Yolanda Talamo is a firm believer in the power of metrics to guide decision-making. Since taking over as Chief People Officer at Heineken in January 2021, she has set out concrete targets to make the company more diverse in terms of gender and nationality.
“I have learned that If we don’t set a metric or ambition to really track progress, we won’t see the needle move,” she told Alyson Meister, Professor of Leadership and Organizational Behavior at IMD.
Heineken has put hard numbers behind its ambitions. Included in its 2030 Brew a Better World program, launched in 2021, is a target to increase the number of women in senior management positions to 30% by 2025 and 40% by 2030. Last year, women held 25% of senior management roles.
Training will play a key role in achieving this goal. The company, which was founded in Amsterdam in 1864, has developed programs for women with a long runway ahead of them.
“We believe that if we can provide these women with a set of skills, build their capability, build their confidence, expose them to a program that has a balance between business content but also leadership development, they should be able to thrive,” she says.
If one aspect is training and development, another is making sure enough talent is available. To this end, Heineken has mandated that 50% of candidates for a specific role have to be women. “Then from the start, you are giving equal opportunity to choose the best person,” explains Talamo.
On top of these measures, Heineken is also committed to equal pay for equal work and is taking action to plug any differences by 2023 at the latest. To make sure progress is achieved, social sustainability is reflected in the long-term incentives and rewards of the executive board.
Cultural diversity as a key ingredient
A Venezuelan national who held a number of senior HR positions at consumer goods group Procter & Gamble and at brewer SABMiller before joining Heineken in 2016, Talamo is also taking action to promote cultural diversity.
This includes an ambition to have 65% of management teams within each region made up of regional nationals to create role models for local hires. “By this, we balance the number of experts and international talents that we bring, and we focus much more on developing the local talents that we have within the region,” she explains.
There is no one-size fits all approach. For Europe, where 97% of its employees, are from the region, Heineken is looking to bring in staff from other parts of the world to ensure diversity of viewpoints and perspectives. “But if I look at the other three regions where we play, we have to bring much more of our regional nationals into leadership positions, and this has pretty much repositioned the way we look at succession planning, talent management,” she says.
Talamo stresses that diversity is just one part of the equation. She quotes American activist Vernā Myers, who said: “Diversity is being invited to the party, but inclusion is being invited dance.” So how are they focusing on inclusion at Heineken? The first step, says Talamo, is to view it as a journey. “It may be a bumpy one, but it will also be a joyful one.”
The foundation of the brewer’s strategy is a series of beliefs around diversity and inclusion. One of the most important is centered on courageous leadership and admitting that you may not know the right answers but are trying to learn.
“Without the involvement and the direct participation in the leadership level in the company we would not be able to move this agenda forward. You have to explain it, you have to sustain it; you need to make sure that you become either an ally or an open and visible supporter. And without that level of participation and involvement from our leaders, it’s simply not going to happen,” she says.
Listening rather than imposing
With employees globally burning out and quitting their jobs in a phenomenon that has become known as The Great Resignation, there has never been a more important time for HR departments to reflect on culture and purpose.
Just as she uses metrics to set ambitions around diversity, Talamo is a big believer in data to better understand worker wellbeing. Heineken tracks numbers around turnover and attrition by function, level, country, company tenure and age. The company also conducts an annual climate survey and three additional pulse surveys per year where they measure stress levels.
With prospective employees increasingly demanding more flexibility in terms of where, when and how they work, Talamo believes its important for firms to try to meet them in the middle. Heineken has launched a ‘HeiLife’ wellbeing initiative – a platform that allows workers in the more than 80 countries in which it operates to share successful approaches on work-life balance.
While hybrid work has been praised for bringing more flexibility into our schedules, different research has found that staff who work from home are spending longer at their desks than before the pandemic. To address the work-life imbalance, Heineken – whose purpose is “we brew the joy of togetherness to inspire a better world” – designed a blue tooth-enabled bottle opener, dubbed ‘The Closer’, that puts nearby laptops into sleep mode when you open a bottle of beer. Talamo says the bottle opener is more than just a gimmick and designed to spark conversations around how we can identify practical solutions to resist the pressure to work all the time.
When it comes to helping their own 80,000 employees juggle the demands of hybrid work, Talamo sees it “as a game of trial and error.” Unlike many banks and tech firms that have mandated a set number of days in the office, Talamo is reluctant to impose strict guidelines.
“We are not telling our operations what to do. All we’re saying is, let’s try to seek the balance that makes more sense for you in the context of your country,” she says.