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The importance of diversity in leadership with Kristen Anderson, EWOB CEO

Today, we wanted to celebrate the recent appointment of Kristen Anderson as the new CEO of EWOB through a short interview.

A former Chief Officer of Diversity and Inclusion at Barilla, Kristen brings with her a strong commitment to gender equality in business as well as significant knowledge in this area. Since yesterday marked the adoption of the Women on Boards Directive, we thought we’d ask her a few questions about gender diversity in decision making and how it can make a difference for a company and all its employees.

Could you start by telling us why you decided to shift your career from leading Research & Development (R&D) teams in the food industry to focus on diversity and inclusion in companies? 

When I started my career as a female chemical engineer, I was a minority in the food industry (and in many industries).

This career choice came with many challenges… be taken seriously as a junior female engineer, being the ‘only one’, and learning to influence in different ways in a ‘man’s world.’

During my career journey, I was presented with many opportunities for my personal development, leading R&D teams in the US, Australia, Germany, China, Singapore and Italy. 

I saw the negative impacts of lack of diversity and, even more importantly, inclusion on teams and the problems created by an absence of cultural understanding. I became very passionate about diversity and inclusion (D&I), was asked to be a member of the Barilla D&I Board to work on culture change, and eventually, due to the great sponsorship of the Barilla CEO Claudio Colzani, took on the role as Barilla D&I Officer.

What role can diversity – in decision-making in particular – play in closing the gender pay gap and furthering gender equality? 

All the research shows that diverse teams, inclusively managed, perform better and are more creative than homogeneous teams. 

Diverse teams question the status quo, for example asking the question ‘what is our gender pay gap and why?’  Very little progress has been made over the last decade to reduce the gender pay gap….why is that?  I would doubt that any employee at a company would be pleased with the fact that women get paid less for doing the exact same job with the same skills/competency as men.  Many companies are just not prioritizing ‘equal pay for equal work’ as a business imperative.

You have worked in the corporate world extensively during your career. Based on your experience, what are the key ingredients to ensure that women are offered equal opportunities within a company?

The first key step is to be aware that there are biases in the internal processes in companies and that every person has their own biases, so recognizing this fact is critical.  The second step is to evaluate the current situation in the company, evaluate the data on gender diversity (by function, level, country), where are women being promoted and where are women leaving the company. 

Only after this analysis can you see where there are issues/best practices.  The third step is making gender diversity a business imperative in your company, setting a target for the company (for example, 50% women in management by 2025) and ensuring that each people manager has their own goal to reach that target.  Companies have to realize that this is a culture change journey that cannot be solved by hiring a few women in senior roles for a better public image.

Once women are appointed in leadership positions, we need to make sure that their voices are heard. As a leader who has managed multiple teams in many countries and companies, what would be your advice to other peoplemanagers to make sure this happens?

I would strongly suggest that people managers, regardless of their level in the company, need to be aware of and work on reducing their own biases, challenge the biases that they see in the workplace, and stop those non-inclusive behaviors in meetings that make it more challenging for women to have their voice be heard.  A recent study showed that men interrupt women 3 times more often than other men. 

Be a sponsor or mentor for a female colleague…take an active role to support women as a male ally, as many people managers in companies are men. Increasing gender equality needs active participants, not bystanders!

Could you share with us a reference to a book, documentary, or podcast that you would recommend to anyone who wants to better understand the importance of gender equality in business leadership? 

Two podcasts that might be interesting for everyone are:

Revolutionising the concept of gender quotas

and Why Care? #23: Kristen Anderson – Meritocracy or Mirrortocracy?