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Sunday, May 19, 2024

The woman who levelled the playing field

Gender injustice was ingrained in Procter & Gamble culture until the lone female in this image looked around her and decided it was time to change. Story by Eamonn Duff

Two decades ago, Geraldine Huse posed alongside colleagues for a celebratory snapshot of the UK sales management team at Procter & Gamble.

The picture represents a proud career milestone on her journey to becoming current CEO and Chairman of the Board of P&G Central Europe. But as she points out today, it’s an image that carries far greater significance than your normal, nostalgic, workplace photograph.

“The tipping point for me was when I became the only female from my very talented graduate intake to reach the lead team,” she told FMCG CEO. “My graduate intake had been 50/50 male and female…my female peers were not less talented than my male peers…it was just more difficult for females to make it through. There were things in our culture, career paths and working processes…that resulted in one female making it through.”

My female peers were no less talented than my male peers… it was just more difficult for females to make it through”

Harnessing her frustration around 2000, Geraldine led a bold crusade to break down the barriers that prospective female leaders faced – and has since delivered a fundamental step change in diversity within Procter & Gamble. Setting the tone from the top, she pushed hard to foster a culture of inclusion. She established training programmes for both sexes on diversity  – which she lobbied senior leadership to make mandatory for all employees. She gathered open and honest feedback, in focus groups, on barriers that needed to be broken down. She elevated gender diversity as a key priority for career and succession planning and established a host of mentoring schemes including “mentoring up”, where male senior leaders were mentored by junior females.

Geraldine Huse: “There were things in our culture, career paths and working processes…that resulted in one female making it through.”

Not only has she been an active campaigner in-house, she’s persuaded a host of other companies to follow suit, inspiring increases in female leadership across the UK and Western Europe. “Inclusive leadership means creating a culture of empowerment, but also requires leaders to listen and be humble,” she explains. “In today`s disruptive and fast-moving world, no one person has all the answers. We all need to feel comfortable with this and accept that we have to be dependent on the diversity of sources, inputs and ideas around us more than ever before.” P&G is the world’s largest consumer goods company. It is also recognised as a global trailblazer in gender and diversity equality. In the United States alone, its spending with Women-Owned business represents more than $1 billion, and over $2 billion with diverse suppliers. Over the past three years, its capability and mentoring programs reached 140 women-owned businesses in seven countries including the UK, Mexico and Turkey. A dozen of those have since qualified to become P&G suppliers. The organisation is also piloting end-to-end value chain programs with UN Women and local NGOs across Nigeria, Pakistan, Egypt and South Africa. Its website states it is “working towards a world that sees equal, but it can’t be done alone”. In November, it joined forces with the Women’s Forum, WEConnect, UN Women and consumer rival Loreal in launching the Women & Supplier Diversity Daring Circle. Led by P&G, the alliance will serve as an “accelerator” of women’s economic empowerment; one of its central aims is to help other companies improve their supplier diversity and supply chain practices. However, if anyone at P&G ever needed reminding of how far their own organisation has progressed, they only need glance at the striking male-dominated image of Geraldine, taken in her early management days.

Born and raised in Derby, she graduated from the University of Aberdeen and then joined P&G in 1986 where she climbed the corporate ladder through various sales and marketing management roles. Between 2008-2012, she led the company’s $4 billion business across UK and Ireland and then served another four year stint as Vice President Global Sales across 12 countries including China, India and Malaysia. In her current capacity as CEO of P&G Central Europe, Geraldine leads 5,500 people who serve 80 million consumers, across nine countries, with an array of big-name brands including Ariel, Gillette, Head & Shoulders, Lenor and Pampers. If there’s been one constant throughout that impressive career, it’s been her pioneering efforts to address gender balance in leadership roles. She recalls how “unconscious bias and inclusive leadership training” were “two critical factors” that triggered widespread change within the organisation. “The reality before this training was that we had data, both internally and externally, that told us business results were better when we had a diverse team. We had strong supportive policies in place, and yet it was not resulting in females advancing at the same rate as males.” Geraldine added that, due to people’s “blind spots”, there were “hidden” factors driving this trend. “Unconscious bias training showed us how we automatically make judgements based on our past experiences. This leads to subjectivity in assessing promotion candidates.  We trained on the need to objectively list the skills and experience needed for a vacancy and only then create a slate of candidates who meet this criteria. Too often we immediately jump to names of who should get the role which automatically uses all our unconscious biases that lead to the ‘like me/like last person’ promotions.”

We were humbled that our Supplier Diversity Programme was recently recognised at the European Diversity Awards.” – Tom Moody, P&G’s UK CEO

In 2016, Geraldine’s tireless efforts were recognised with an Inclusive Leader accolade at the BITC Workplace Gender Equality Awards. By then, 32 of 60 P&G managers across Britain were female and the organisation had been named as one of The Times Top 50 Employers for Women. Was there ever a defining moment when Geraldine stopped and realised that equality and diversity, across the organisation, had become something far greater than spoken words? “There were several,” she replied. “But the feeling comes to life when I see pictures of our lead teams today. Recently, the UK lead team was celebrating being voted the No 1 manufacturer by leading UK retailers in the 2018 Advantage Awards. If you see the 50/50 representation of men and women on the celebratory picture, it’s certainly a moment to be proud of…and is testament to how leveraging diversity can lead to strong business results. P&G’s UK CEO Tom Moody told FMCG CEO he was “hugely proud” of the focus the company places on gender equality and “promoting an inclusive environment for all.”

Geraldine’s management team in 2012

He added: “We look to the leaders in our organisation to set the tone on inclusivity by recognising that everyone has a voice to be heard, everyone should feel valued and everyone should have the opportunity to see their ideas flourish.”

Geraldine’s old management photograph appears so outdated, it scarcely seems real today. But unfortunately, male dominated management structures are still rife, throughout the world.

Several weeks ago, Australian research revealed there were nearly 50,000 CEOs and MDs listed in national Census data: Only 19 percent of these were female.

Geraldine believes it’s time for organisations to wake up – and time for today’s aspiring young leaders to speak up. “Be yourself and live the commitment to making your organisations diverse,” she tells them. “Be a role model, act by example. Gender equality is a responsibility of both women and men and it requires the hard work of both.”

She added: “Acknowledge the unconscious bias and how to deal with it. Don’t get discouraged by failures, as there will always be resistance on your journey.”

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