How Diageo gets the best from its employees

The organisation's culture of diversity is paying off, with huge business benefits

by Management Today Staff
Last Updated: 27 Nov 2018

Diversity is part of Diageo’s DNA. Imagine working for a company where everyone’s voice is heard, there’s a wealth of opportunity to progress, and different ways of working and thinking are encouraged. That’s what happens when an organisation puts inclusivity at the heart of its business.

Mairead Nayager, Diageo’s chief human resources officer, says, "We have a core belief that an inclusive and diverse workforce is central to our success. Embracing diversity in the broadest sense, including gender, sexuality, ethnicity, experience, thinking styles and more, has been proven time and time again to benefit commercial performance."

As a global business with over 200 brands in 180 countries, Diageo recognises that its employees need to reflect the world around them. "We want a working culture where everyone can thrive," Nayager says. "Different perspectives are critical to decision-making."

This week the firm’s CEO, Ivan Menezes, a former Management Today ‘Male Agent for Change’ was awarded the Men as Change Agents 2018 Award at the Women’s Business Council.

Menezes is clearly keen to attract the best talent: after all, surely everyone wants to work in a positive, encouraging environment? This is certainly true of millennials; an American study found that nearly half (47%) of millennials actively look for inclusivity at their prospective employers before accepting a job offer.

For Diageo, diversity starts at the top – women make up 40% of the executive committee, and it aims to have a senior leadership team which is 40% by 2025 – the firm is currently at 34%. With more senior women making big decisions, inclusivity is built into all levels of the business.

Diversity is far more measurable now that large organisations have to reveal their gender pay gaps. This week drinks giant Diageo published its 2018 figures, showing an improvement in the median pay gap to +5.4% for Diageo employees across Great Britain and Scotland (compared to +8.6% in 2017). For Great Britain alone, the median gender pay gap is -12.6%, meaning the gap is in favour of women. This reflects the progress that has been made to develop, promote and recruit female talent into more senior roles.

Taking the Scottish figures on their own, however, the gap is +18%. In part, this is because Diageo’s Scottish business is a 24/7 manufacturing operation and it’s traditionally been harder to attract women to shifts with unsociable working hours, which can attract higher levels of shift allowance. However, Diageo is also thinking broadly about how to create more opportunities for women in STEM. This year, it placed female science undergraduates in its innovation lab in Menstrie and announced two STEM scholarships in partnership with Edinburgh’s Heriot-Watt University, providing a pipeline of female talent for the future.

In other traditionally male-dominated areas, plenty of women are rising up the ranks, too. Melissa Yorke, on trade sales director for Diageo GB, was named in this publication’s 35 Under 35 list this year; she’s the first female to take on the role at Diageo and the youngest ever member of its GB executive leadership team. Yorke says she’s a great supporter of Diageo’s open culture and that it’s helped her area of the business: "Recently we’ve changed our decision making to encompass all roles… to ensure a breadth of ideas. The positive results have been dramatic."

To mark International Women’s Day last year, Diageo commissioned videos to celebrate just a handful of the many inspirational women who make up its business. The women talk openly and honestly about their childhoods, career progression and balancing work with family. Global brand director of Baileys, Gráinne Wafer, says: "Very early on in my career, a guy I was working for said: ‘The only thing stopping you going all the way to the top is that you want a family.’ And I looked him in the eye and I said: ‘Well, why would it stop me? It didn’t stop you.’"

Diageo’s open culture means employees themselves drive change. "I’m constantly impressed by our employee-led initiatives," Nayager says. "Recently we held our second dedicated inclusion week – ‘INC week’ – in several of our offices around the world. There were inspiring panels, thought-provoking workshops and celebrations, all with the objective of accelerating an inclusive culture."

The organisation is a member of  ‘Open for Business’, an alliance of leading companies from across the globe that are committed to supporting LGBT+ inclusion worldwide . Additionally, Diageo’s drive for inclusivity is championed through its brands, such as Smirnoff, who in March launched the ‘Smirnoff Equalizer’ in collaboration with Spotify, to promote equality for women musicians around the world.

Diageo also strives to promote inclusivity in the broader industry. At the start of this year, it pledged to ‘Free the Bid’, to promote equal opportunities for women in the advertising industry. This means that Diageo asks its creative agencies to put forward at least one female director as part of any creative pitch – an important step in the advertising industry, where less than 7% of directors are women and women direct only 9% of commercials.

What tips does Nayager have for organisations who want to become more diverse? "We have much more work to do," she says. "But I hope that by sharing our experiences and by working together, we can achieve the progress we all aspire to, that little bit faster." Here are three things Nayager has learnt:

1. "It’s imperative to connect inclusion and diversity to the business strategy, values and purpose of the company. The business case is very clear: when your employees feel they can bring their whole selves to work, you’ll get the best out of them."

2. "Pushing for inclusivity shouldn’t be seen as the job of diverse people. Women and men are equally important in leading this agenda. I would encourage male leaders, as well as women leaders, to mentor and sponsor women. Gender equality benefits everyone."

3. "Policies that drive diversity are important [for instance, Diageo’s graduate programme is 50% female, and the organisation has a dedicated LGBTQI network group], and so too is the creation of an inclusive culture. It’s essential to create an environment where women and diverse talent want to work, and where they thrive. Empower your employee-led groups and support the development of inclusive leadership."

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