Sorin Banulescu, People Director, HEINEKEN Romania: Diversity won’t stick without inclusion

“I will never get tired of saying that we need the right environment first if we really want to be successful in this journey.” 

Could you share with us some key milestones in the D&I journey of HEINEKEN Romania?

The first and most important milestone I would say it was to fully acknowledge, understand and embrace the need to be a more inclusive and diverse organization. All the research and the conversations we’ve had within the management team helped us to start understanding (as it is a continuous journey) how we stand as an organization and where should we put our effort in.

For us, HEINEKEN, I&D is also an important topic of our newly launched Sustainability & Responsibility global strategy, Brew a Better World. Raise the Bar 2030”. One of the 3 pillars of the strategy is Social sustainability, which sets our ambitions when it comes to our impact within our communities, our path to a fair & safe workplace, and diversity. Thus, HEINEKEN’s 2030 commitments raise the company’s social sustainability ambitions, including the focus on embracing inclusion and diversity.

This set the stage for developing our strategy and I&D journey that is focused on multiple pillars. It was a new milestone, one that gave us a new boost of engagement as after all the conversations and data analyzed we were now moving to the implementation phase.

Another important step in our journey was to start creating awareness and engagement within our organization and supporting our colleagues to understand what I&D is and why is so important for us. It’s not an easy process but we celebrate every new project or challenge that we tackle, it’s like a new peak that we are conquering which brings great satisfactions.

What aspects of diversity management have the highest priority in your company?

There are multiple aspects that have a high priority now in our company. Equal rights has always been at the core of our organization, as part of our human rights policy, but we are now making more conscious efforts in providing equal opportunities to our employees, and overseeing our performance management system to see where can we do better. Together with that, we have a higher focus on our talent pool, balanced shortlists in terms of gender, especially for those positions where we have a high number of man candidates and employees, and also a more thorough approach to our succession planning.

Another important priority is “reonboarding” our colleagues who are returning from maternity/paternity leave, both man and women. Coming back to a full time job after being away for two years is not an easy process and the reintegration might raise some challenges and emotions, so we trying our best to find the right way to do it.

But everything I’ve mentioned above won’t be successful if we don’t create a safe and trusted environment, which means more inclusive leaders, adequate people policies that will support our employees and the right opportunities build for them to contribute to our business success.

Which D&I activities have been implemented in your organization so far?

We are deploying multiple projects simultaneously that tackle all the areas that we feel are important in building a more inclusive and diverse organization. We are building inclusive capabilities in our leadership team and People Managers, reviewing and adapting our People Policies with focus on smart and flexible working, and taking a more active approach on the wellbeing of our employees. We placed great care on our communication and engagement campaigns to raise awareness on what I&D means for us as a company and for our organizational culture and help our employees understand and embrace it.

In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by the sector in creating a diverse and inclusive workforce?

I think that one of the biggest challenges that we face is actually realizing what I&D is and why it’s so important. In Romania we are just starting this journey and there is a lot of work to be done in understanding better our national context, our cultural challenges, and mentalities. It will be a great effort to deconstruct biases and misunderstandings associated with the terminology and really embracing its true meaning and value.

It implies a shift in how we perceive the management of I&D in our organizations also, in realizing that is everyone’s responsibility and not another HR project. It impacts and brings benefits to all employees and the entire organization and for this to be successful, we all need to do our part.

What business benefits do you see as a result of increasing D&I?

There are benefits that we will see on a shorter term and others that will take time and patience, together with constant reinforcement and effort to see the results.

We experience a more positive and pleasant work environment due to the adapted people policies, wellbeing programs, internal communication campaigns, and other actions that we took within our organization, and this constant endeavor reflects in higher engagement scores.

We are true believers that soon it will also be reflected in our performance and innovation indicators. This takes more time as we still need to build the inclusive leadership capabilities and mindset that will foster the right environment, while being more aware of our biases and the impact that they have on our behaviour and decision making. Innovation and higher performance means being more comfortable with accepting the diversity of people and ideas and feeling safe to have difficult and challenging conversations.

Can you name three diversity challenges that companies have to pay attention to?

The first challenge would be to put the “I” first. Diversity won’t stick without inclusion. I will never get tired of saying that you need the right environment first if we really want to be successful in this journey.

The second one is battling misconceptions related to what I&D really is. It’s much more than quotas and paying attention to the number of women in senior management positions. This is also important, for sure, but it’s not the only and most important aspect. The danger is that you can easily frustrate or disengage your employees if it’s not a true cultural shift and you only thick some boxes in your agenda.

The last and maybe the most challenging one is to help everyone understand the importance of I&D. It’s not a buzz word, or a trend, or another idea that the people from the global offices are making us implement. It’s the right thing to do for so many obvious reasons but it can affect all your efforts if people don’t realize the major benefits that will bring to them, to the entire organization and our society overall.

What do you do to convince your colleagues to see the value in diversity management, or even more to truly get them on board?

Value is actually an important word. The buy in of our colleagues comes naturally when they see the value and the benefits that will bring them. Through everything we do we are trying to improve their experience, our work environment and how our colleagues feel, and actions and results speak for themselves in a positive way.  

Interview by Dana Oancea. Copyright Carta Diversitatii