Effective Workplace Policies and Practices

By Georgie Passalaris, Skills and Empowerment Manager, Sustainable Development team, Diageo

Effective Workplace Policies and Practices

Hope is not a strategy for righting gender imbalances that have long been the norm in most businesses and beyond. Instead, a strategy addressing material issues, supported by policies and practices applied internally and externally, can deliver business benefits as well as benefits for individuals.

Research shows that a more diverse workforce delivers financial returns – a more balanced leadership team means broader conversations and better decision-making. McKinsey’s “Diversity Matters” report found a statistically significant relationship between more diverse leadership teams and better financial performance. The companies in the top quartile of gender diversity were 15% more likely to have financial returns that were above their national industry median.[1]

Talent is recognised by many businesses as a critical asset and a fundamental driver of corporate performance. Those who invest in and support talent development by engaging a diverse and inclusive workforce will be best placed to gain the most.

In our experience, a successful internal approach has four key elements:

i. True ownership and strong leadership of a diversity and inclusion strategy at the most senior level is essential.

ii. Targets for diversity in leadership positions – while not always popular – are effective in galvanizing progress. Diageo is one of the FTSE 100 Companies highest ranked for diversity at Board and Executive levels, with 45% and 40% respectively of these positions filled by women. The company has strengthened its goals for diversity aiming for 35% of the wider leadership teams to be female by 2020.

iii. It is essential to move beyond labelling this as a ‘women’s issue’ and instead reframe it as a business issue which involves all voices. Policies and practices that enable greater diversity such as those which enable the burden of care to be shared among women and men – for example paternity cover – can help to change perceptions that care is a women’s issue. Policies supporting flexible working arrangements which also cater to work-life balance and the role of carer, can contribute to greater equality. These should be promoted, modelled and championed to normalise them. Practices such as hiring guidelines requiring gender equal submissions to an open role, or leadership development programmes targeting gender-balanced participation, help to make this a reality. Unconscious bias training that addresses entrenched beliefs, attitudes and norms helps leaders recognise and manage it.

iv. Mentoring and networking programmes can be effective in strengthening ties, lessons and successes across functions, teams and geographies, giving voice to issues and opportunities and aiding cultural change. Diageo’s Spirited Women’s Network is a physical and online support network for women and men that facilitates mentoring and coaching relationships, providing opportunities to shape the company’s inclusion and diversity agenda.

As for an external approach, we believe that key elements are also fourfold:

i. First, aligning with external frameworks such as UN Women’s Empowerment Principles provides guidance on applying a gender lens across a business’s value chain.

ii. Identifying material risks and opportunities across the value chain also informs education and employment opportunities directly targeting community and business needs, as well as education gaps. As part of its 2020 sustainability and responsibility targets, Diageo aims to build thriving communities, enabling those who live and work in their communities, particularly women, to have the skills and resources to build a better future for themselves and their families. The Plan W community investment programme brings together their company-wide commitment to diversity and their approach to responsible business, growing a diverse and inclusive talent base in the company, the industry, with communities and consumers, providing access to learning for over 260,000 women in 4 years, indirectly impacting over 1.3 million people. This is increasing access to jobs, increasing income and confidence levels, strengthening the hospitality workforce and delivering shared value for the company. The Learning for Life programme delivering hospitality skills has directly impacted 115,000 lives in over 35 countries; 70% of trainees find jobs leading to increased income within 8 years.

iii. Codes of conduct or compliance frameworks can target specific challenges facing women. The Diageo marketing code – a self-regulatory code of conduct for responsible marketing – includes a provision to protect against the objectification of women. Diageo’s Code of Business Conduct includes provisions protecting gender equality and human rights. In Cambodia, the beer industry association’s aptly named Beer Selling Industry of Cambodia (BSIC), with leadership from CARE International, has made improvements to safety and income for women. BSIC spearheaded the implementation of a code of conduct to improve the health and working conditions of beer promoters who often face sexual harassment, misconduct or exploitation. Independent research has confirmed that BCIS has led to increased awareness of workers’ benefits and rights, a drop in sexual harassment and an increase in the number of beer promoters addressing incidents of sexual harassment directly, contributing to economic empowerment.

iv. Greater collaboration on models to scale up impact across industry and other sectors are proving their value but more can be done. More on that in an upcoming blog post.

Finally, a point on the importance of gender-aggregated data. Data is key to substantiating the economic case for investing in diversity and inclusion and businesses need to measure what matters: hiring rates, exits and turnover, progression and promotion rates, pay parity, community impact, demonstrating improved business performance through savings, growth opportunities, reputational benefits, addressing the challenges of employees and external stakeholders and creating shared value. Greater transparency within business and beyond business can act as a great motivator for change.

Editor’s Note:

Blog Series: Challenge on Women’s Economic Empowerment Challenge


As part of the Business Fights Poverty / CARE Challenge on Women’s Economic Empowerment, we ran two online discussions during May to discuss how companies can support women’s empowerment in four specific areas: value chains; internal policies and practices; external marketing and customer and engagement; and addressing structural barriers. This blog series will deal with each of these topics, extracting key messages from the online discussion and adding observations from the writer’s own perspective and experience.

This first blog in the series is by Georgie Passalaris, Skills and Empowerment Manager in the Sustainable Development team at Diageo, co-supporter of the Challenge.


[1] Diversity report McKinsey & Company in 2014

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