“There is no power for change greater than a community discovering what it cares about.”
Originally posted on LinkedIn by Erica Coletta, VP, People and Organization, Mars Petcare
I can hear echoes of Margaret Wheatley’s words in Mars’ #HereToBeHeard campaign, which started earlier this year by asking women one simple question: What needs to change for more women to reach their full potential?
10,000 responses to that question from women across 88 countries informed a new report that brings to life what we heard from the respondents – businesses, governments, and individuals can take action to advance gender equality.
And this campaign comes at a crucial moment. I know as a woman that plays many roles in life -mother, daughter, sister, partner, mentor, friend - and from my day-to-day experience running our People & Organization function, that the pandemic has played a major part in affecting the mental health and wellbeing of women, causing previously unheard-of levels of stress and burnout.
Mothers, and particularly women of colour, faced gender inequities in housework, childcare, elder care, and at work – and what this meant was mass job loss, high levels of burn out and alarming rates of mental health distress. In fact, according to Oxfam, 64 million women lost or left their jobs and cumulatively lost $800 billion in income - the combined GDP of 98 countries.
At the same time, the headlines across the globe about the plight of women during the pandemic and how this needs to be ‘fixed’ have given me some hope. To me, the scale of media coverage demonstrates an unprecedented level of caring about women and, a more profound recognition of gender inequality.
Tipping point for change
This is why I think we’re at an interesting tipping point. Unquestionably the pandemic has challenged all of us. But it has stretched many women beyond belief, reinforcing the need for diversity and inclusion in the workplace, and particularly gender equality. We have a responsibility to listen and act. As the head of our People & Organisation function and a part of the leadership team for a business with more than 100,000 Associates around the world I feel the weight of that responsibility; especially so, since well over half of our workforce are women, and within our Veterinary Health division, more than 80% of our Associates are female.
As we all absorb the insights from the report and think more about what must change, I am reassured to know that at Mars Petcare, we are starting from a place of caring. Firstly, we are advancing with intent on the path towards 100% gender-balanced leadership teams. Mars Petcare is making progress here, with the number having increased by 18% since this time last year. While we have more work to do, it is great to have more role models around the business so that our Associates feel they have someone who can walk in their shoes.
Time to stop being unconscious about bias
As a business, we have also partnered with Mahzarin Banaji, Richard Clarke Cabot Professor of Social Ethics at Harvard University to equip our senior executives to lead more than 3,000 of their teams through a journey of implicit bias awareness sessions. We have learnt that whilst we are all wired for bias, self-awareness and intentional action can unlock incredible change for all - and for women too. These sessions have helped tremendously on a day-to-day basis. Building on this, we’ve also extended bias, inclusion and diversity learning sessions to all Associates in our business.
Finally, we have put in place many programmes around our business to support health and well-being in these challenging times. And our people are passionately coming together across many Associate Resource Groups around the world to advance this agenda together.
Seizing this opportunity together
This isn’t an easy topic to discuss or address. We’ve got some incredible insights from the #HereToBeHeard report – and we must not diminish the fact that women have experienced setbacks across many aspects of our lives during the pandemic. But looking at history, these setbacks can open incredible opportunities for rapid change. Let’s use this tipping point to enable all women to reach their full potential.
Now, that’s something I really care about. And I’m sure you do too.