Since 2017, Diversey has partnered with the LEAD Network, an organization whose primary focus is on promoting gender equality through networking, mentorship programs, and sharing best practices. The Diversey LEAD Partnership is part of the EMEA Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DE&I) strategy and is one of the focus areas.
For the last five years, Lilian Wassen has been the LEAD ambassador for Diversey, pioneering within our organization to create more sustainable value by promoting gender equity where both men and women are enabled to contribute their full potential. Promoting gender equity is also fully supported by Sinéad Kwant, who has recently renewed the Silver partnership with LEAD and is now a key element of the overall Diversey DE&I strategy.
We wanted to know how Lilian and Sinéad experienced this transformation to a more diverse, equal, and inclusive culture and how they dealt with setbacks and work-life balance in their own lives.
From left to right: Sinéad Kwant and Lilian Wassen
"Gender equity is high on the agenda within Diversey. Can you tell us about the journey of Diversey towards an inclusive company culture?"
"Today, we have a global diversity rate of 29% women and 71% male employees. Our goal is to have global gender diversity to 40% by 2030. These changes will not happen by chance. Achieving a gender-balanced workforce is one of the goals within our Diversey Sustainable strategy. Our vision is to be a beacon for equality, inclusion, and belonging.
We continue taking steps to embed diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) principles into our recruitment, talent development, and company culture to create workplaces where all employees can thrive and reach their full potential. For example, in 2020, we broadened our talent acquisition practices in the U.S. and Europe to include more diverse candidates.
We also continue our sponsorship and partnership with LEAD Network to attract, retain and advance women in the industry through education, leadership, and business development."
"We have made great progress during recent years and continue to strive for greater gender equality across more senior roles and through our DE&I work. In 2017, the % of women in executive positions was 11% for Diversey, now we are at 27%. However, we are not there yet: the average gender parity in the sector is 35%, and as Sinead mentioned, we need to climb up to 40% in the next 7 years. To get there, we need to keep the momentum going.
It is important that we have come to the point where we have built inclusivity into our values and KPIs. LEAD has helped us translate these DE&I values into the workforce by sharing their methodology and framework and helping more people understand the value of a diverse and inclusive society.
And the figures underpin that trend: since 2021 we have almost tripled the number of Diversey members to 345 members, of which 43% are men. This shows that gender balance is not only high on the agenda of women in Diversey but it is also a priority for our male colleagues. In addition, 8 colleagues participated last year in the LEAD mentoring program where they were matched with an external mentee or mentor from companies. Recently, we kicked off an internal mentorship program as a trial project. The goal is to unlock the full potential of young talented women within the company under the guidance and support of an experienced colleague-mentor.
All these initiatives are about building long-term value and advancing inclusion and equity."
"What do you think are the biggest hurdles in this journey? How can we convince the people who still have a blind spot for gender equity and believe it is not really an issue?"
"Perhaps one of the biggest hurdles for many female employees is to establish a work-life balance, especially in the years of pregnancy and early motherhood. That's why we have adopted a Global Maternity & Parental Leave policy. This policy enables each new mother and father in every country of the world a minimum of 18 weeks of paid maternity leave and 8 weeks of parental leave to bond with their new child. Parental leave for fathers is key in closing the gap in gender parity and of course, it's available for (adoptive) parents of all genders.
Convincing people who have a blind spot is a different challenge. I believe education and awareness are essential. We offer a wide range of training on issues such as unconscious bias. We also provide assessment and development programs intending to have leaders who nurture an inclusive mindset."
I believe education and awareness are essential.
"I believe companies that respect human dignity are the ones who will thrive, prosper and last. Building a diverse and inclusive culture isn't just the right thing to do; it's simply good business. A diverse, global workforce – people with different experiences, ways of thinking, racial and ethnic backgrounds, ages and gender – helps us drive innovation and ultimately create better outcomes for our customers and for our company. Within the DE&I team, we consistently bring that message. For example, we create discussion platforms like 'coffee breaks' to illustrate the DE&I purpose by using the right words to express it. These platforms also enable us to actively involve people by making sure they can recognize themselves or their colleagues by sharing stories and having open discussions about the topic."
Building a diverse and inclusive culture isn't just the right thing to do; it's simply good business.
"Can you tell us about the time you struggled with work-life balance? How did you deal with setbacks?"
"I still vividly remember returning to work after my maternity leave and feeling like I simply could not make the whole juggling act work. Meeting all of my work and home commitments was becoming a real strain. Eventually, I admitted to myself, my husband, and then my boss that I needed to rethink things to ensure the juggling act could work for all while striking a better balance for myself. First, with my boss, we made agreements on the days and times I needed to leave the office to be on time for the end of day-care. Once agreed and I remained consistent, this went very smoothly. Next, my husband and I re-deployed chores between us and devised smart ways to be even more efficient. And finally, I agreed on plans with myself about the areas I would simply 'let go' and not beat myself up if these chores were not done in my usual timely manner. I also consciously built-in time for self-care, which made a huge difference to my resilience and peace of mind with my new work-life balance.
I am by no means unique in the above situation, nor do I consider my solutions rocket science. The biggest step for me was having the discussion, being open about my struggle, and asking for help.
It is essential that we, as leaders, leave space for these open discussions and problem solving to take place, for example, for new moms & dads and elderly caregivers. As our life circumstances evolve, so should our coping mechanisms and support requests for an optimal work-life blend.
"For me, the most difficult moment was when I started international travel, being responsible for the Unilever and SCJ business in Europe. I had three small children under five years old. I was really excited about this new career opportunity but also still wanted to control how things were going at home when I was traveling, which obviously was not possible. I could make it work because first of all my partner fully supported this move, and he took full ownership of managing the family when I was away. Secondly, I had to learn to let go; this was not easy for me because I liked to have full control. The moment I realized this was not possible was when I saw coming back from one of the trips that the three piles of clothes I had prepared for the kids had been untouched… my husband let them choose what to wear, and this was his way to tell me to let go."
"What has helped you the most along the way?"
"Great colleagues who trusted, supported, and cared for each other."
"Lean in! I am a big fan of Sheryl Sandberg, the chief operating officer (COO) of Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram. I would recommend every woman to read her book “Lean In” or watch her TED talks."
"And last question: What would you tell your younger self to ease her heart?"
Don't sweat the small stuff. It all comes good in the end.
Let go, enjoy the moment, and worry less about what is out of your control.
About the LEAD network
The mission of the LEAD Network (Leading Executives Diversity) is to attract, retain and advance women in the Consumer Goods and Retail sector in Europe through education, leadership, and business development.