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Full Potential

From Gender Equity Platform to Global Call to Action

Originally published on LinkedIn by Michele Oliver, Global Vice President of Corporate Brand & Purpose at Mars. Michele is a Mars Associate of 27 years, who has worked everywhere from the chocolate factory floor and sales to innovation and marketing—at global, European and local roles. Now, her work is focused on building the Mars, Incorporated brand and driving action in line with our Mars Purpose: the world we want tomorrow starts with how we do business today

Sometimes, it’s more important to listen then to speak. This is one of those times.

When our team looked at how to tell the world about the progress Mars is making on gender equality, we came up with plenty of ways to tell our story. After much work on our gender practices, policy and culture across women in our business, in our supply chain and in our advertising , we’d pulled them into one platform for gender equality, calling it Full Potential—because we want every woman to be able to reach her full potential. But as excited as we were to tell our story, we also recognized that there’s always more we can do. And to do more, we need to listen, really listen. We need to listen to all women, women in paid work, women in unpaid work, LGBT+ women, women of all ethnicities and beliefs, young women, old women…

And that’s how Here to be Heard was born. Through Here to Be Heard, we’re asking women—in our company, our supply chain and the general public—to record their voices, telling us what they believe needs to happen next for women to reach their full potential. We will then partner with experts at Oxford University to analyze the input for insights and themes, which we will publish and use to drive further action. So please, please add your voice to the conversation…it starts with you!

So, what answer have I recorded—fair question. 

If there’s one change I’d like to see, it’s having more women in positions of leadership and influence, whether it’s in business, politics, civil society or NGOs. Because when women lead and influence, it changes the conversation at every single level. You have people at the top who see the world through the eyes of a woman. It’s a different perspective, a different vantage point that adds depth and richness.  

For example, when my son was born, I worked for a woman, Fiona Dawson, who completely understood that I needed more flexibility in my schedule, and she had no problem giving it to me. She also led by example, supporting gender equality in her hiring practices and policy development, advocating for her team members and sponsoring women just beginning their careers. She still does it today and every day. Thank you, Fiona. 

Michele Oliver, Global Vice President of Corporate Brand & Purpose at Mars

From her, I also learned the importance of owning our power…saying yes to opportunities like speaking engagements, presentations (blogs!) and new job roles. I learned the value, for me and for the business, of knowing what I want and asking for it. For example, I think we must ask our employers to shift the “working mothers” conversation to “working parents,” with the benefits and support to follow suit.  We are trialing this in the U.K. with an industry-leading parental leave policy enabling ALL parents, irrespective of gender, to have equal access to paid leave after the birth or adoption of a child. That is a game changer. 

Gender bias is also a critical topic for our Marketing. Think about how many ads show women cooking or with the kids, while men are shown driving the car or in a business meeting. As one of the world’s top 10 advertisers, we are committed to avoiding harmful gender stereotypes, and so we’ve partnered with the  U.N. Women’s Unstereotype Alliance and the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in the Media to monitor our own content for fair representation, and we hold ourselves to account, publicly. 

This month is Black History Month, which also reminds us we must listen with an intersectional lens, actively seeking voices of those facing overlapping, concurrent forms of inequality, such as Black women, those living with disabilities, members of the LGBTQ+ community and others. 

So, in my mind, it goes right back to women having the ability to influence, to have their voices heard. Women and men need to speak up for gender equality. And if organizations like ours want to talk about how our actions are helping women reach their full potential, first we must listen.