Why companies need more women in their workforce
Diversity must be pursued by corporates to become successful in increasingly competitive world
For too long, women have been under-represented in the workforce, especially in the Middle East and North Africa region. They have been held back by limited access to education, responsibilities at home, pay and promotion inequalities, and cultural and religious practices.
However, all this is changing, says Krista Pilot, vice-president of corporate affairs at PepsiCo for Asia, Middle East and North Africa.
"In this region, there is a growing realisation that, to continue advancing in an increasingly competitive world, the energy, knowledge and skills of entire populations, including women, need to be harnessed. Economic diversification can, at least in part, be enabled by workforce inclusiveness. That means employing more women, and giving them the tools and pathways to fulfill their potential in the workplace," she says.
Pilot also highlighted PepsiCo's "2025 Sustainability Agenda", which is designed to foster continued business growth in a way that responds to changing consumer and societal needs, including empowering more women to contribute to the workforce. PepsiCo's CEO, Indra Nooyi, has described boosting diversity in the global team as a business imperative. The 2025 Sustainability Agenda is also aligned with the UN's Strategic Development Goals, Pilot specified.
"We are pursuing new initiatives to promote diversity in our global workforce, support the advancement of women, and spur social and economic development in communities around the world," she noted.
Key initiatives geared towards women in particular include investing $100 million in partnership with the PepsiCo Foundation to support initiatives to benefit 12.5 million women and girls around the world by 2025 and continuing to develop a diverse, inclusive and engaged workforce that reflects the communities where we do business. These efforts include a continued focus on achieving gender parity in PepsiCo's management roles and pay equity for women.
"We know from our experience that diversity drives productivity, creativity and problem-solving," Pilot noted. "It helps to attract and retain talent, builds synergies between teams, and generates market insights. Around the world, we hire women and give them the tools to progress their careers. We have a policy of hiring local women, and giving them access to training programs where they can prepare for senior management roles. It is not enough to draw from various cohorts of the population anywhere; that is not a credible hiring strategy. We look for balanced diversity, creating highly productive, engaged teams."
One of PepsiCo's goals for 2025 is to strive for gender parity in management roles, pay equity for women, and provide special support for working caregivers. In the Mena region, PepsiCo runs several skills and training programmes for women and young people. Among these is the Hadafi (My Goal) Women Entrepreneurship Programme, which provides funding, training and mentorship for Arab women, who have started their own firms, or who are aspiring to be entrepreneurs.
In addition, PepsiCo's women executives also support and provide mentorship to help Arab women to succeed across numerous other partnerships centered around skills-building, such as the partnership with the Arab International Women's Forum aimed at empowering Arab women.
"In Lebanon, 90 students have graduated from our 'Skills for Success' programme, in partnership with Amideast, after receiving finance, IT literacy, and English language courses to improve their job readiness," Pilot revealed. "Through the PepsiCo 'Tomooh' education programme in upper Egypt, PepsiCo has helped young girls from low-income communities to access education. In Jordan and Lebanon, Tomooh provides university-level scholarships, in partnership with Ajialouna and the Jordanian Hashemite Fund for Human Development, enabling them to start or complete their education."
Asked what advice she would give to young women who feel that they must choose between their careers or their family, Pilot answered: "It is all about finding the right balance that fits both personal circumstances and professional aspirations. Each situation is unique, and don't think that 'one size fits all'. I always tell younger women to prioritise - the truth is, no one can 'have it all' but you can have a fulfilling career and a great family life, but you have to prioritise what's most important to you.
She also spoke about how important it is to find a partner who is very supportive and sees you as an equal partner in making the family thrive. "The great news is that, increasingly progressive companies and business leaders are adapting their work-life balance policies, as well as the hiring and promotion strategies, to bring more working mothers into the workforce, rather than just ask women to adopt a model of success that is based on the traditional male experience and role in society."
"It may not feel like it, but women have made incredible strides towards equality in the past 50 years, and I feel that momentum is on our side. It is our responsibility to hold companies accountable, and to continue to do our part in making a diverse workforce a reality," she stressed.
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