Despite the fact that women are underrepresented in leadership, organizations that hire more women leaders perform better than those that don’t, and companies in the consumer packaged goods industry are starting to take notice, according to the Women 2020 report from the Network of Executive Women. The report says that a diverse workforce helps foster innovative environments at CPG companies, and female leaders from Walgreen, PepsiCo, Kraft and Wal-Mart talked about the challenges they face and how their companies work to foster women leaders last week during a panel at FMI Connect.
Melissa Donaldson, director of diversity networks and communications at Walgreen, Trish Lukasik, senior vice president of PepsiCo Sales, Regenia Stein, NEW secretary and former Kraft Executive, and Kaitlin Wolfe, a regional director of operations for Wal-Mart, talked about the unconscious biases that women face in the workforce, including the “mom penalty,” career planning and appearance.
“I think it’s so critical that we understand what women face in business and that women help other women,” Wolfe said.
In particular, many women apologize too often, try to be friends with their coworkers rather than colleagues and wait to be called on in settings such as business meetings, Lukasik said.
“There’s a difference between being colleagues and being friends,” she said.
Donaldson said that women often feel like they have to take care of everything when they are in leadership roles and can get burned out. Knowing your role and what resources are available and focusing on that can help women overcome biased thinking that paints women as being too emotional and not being good negotiators or business people, she said.
Wolfe said that at Wal-Mart, investing in women leaders is part of the company’s culture, and that executives all the way up to the CEO work to promote women because they lead differently than men, which is good for the team. Because women are collaborative leaders, they bring their teams with them and build trust, and Wolfe said that collaboration, peer-to-peer accountability and anticipation are key for women leaders.
Lukasik said at PepsiCo, leaders work to engage and promote women, focusing on recruitment and retention across the company’s workforce, while Kraft has worked to put processes in place that allow women to become closer and know each other so they become resources for one another, Stein said.
“Anytime you can draw people into communities, you really get the best of them,” she said.
Walgreen is dedicated to building thriving communities among women and enhancing their leadership, engaging them in dialogue and building each other up, Donaldson said. Walgreen works to leverage its female workforce in decision-making processes by putting their voices out there to drive decision making, she said.
“Empowering people to take that on is something we’re really trying to focus on,” she said. “You have to understand where women are in your organization.”
When it comes to balancing work and life, Wolfe, a mother of four boys, advised that women make an effort to be present wherever they are, whether it’s in a meeting, at their desks, at a school play or at home at the dinner table. She said that she tries to be understanding, empathetic and flexible as a leader and as a mother.
Stein said the female workforce has a lot in common with the millennial workforce, and Kraft onboards millennials in groups so that they form communities, which is a tactic companies could try with their female workforce. Overall, encouraging and engaging women leaders within organizations take partnership, engagement and open communication, Donaldson said.
“Become an advocate,” she said. “Your organization starts to change one person at a time.”
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