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‘Being fearless is about facing fear and coming through with solutions’

Friday November 26, 2021, By Diversity Digest

Not achieving your goal or target may be a failure, but a bigger failure is not trying at all! Leaders have to push the envelope, take strides fearlessly, and take everyone in the team along to scale greater heights. These were some of the thoughts and reflections shared by a panel at the Avtar and Working Mother’s Best Practices of the 100 Best Conference held recently.

The CEO Panel: ‘Driving DEI with a courageous Intent: What Leaders Must Do’ witnessed conversations about courageous decisions driving Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion efforts in the organization.

The panel moderated by Dr. Saundarya Rajesh, Founder-President, Avtar, had Bruce Starnes, SVP & President, Target in India, Vani Manja, Country Managing Director, Boehringer Ingelheim India Pvt. Ltd., and Deepak Iyer, President, Mondelez India Foods Pvt. Ltd. talking about ushering in attitudinal and behavioral changes in the organizations

Bruce spoke about his experience when he was taking over the business of Target registries where 80 % of the customers are women— brides-to-be and expectant mothers—to turn it around. He realized that men, technologists, merchandisers, and marketers, were never going to understand the needs of this large customer base. “I got the leadership team together and actively looked to find new roles for some of them within Target to get a better mix of women in the team. The end goal was giving a better business,” he said. He recalled that there was concern them among all about the change, but the ability to help the team along, address their fears, and give them confidence is important for a leader.

Setting up a unit with over 50% women operating it is no child’s play. And more so when these are all first-time employees. A double challenge? Of course, but it was worth all the risk, reckons Iyer. “Today, the plant in Sri City, Andhra, is the best-running factory and in its fifth year of operations. There was a time when it was difficult to address the families of the women who were hired,” he noted.

Iyer added that the company has to make efforts to mirror society and customers. It is important for Mondelez because a good number of cocoa farmers are women. “We reversed the genders in the Cadbury ad, a spin-off from one our most popular ads in the 90s because we wanted to celebrate women,” he added.

Vani spoke about her approach to leadership and how it has shaped to involve empathy and vulnerability. “Being fearless is all about experiencing psychological safety for employees at all levels. To lead fearlessly, leaders also have to assume servant leadership at times.  Organizations need to be fearless to test and experiment with new ways and to learn from them to create diversity. As a female leader, interpretations have different nuances, I have evolved my leadership style, involving empathy, vulnerability, and I have to adjust my leadership approach to know the needs across. It is about being inclusive and listening,” she said.

The panelists noted that diversity is not easy to achieve, but it is measurable. Equity can be in place through programs, but inclusion is hard to measure. Middle management connects grassroots and top, and buying in one level lower than the CXO is imperative to drive initiatives.

They agreed that the middle-out approach must meet the top-down and bottom-up approaches for effective cultural transformation.

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Diversity Digest
Diversity Digest
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