase diversity through lasting process and policy changes. Having already served as UK Head of Inclusion and Diversity for over two years, Rosie Cook was a natural fit for the role.
“The UK role I was in prior to moving to the global team was a very early investment in diversity, and the first of its kind within a Mars market,” Cook tells HR Grapevine. “The idea was to create the role as a pilot and then take these learnings into the global organisation and structure. To see a role 100% dedicated to systematically overcoming bias in all of our processes at a global level is a significant commitment and I’ve not seen a role comparable at other organisations..”
It’s obvious that, with the investment into this new role, Mars is looking to become a world-leader in D&I, with a view to reassessing its entire business to better accommodate and understand diversity. This is quite the challenge and Cook understands intrinsically how having the right tools to implement D&I will be crucial. “We’re ensuring that everything we do is completely supported by data. Line managers can’t feel in the dark for solutions. It doesn’t matter if its D&I or reward, or any other area of expertise, if your organisation isn’t fundamentally comfortable with academic research and data, I&D strategy will be difficult,” she says.
We held our first a Global I&D week in November, and despite COVID requiring all connection to be digital, the stories were incredibly powerful and left a lasting impression on the business
A combination of empathy and data, Cook says, is the winning formula for getting buy-in from associates across the organisation for this renewed focus. “What seems to work is finding out the why of each individual person, allowing time to share that, and then sharing insights about the organisation and team they are part of. Every person has a passion and a need to be included, but they may only act or take charge if they can understand it through their own lens. So, we allow plenty of time for understanding team dynamics and the ‘why’ of I&D, as well as sharing insights and recommendations for action.
Mars’ culture, as Cook explains, is incredibly strong on energy and activism, making buy-in and grassroots action a lot easier, with employees ready and willing to put the work in from day one. “The first day I started in the UK role, I had 80 people ready and willing to sign up and help out in whatever way they could. By the end of our first year, we had six associate I&D groups reaching over 1,000 Associates last year with initiatives and events. This was one of the enablers of the speed with which our leaders committed to our strategy. Grassroots passion is amazing,” she said.
Mars’ Global Inclusion and Diversity Integration Lead on…
“The thing I really love about D&I is just the diversity and the variety of the topic itself! I can go in one day from talking about the menopause, to gender transition, to male mental health, and all of it matters. It’s also a real area that impacts peoples’ working days, but that fundamentally impact their lives outside of work and their overall wellbeing.
“Mars’ culture is such that literally anyone can get involved within something they are passionate about. Our leaders really take the lead from passionate employees on the issues that they care about. There’s an amazing sandwich effect where they meet in the middle on these issues. I’ve never seen anything quite like it!
“For those who are Neurodiverse, with conditions such as autism or ADD, being able to own and design their working space at home may have benefits. Being able being to have control over noise levels lighting conditions, or screen placement, when organisations may not always accommodate for this, may be a benefit for individuals, but also make organisations more aware or inclusive of this need when they come back to the office.”
Taking over such a role in any time would be a challenge, but Cook has been faced with rolling out brand new initiatives, whilst also mitigating the effects of the coronavirus pandemic on the workforce, an issue that has demanded the attention of all HR practitioners. The solution, she states, has been to ensure that communication is as strong as possible. “We held our first a Global I&D week in November, and despite COVID requiring all connection to be digital, the stories were incredibly powerful and left a lasting impression on the business from an engagement perspective, it’s changed, absolutely COVID has changed things, but I don’t think we’ve lost any of that engagement because people are at home.”
The first day I started, I had 80 people ready and willing to sign up and help out in whatever way they could
But focus cannot just be on the ongoing pandemic. Looking to 2021, with the lasting effects of COVID and the full uptake in investment in D&I across the Mars Corporation, it looks to be a busy year for Cook. “From a UK perspective, we’re setting huge KPIs on hiring in disability and ethnicity, whilst implementing blind CVs, training on unconscious bias and leadership coaching as well. From a global perspective, we’re focussing on gender balance in leadership teams, workforce representation in ethnicity and nationality, and inclusion. We’re also putting a big focus on upskilling and training for leaders and associates,” she said.
Whilst much progress seems to have been made in the working world with regards to HR’s position as a central function, Cook is also aware of the devastation that the virus will leave in its wake. “COVID has exacerbated issues we were already experiencing from a diversity perspective. The move to digital has had positive effects, but there are also negatives. Women are being made redundant and have been disproportionately impacted by the negative impact of COVID. It’s also exacerbated social mobility with individuals’ housing situations impacting their ability to work, and of course, the impact of furlough.” COVID, more than ever has made clear that 2021, will be the year when businesses will need to commit to diversity, and unlock its benefits for all.
*Refers to when interview took place in late 2020