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NBC Takes the Lead in Diversity, Inclusion

<strong>NBC Takes the Lead in Diversity, Inclusion</strong>

Globally, International Women’s Day is on March 8th and the entire month of March are dates set aside to celebrate the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women. For the Nigerian Bottling Company Limited, diversity and inclusion is a deliberate policy supported with massive investment in leadership development for women. EromoseleAbiodun in this report presents the views of 10 leading women at NBC on diversity and inclusion, challenges in male-dominated sectors and other topical career growth issues.

It was October 1945. World War II had just ended. A war weary world  was eager to have peace; so 51 countries came together to write the founding charter of the United Nations, and for the first time in the history of mankind- equal rights  for women were included in the charter and after that was the landmark Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. The following year, in 1949, the UN General Assembly would go on to adopt the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). Often referred to as the “Women’s Bill of Rights”, CEDAW is the most comprehensive international instrument to protect the human rights of women.

International Women’s Day (IWD) and the month of March are set aside annually to focus on the women’s rights movement, bringing attention to issues such as gender equality, reproductive rights, violence and abuse against women. Spurred on by the universal female suffrage movement that had begun in New Zealand, IWD itself originated from labour movements in North America and Europe during the early 20th century. Things have since changed as many organisations are now embracing diversity in the workplace. By implementing this policy, companies are now becoming more inclusive places for people of varying gender, ages, religion, race, ethnicity, cultural background, sexual orientation, languages, education, abilities, etc. Consequently, creating a more accepting culture has a strong positive effect on individuals and connects everyone. Its importance has never been as prominent as today. Building such a culture is something that most companies strive to achieve now.

Diversity in the workplace ensures a variety of different perspectives. Since it means that employees will have unique characteristics and backgrounds, they are also more likely to have a variety of different skills and experiences. According to a Pew Research Center report on what makes a good leader, characteristics such as honesty, intelligence, compassion, and innovation rank quite high on the rating scale. When comparing these traits between men and women, women scored higher in most of these categories.

NBC takes the lead

In Nigeria, only a few organisations have embraced this noble idea. With many women in top management positions, the Nigerian Bottling Company (NBC) becomes a reference point in diversity and inclusion. Over the years, NBC has shown its commitment and intentionality in supporting the inclusion of talented women in leadership. For several years, NBC has invested in a total framework that seeks, attracts, retains and promotes women in the workplace. Its hiring process looks out for women who have the competence to deliver on the job; while a strong developmental programme like the Women in Leadership Program prepares women for active participation in leadership roles. As part of efforts to sustain the crusade for inclusion, some women in top management positions at NBC spoke to THISDAY in separate interviews, with each of them speaking about their experience and the role NBC has played in advancing their career.

Speaking on NBC and the Coca-Cola Hellenic Group’s commitment to 50:50 gender parity by 2025 among managers, People and Culture Director Juliana Esezobor, said, “Coca-Cola Hellenic Group has committed to driving diversity, equity, and inclusion in our businesses. We have deliberately put together systems, processes, and practices to drive our 50:50 gender parity across tiers in our business. However, for us, diversity is beyond our gender ratios. It is about creating an environment for equal opportunities. What do we mean by this? Equal opportunities to learn, grow, have diversely rich thoughts and perspectives, be daring, stand out, break new ground, etc. It is pertinent to note that we operate in a sector that is typically perceived to be male-dominated. As a business, our aim continues to be about changing the narrative and creating a solid platform and ecosystem for our female colleagues to thrive and succeed. And we have had several success stories and trail-blazing women across our group at large and in Nigeria.”

She added, “For example, we have several executives at our group level being women and over 40% of Senior executive roles are held by women in Nigeria. We have adopted a multi-tiered approach to driving this agenda. This includes, but is not limited to:

●          Reinforcing our DEI vision as a business across the organization and supporting our leadership team to own and drive the diversity mandate.

●          Building capacity in our leaders to manage a diverse workforce, adopting a systematic yet balanced view to sourcing talents – we look out for exceptional women who are passionate not just to succeed but to mentor, and enable the growth of other women.

●          Our Women in NBC Network (WINN), an avenue to engage, connect and enrich our ladies and a safe place to discuss issues that pertain to our growth and development. This network is also a rich source of information to enable the business continually focus on what is important for our ladies. This network also serves as a veritable avenue for driving insights and co-create solutions relevant to the needs of our female colleagues.

●          Constant measurement of our DEI progress and reflection on how we are faring, as well as steps to sustain our trajectory.

●          We have adopted policies that are gender friendly, entrenching our deep value for family and the needs of women at various stages of life, family, and career.”

On her part, Legal Director, NBC, Abiodun Peters spoke on her encounters with individuals who feel that her role should be held by a man. She said, “Over the years, the legal profession in Nigeria has evolved from the historical perspective of ‘a male-dominated profession’, with many distinguished female lawyers making an impact in diverse practice areas and delivering outstanding performance in corporate legal practice and the Judiciary. My philosophy is that leadership is not a function of gender, but one driven by competence, passion, empathy, and the ability to make a positive impact in any endeavour. I always embrace challenges and don’t see the bias but focus on showing up strong every day, ensuring that I don’t maintain a seat at the table’ but ‘bring value to the table and contribute to the bottom line’.

“I have enjoyed my legal career with Coca-Cola Hellenic, having benefited from a strong network of women who support, motivate and encourage one another. I am also inspired by the Company’s commitment towards investing in women across the board and without bias – women in the business, women across our value chain (customers) and women in the communities where we operate. In celebrating the 2023 International Women’s Day, my message to women would be to leverage innovation and technology to drive gender equality within their area of influence. Technology is a powerful tool that transcends borders. Let us put aside limiting beliefs and leverage resources to connect, empower and support other women.”

On how other organisations can emulate NBC, Trade Marketing Director, Oluyomi Moses stated, “NBC is deeply committed and very intentional in supporting the inclusion of talented women in leadership. For several years, the business has invested in a total framework that seeks, attracts, retains, and promotes women in the workplace: our hiring process looks out for women who have the competence to deliver on the job; strong developmental programmes like the Women in Leadership Program prepare women for active participation in leadership roles; and inclusive policies support our women to aspire and challenge for the zenith of their career. NBC is a unique organization that allows you to fully express your talent; you determine how far you want to go. It has been an amazing and fulfilling journey to be a part of the ecosystem that refreshes our people with quality beverages 24/7 as they go about fulfilling their daily aspirations.”

Procurement Director, OmobonikeOketunji, relates how NBC has supported her to maintain strong professional relationships with male suppliers. According to her, “In line with our core CCH values, conducting our business with a high level of professionalism is gender neutral. I extend the same trust to our supplier base, who are part of our ecosystem. Gender or race does not reflect any barriers. I have worked on managing supplier relationships on a gender-neutral basis. NBC, through strong processes, policies and structures, has provided an enabling environment for professionalism in both Staff and Supplier engagement. For example, the mandatory NBC Supplier Guiding Principles well articulate our values regarding gender and professional conduct. This and other communication channels affirm NBC’s commitment to supporting all female employees, myself included. Bottom line is, I have never felt differently or treated differently by suppliers because I am a woman and NBC is very vocal about our expected level of professionalism from our suppliers.”

Head of Supply Chain Academy, MisanIlesanmi, narrated her experience as head of a co-educational academy, championing equal opportunities for young women, and nurturing young talents, especially women in the Supply Chain industry that is typically dominated by men.

“I lead an Academy that provides training and capability development for our Supply chain function. Our focus is on developing skills in production, engineering, quality, logistics, planning, projects, and the Academy. As a woman in a male-dominated industry, I understand the importance of championing equal opportunities for young women who aspire to have a career in Supply Chain because of my experience. Over the years, I have had a series of engagements with both men and women in the Organization. However, the nature of my role automatically makes me a career go-to person for all employees in the function. In the industry, we have operational roles perceived as solely for men. These vacancies were filled almost 100% with men a few years ago. I have made a conscious effort to alter these perceptions because I am aware of the bias. We do this through a conscious selection process. We ask interview questions with open-mindedness and emphasize the freedom for people to act on their roles with their unique values. This deliberate effort has projected a lot of women into the limelight – So we now have more women in leadership positions than we did some 2 years ago. Being a certified Coach and Mentor, I leverage my expertise to help young talents develop the skills and confidence needed to succeed in the Supply Chain industry.”

“I understand that building a successful career in the supply chain requires a combination of technical skills, leadership skills and the ability to navigate complex Supply chain networks effectively. With 14+ years in the industry, I have seen unique challenges faced by women. Women are not recognized for work done, which leads to discouragement. Women are not promoted because of the perception that they are not mobile – most times they are not even asked. Young women are not recruited because they will get pregnant soon and go on maternity leave etc. I have ensured women who are deserving of being promoted got to their deserved positions. I have created an inclusive and supportive environment that promotes gender equality and diversity. I have initiated programs that help our male colleagues understand us better, and built a strong women’s network with a focused approach to supporting women to achieve success in their roles. This has resulted in better work relationships positively impacting our business results.”

IjeomaOnumajuruwas recently appointed Regional Sales Director, North Central. She spoke on how she intends to lead her team effectively and what structure NBC has in place to help her deliver: “I must say that I am proud of myself and the progression of my career. The journey has not been easy as a woman, having to prove yourself, your competence and capacity, showing that you are capable and reliable to deliver on the organization’s expectations. I joined NBC as a graduate trainee. The organization is intentional in supporting employees to unleash their potential through technical and leadership capacity and capability development programs. I have been empowered through such programmes and other leadership empowerment programmes specifically designed for women to build confidence and excel in a male-dominated space. Sale is a tough job and as a team leader of smaller sales teams in my early days, one strategy that worked for me was to focus on “PEOPLE”. As a Regional Sales Director, I will continue to focus on people, to empower and support every member of my team to achieve their career aspirations. The end game is to build a high-performing, empowered, and engaged team to support business growth. NBC has a structured and robust 18-month onboarding programme aiming to empower Regional Sales Directors new in their role to become the Field Sales Leaders of tomorrow, drive exceptional performance and customer satisfaction through their teams.”

Regional Sales Director, MorenikeOgungbemitold us about her role and how she handled societal perception of being a leader in a male-dominated field and a traditionally conservative region.

“My role as a Regional Sales Director in CCHBC includes developing my people and accelerating their capabilities, enabling them with required tools to execute aligned sales strategies, tactics and action plans in line with current and emerging trends. In the last few years, female leadership and female representation in top management positions received increasing attention. 

“From my experience, I have realized women in leadership face a lot of challenges based on biases and pervasive stereotypes. In male-dominated industries the stereotypes are sometimes not deliberately reinforced but they exist. The stereotype is that males are superior, more intelligent and have more energy for the job than women. Just Like IndraNooyi, I count myself lucky enough to have grown up in a very progressive family raised by a very courageous and intelligent dad who wanted women to study, work, challenge, make an impact and soar. This I must confess has stayed with me into adulthood as I found it already ingrained in me that at any point where I have an opinion to share even in a room full of males and I am the only female, I am comfortable to articulate and lend my voice contributing value.”

Manufacturing is mostly male-dominated, Manufacturing Manager, East, Central, and West, Irene Ugwoke, explains how she has been able to navigate the terrain working in such an environment.

According to her, “The first thing for me was adopting the mindset of not expecting or courting any favours in the workplace on account of being a female. This meritorious mindset was driven by the consciousness that in school, the curriculum, delivery method, learning condition, or grading for both males and females are the same. There was no gender disparity in the school system. Therefore, the workplace shouldn’t and wouldn’t be any different. Expecting any difference would be disingenuous. The important thing is to add value to the business and the team. With the obvious bias of such an environment, I had to work harder than normal to be reckoned with and to gain respect within the team. I developed a strong work ethic and showed competence and I eagerly welcomed any given assignments and often proactively sought out assignments outside my scope as personal development strategies. I also looked forward to supporting different team members whose roles interface with my role and sought their support to help me navigate through the assignment (even when I know I got it covered) to build trust and bond with the team. Similarly, I always support team members on their given assignment– this is both developmental for me and endears me to the team and further builds trust. It didn’t take too long, team members began to recommend me to relieve them since I already understood to a great extent, the basics of their roles. Indeed, this gave me a deeper and more general insight into the various aspects of the business.

“There is the male ego to manage especially when leading the team as a female. I needed to be assertive and communicate effectively. For instance, during certain critical decision-making processes, I realized that going ‘head-to-head’ is not the best approach for team cohesion, so I devised an approach wherein I position a business need as a suggestion and lead the conversation to a point where the male team members would make the decision that is required without them realizing that the conversations were engineered to make them take the right decision. Adopting emotional intelligence during conversations and in building relationships plays a critical role to manage the male ego. Overall, it has been challenging and refreshing at the same time, especially with a fantastic home support system. The encouragement from my partner has afforded me the shoulder to cry on and a safe space to vent out frustrations. Knowing that the demand of women off work is a full-time job in itself, I must say that I have been truly blessed with an amazing family support system.”

Regional Sales Director – Lagos Central, TolulopeAgosun, who advised other organizations to follow the lead of NBC in handing key roles to women, stated, “Every Organization should create an environment where Women have access to the same opportunities and resources as Men and are supported in achieving their full potential. Women’s workforce is increasing globally due to different socioeconomic changes such as an increase in women’s education, the impact of globalization etc. Women now make up 23% of CEOs in the USA alone. The number of female managers is rising. Having female leaders in positions of influence in an organization is not only critical to the career advancement of women but stands to generate broader societal impacts on pay equity and attracting a more diverse workforce. Furthermore, it has been seen that women are more effective at negotiating and making deals, even when the stakes are high. They can achieve agreements and make deals where men fall short, but first, they must be given leadership and authoritative positions.

Transformation requires getting people to do what they are sometimes reluctant to do, and Mariam Oginni – Transformation Lead was recently appointed to drive this. She spoke about the challenges she envisages and how NBC would support her to handle this role.

“Indeed, a lot of people get tensed at the mention of the word transformation especially when they find out that a woman will be driving the change. The fact remains that the only way to stay relevant and ahead in any aspect of life is through continuous improvement in how we go about our duties and lives daily, and that is what transformation is all about. In today’s world, you either ‘innovate or die’. NBC is a company that has over time developed a culture of leading change in the beverage industry and its employees are for the most part conversant with the continuous improvements of its processes and systems.

“As such, the typical reaction to any proposed change is mostly curiosity, questions, and constructive feedback versus intentional resistance. For others, the reaction would be fear of loss, misunderstanding, and misalignment. All these have been considered and will be managed by ensuring consistent two-way communication with stakeholders across layers and value chain; close collaboration with the GM and function heads in coordinating and driving the implementation of our initiatives. NBC is supporting this bit by setting the right tone from the top and equipping me with the relevant change and project management tools and training to actualise set goals.”

The Nigerian Bottling Company is truly walking the talk in developing its women to reach their full potential. Diversity and inclusion is an imperative and the beverage giant is taking giant strides in this direction.

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