How cultures are the foundation to successful international DEI initiatives with Shantel Canty and Sophie Standke

18th Oct 2021

Shantel Canty and Sophie Standke share thoughts on DEI initiatives at Alcon and Beam Suntory and how cultures are the key to their success

On October 6th 2021, as part of LEAD Network’s annual conference around DEI and gender equality, Creative Culture’s CEO, Mélanie Chevalier, organised a session and interviewed Shantel Canty, Global Marketing Director and D&I Champion at Alcon, and Sophie Standke, International Diversity & Inclusion Lead at Beam Suntory, on how cultural diversity and understanding are the pillar to successful DEI strategies and initiatives internationally.

Creative Culture: Hi everyone, and welcome to the Creative Culture Podcast interview series. Today we’re delighted to have our CEO, Melanie Chevalier interact with Shantel Canty, Global Marketing Director and D&I champion at Alcon, and Sophie Standke, International Diversity and Inclusion Lead at Beam Suntory.

This session was originally hosted by the Lead Network as part of their annual conference around gender equality and D&I. As part of this event, our panel focuses on why cultural intelligence is key to developing successful D&I strategies and initiatives internationally.

Melanie: Hi everyone and welcome to our room. Thank you very much for being here. I’d like to introduce to begin with Sophie Standke is International Diversity and Inclusion lead at Beam Suntory and she’s joining us from Madrid in Spain today. And she will be sharing her experience handling diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives within the organization so internal stakeholders at a global level.

And we have also with us Shantel Canty. And Shantel is Global Marketing Director and Brand Foundation Tools at Alcon and she’s joining us from Dallas Fort in the US. And she will share experience handling D&I with external stakeholders.

So within external comms and the various sort of partners that they work with. And I’m Melanie and I’m the CEO of Creative Culture. So just a brief introduction because obviously we were introduced as Creative Culture and I have to explain our speakers today. So why are we here today?

We wanted as a group to be able to bring to the fore why cultural intelligence and sensitivity matters more than ever today, especially when you’re looking at driving successful international strategies with D&I. So to kick off the presentation, I wanted to quickly share a video, hoping that we do not have any more technical issues here. And we’ll lead on to the section afterwards with Sophie and Shantel in a minute.

I’ll start the session with Sophie. Sophie, welcome and could you please tell us a bit more about yourself and your role at Beam Suntory and perhaps some of the key initiatives you’ve been driving to date, particularly around gender.

Sophie: Of course, it’s great to be here, hello everybody. So in my role at Beam Suntory, I’m leading the international diversity and inclusion efforts. And that means I work with business leaders, local HR teams and allies, really across a wide range of markets, including Europe, to really ensure we progress our D&I journey from awareness to really driving meaningful change in behaviours, people processes and then business decision making.

So around the world, we know women are 50% of the population, so we really aspire to achieve gender balance across all levels of the organization to really reflect the consumers that we serve. And in fact, one of our specific D&I commitments is to achieve gender balance in leadership. That’s why we’re here and provide equal access to career opportunities for our emerging female leaders. And in fact, we have been very intentional about the way we go about this. So we have built action plans that are based on concrete data. And what does it mean?

We basically started with a very robust gender data assessment and targeted listening groups to really understand the barriers that women face, we reviewed promotion and retention rates, as well as performance and talent ratings across all of our employees. And in fact, there we found that men are twice as likely to be promoted into leadership positions than women, despite women being consistently rated at higher performers than men.

So as a result, we’ve launched a range of initiatives and one of them is the launch of our Women and Leadership programme, which is sponsored by our international leadership team and which is really designed to unlock access to development and career opportunities, to provide exposure and visibility to our senior leaders, including mentoring and coaching, as well as really fostering those internal networking opportunities.

And luckily, we have received some really positive feedback from our women talent and wider business so far, and have already seen an improvement in promotion rates, an increase in engagement and an increase in enablement just one year since the programme started. So really tracking for impact is super important. Another thing that we’re doing is we review our hiring and promotion rates by gender every quarter.

And that again, is really important because it allows us to review and fill our strategically important vacancies before we make those critical decisions and to really take into consideration balance slates instead of looking at past data when we don’t have an opportunity to inject anymore.

And then finally, we also really believe in the accountability and ownership of our senior leaders. And hence why we have asked every leader to add one inclusion goal and one gender goal into their annual performance plan. And that is really you know we know this, what gets measured, gets done. So, Melanie, back to you.

Melanie: Thank you very much Sophie. It’s really interesting, I like the idea of the measurements and the objectives. And looking at some more data in your industry a survey showed that in the UK, in the drinks industry, women represented 43% of the workforce. But when you look at the split 25% for entry level, 4% senior management at 11% board level, that goes back to one of the sessions that were happening before.

And I think there’s a lot of work to be done at mid-level, mid-management level, because this is where we lose the women and the organizations. Shantel on to you, your experience is slightly different, as in your working in global marketing and brand for Alcon. Can you tell us a bit more about your experience with D&I and gender inclusion in particular? And as I was mentioning, looking at external partners, how do you manage them and their expectations?

Shantel: Absolutely. So I’ve been at Alcon for ten years and as Melanie said, I’m based in Texas, so you can imagine it’s a good old boy network. There’s a lot of white males and there’s not very many women or people of colour in leadership positions. And identifying as a woman of colour my parents were from the Caribbean, so I’m Afro Latina and I’m also first generation American.

So there’s a lot of cultural differences that I have, even just if you think about some of my black peers, but certainly compared to leadership within Alcon, which is, again, mostly very male dominated. What I would say is, over the ten years that I’ve been there, I’ve seen Alcon evolve in there thinking about D&I.

We actually have somebody for the last couple of years who’s been responsible for diversity and inclusion. We have a new diversity and inclusion head and she just did an assessment of Alcon in terms of where we are and I think it’s a recognition of like, look, we’re not where we want to be, we’ve got some work to do, but let’s fix what we can fix let’s keep moving forward. And so I feel very helpful about the fact that we’re doing that.

So I’ve been partnering with our head of D&I on a project that I’m working with in marketing, which is how do we get our marketers to think about diversity and inclusion? Right? We’re a global company, a global eye care company, and we market to all different kinds of people. And I work in our global organization so it’s important that we’re being representative of different races, genders, ethnicities and abilities. So we want to make sure that we are doing that in an authentic way.

And so I’m leading this charge and actually next month we’re going to train the marketers over a two day period to understand how to do this authentically, how to have conversations in case there are some difficult conversations that come up related to talent. I will share with you as I’ve been doing this research, I did find out as we were talking to agencies, there was an ad that we were recently doing and there were questions about this black woman’s skin colour.

Can we lighten it? Can we straighten her hair? What can we do to make this person, I guess, blend in, so to speak? And I have some concerns about that as a black woman.

And I think that there’s some education that we need to have. How do we get people to stand up in those meetings? How do we get them to have those difficult conversations? And it really was our advertising agency that came to us to say, look, we’ve been in some meetings and we’ve heard some things that made us feel uncomfortable.

So it opens the dialogue and we’re kind of taking the reins and saying, look, this is an opportunity for us to have a teaching moment with our marketing organization and let them know that it’s not okay to do those sorts of things. And how can we move forward and market brilliantly as an eyecare company?

Melanie: Thanks, Shantel. I really like the idea of the learning process and the engagement going both ways and filters through the supply chain effectively and they filter it back to you. In our case, we are a women owned business and we’re certified by We Connect International. Some of you may know of them and we have the opportunity to exchange with many procurement champions within organizations who now have a role of promoting diverse suppliers.

What this brings to the organization, what is the benefit of communicating it within the organization? And as a tier two supplier, we also look at how we can filter that through our supply chain and with our own suppliers. And at the moment, we have 64 females within our database, 64% service. So it’s really just looking at how everyone can help each other, I think within the process.

Looking at the cross cultural elements specifically, and in line with the video we’ve just seen, Sophie, how does it work being in a east meets west organization, being Suntory, obviously being born from the merger of a Japanese and an American company, how does that influence the way you manage D&I on a day to day basis? And are there challenges or best practises you’d like to share?

Sophie: Yeah, of course. I think, first of all, for being Suntory is linked to a bigger purpose, which is our global sustainability strategy and hence why it’s a central part of our business objectives, right? And our global D&I vision and our key strategic pillars and we have them in place, but we have also adapted our action plans to cater for local challenges and opportunities so we can really build on the various geographies. We operate in five continents and they all have different needs, obviously.

So there is flexibility in our approach and we really believe in centring the execution of D&I in the country to really, as I said, solve for the local needs and work around potential barriers there. So tailoring the action plan, I suppose is important because it’s all about making it relevant regionally.

It’s about enabling regional ownership and making the regions or the markets or the countries and ask themselves, okay, so what is role D&I plays for me in this specific area?

And as I said, we have designed our global vision and strategy bottom up, which actually worked very well because we’ve worked in collaboration with our markets, with our Suntory businesses, and have really been able to bring in and embed the local insights and learnings.

But at the same time, this allowed us top down alignment and really clarity of expectations from the very beginning. And I think again, really allowing for this regional progress, allowing for regional success and taking those regional opportunities into consideration, going back to the D&I maturity journey every market is on and everybody, every market is on a slightly different journey. So really this adaptation piece is very important.

Now, Melanie, as you said, I’d also love to quickly touch on the challenges. Obviously, as I said, we operate across five continents, so there are challenges, there’s a lot of cultural richness and communication can be especially challenging, to be honest. And here, this really starts with language.

And I don’t know if this resonates with anybody else, but English obviously tends to be the main language in many global businesses, in our business, in many global businesses around the world.

And in fact, if you look at the executive leadership team there and they’re predominantly native English speakers right. So we try to offer, first of all, training and events in different languages. We’re also currently looking at transcribing and key events into life, so to speak. The second piece is really around communication styles.

So communication styles really vary a lot based on country. And that means different cultures have different preferences in the way they communicate, right? And at Beam Suntory, we were very well aware of this. And again, we try to put training in place and that focus on the successful collaboration and across cultures. It’s not perfect, it’s like an ongoing conversation, it’s an ongoing awareness journey.

But, the idea is really to better understand those nuances of working and managing across cultural and teams and really navigating all of those complexities that you have in our global environment.

So sensitizing, specifically our leaders around leading with cultural competency continues to be a priority for our business, obviously, because we’re very proud of the culture originals that we have. But obviously it doesn’t come without challenges. That’s what I have to say.

Melanie: Yeah, that makes sense. I like the cultural nuance element. Obviously, we’ve seen the stats and someone’s raised this in the video. There are staggering stats out there like 104 countries still legally restrict women from working in certain industries around the world. 18 countries where men or husbands have rights over their wives in terms of if they should or could be working.

But also really like the language elements, because obviously we don’t always think of this and English has been established, obviously, as a corporate language in most organizations, but that in itself is putting many at a disadvantage or perhaps making them lose their sense of belonging within the organization.

Shantel talking about bridges and connections and on the topic of marketing that you know, well, of course, could you share a few examples of how you see or ideas of how you see successful bridges being built between D&I and marcomms and how that should work?

Shantel: Yeah. Melanie, I think building bridges is critical. It’s really important. I mentioned that we have a new head of D&I I believe she started a little less than a year ago. So, when she came in, she’s trying to sus well, what is Alcon’s D&I strategy? Where are we today?

So that work was kind of going on while I was also tasked with doing this marketing training around diversity inclusion and how do we build strong brands so that we have more consideration of people around the world thinking about our brand.

So we were kind of doing this in parallel. So it’s really important and for me, as many of you know, working on D&I, sometimes can feel like you’re boiling the ocean. There’s so many different facets of things you could do and I had to stay in my lane of marketing.

So what can I do as a marketer to help the marketers understand the importance of D&I? So, very early, Kristen, who is the D&I, was the person that I reached out to. So as she was doing her assessment, understanding what her vision and mission for alcohol was, what her three year strategy was kind of where we are and where we want to go.

So that when we talk to the marketing organization, which is going to be over like 900 people in November, right. The strategy for marketing is tied to the overall strategy of D&I for Alcon so we are in lockstep with each other. Kristen has been involved in the key milestones in terms of how we’re partnering to roll out this training. And we’ve been very purposeful that this is a marketing training with a D&I angle. It’s not D&I training for marketers.

There’s other programmes we have where we can get D&I training, but this really is specifically about addressing, hey, we’re spending millions of dollars globally, we’re launching new products and these sorts of things. We need to have people that are representative, we can’t just have white people in all of our ads, we need to be a little bit more inclusive.

And so building the bridge with Kristen and making sure that we’re both aligned on what she wants to do from a D&I perspective and what we want to do for marketing will only make the programme more successful. And so, her partnership has been valuable to us.

Melanie: Thank you. I’m aware we’re running out of time, so I will wrap up so we don’t get cut through halfway, hopefully. But thank you both, it’s been really interesting as a session. Thanks for sharing your insights. Lovely to work with both of you and have collaborated on this one.

And I guess I’ll leave you with another bit of data, but a study from McKinsey in 2017 raised the fact that cultural and ethnic diversity accounts for 33% likelihood of outperforming the EBIT margin. So I think it’s another proof that diversity really is a business enabler and we’re all here to fight for that.

Creative Culture: We hope you enjoyed the conversation and hopefully learned a lot about various D&I initiatives and especially how global brands can contribute and make an impact. If you’d like to hear more, you can find all our podcast episodes on our website, under our website section or across all main podcast channels. Make culture work for you.

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