Geraldine Fraser (FrieslandCampina): 'Inclusion as the Sum of Micro-behaviours'

Geraldine Fraser (FrieslandCampina): 'Inclusion as the Sum of Micro-behaviours'
To become an inclusive organization, everyone needs to behave inclusively, says Geraldine Fraser. That sounds simple enough, but according to the chief people officer of FrieslandCampina, this is often overlooked. ‘Asking what the organization should do differently is not enough. You also need to ask what employees do themselves.’

New Zealander Geraldine Fraser came to the Netherlands in 2017 from Singapore as corporate director HR of the international dairy producer FrieslandCampina. Since 2021, she has also been a member of the executive board as chief people officer (CPO). Diversity and inclusivity play a major role within the company, she tells Stefan Duran, head of European business development at insurance company elipsLife. “D&I should be more than a few pictures in a PowerPoint presentation.”

What is an important motivation for you personally as chief people officer?
‘Actually, my personal purpose comes down to making the most of life. At the same time, I want to help others to get the most out of their lives as well. In concrete terms, this means that I try to enjoy every given moment and that in contacts with others I always try to get the best out of it for them. Every encounter, every interaction matters and can have an impact, especially in the position I hold. So I always hope that a meeting yields something - a teaching moment or inspiration.
My goal is to give people a sense of purpose, and to make them realize that every day offers new chances and possibilities. In my HR role, I naturally also find it important to see what makes people happy, where they get their satisfaction from and what role they see for themselves within our organization. I am convinced that everyone has talents, discovered or undiscovered. It's gratifying to find out where those talents lie.’

And when we talk about diversity and inclusion, what is your personal commitment or drive?
‘The remarkable thing is that it was never a theme when I lived in New Zealand. Diversity and inclusion were more a matter of course. How could it be different in a country that is governed by its third female prime minister and where large companies are led by women. New Zealand was the first country to give women the right to vote - that may say something. The topic of diversity became more visible for me when I moved to London. There the differences between men and women and between people with different cultural backgrounds seemed to be much greater. I obviously find it a very important topic. Fortunately, today everyone is convinced that diversity and inclusion represent 'value'. Inclusion and diversity are essential for the performance of an organization. A diverse population approaches topics from different angles and yields better results, more innovation. It provides more job satisfaction, it ensures a better bond with your customers. People often ask me how I ended up in a top position as a woman. I always think that's a silly question. Difficult to answer. It reminds me of the question my husband, one of an identical twin, is often asked: what is it like to be an identical twin? Well, I don't know, it's who I am, I don't know what it's like to be someone else. That's how I feel. I'm in this position because of who I am, because of what I can do, that's it.’

Yet women also experience difficulties to get ahead in organizations. Is that also what you notice at FrieslandCampina?
‘Absolutely. In our data we can see quite accurately at which moments in their career employees are likely to take a step back. For women, this is often when they start a family or when they have to deal with their partner's career planning. Nowadays we try to get ahead of those moments by proactively entering into a conversation, one on one. In addition to that, I don’t think it should be about making choices, but about good planning. I would like to hear from the employees what it would take to keep them with us. That conversation must take place well before the employee thinks they have only two options - stay or leave. I would like to offer other options.’

What could those options be?
‘That is very diverse. You can think of part-time work, flexible working hours, shared jobs, long-term leave. You can look at childcare. There are all kinds of possibilities to do or organize something at crucial moments during a career. This also applies to people from a different cultural background. As an international company, we also pay attention to exactly which functions we need in which part of the world. What we offer where. We can work with that. In this way we can manage cultural diversity worldwide. We recently appointed Harvey Uong to head our global specialized nutrition department here in Amersfoort. He’s originally from the Philippines and comes from our talent pool. Hopefully he can inspire other talents within our organization to move on to leadership positions within our organization, here at our head office, or elsewhere in the world.’

When making such an appointment, do you mainly look at capabilities or mainly at background?
‘Both, of course. Someone must have the right capabilities to fit in a specific position. That is of course condition number one. But we also look more broadly - at the desired profile, at the position of the role within the rest of the organization. Inclusion is a very important theme in this process. Our shortlists always reflect diversity. We also ensure that our recruitment panels are diverse. A diverse team will more easily make the 'diverse choice'.’

Is diversity and inclusion an important theme in the boardroom?
‘The topic is on the agenda of every executive leadership team meeting. So yes, it's a topic we take very seriously. D&I should be so much more than a few pictures in a PowerPoint presentation. We really support the D&I policy and we also try to objectify the subject, for example by attaching concrete targets to it in the field of gender diversity. In particular, the number of women moving up to senior management positions needs to increase further. Our management is also focused on more diversity and we make them aware of the fact that it starts with simple things, like talking about the subject and actively starting the conversation with employees. That alone is already important. Some obstacles seem too small or may seem a little uncomfortable to discuss with your supervisor. We try to break that.’

Can you give examples of conversations that increase that understanding?
‘I can give an example from my own life. My husband is a family man, he is at home much more often than I am, but my children's school always calls me when there is something wrong. And actually, I want to pick up a phone call from school, no matter what meeting I'm in. Women may find it difficult to discuss such an issue with their supervisor or colleagues. Many of these little things can be solved together by discussing them, even if it sometimes feels a bit awkward. You have to be open to each other.
If you look at cultural diversity – seemingly small things are important there too. For example, take note of each other's holidays. What is Diwali, what is Eid-al-fitr, what is Easter? And why is it important to you? When you ask these questions to each other, understanding grows. We now also have a pilot running for days off around holidays that employees themselves consider important. Why take Christmas off when Chinese New Year is much more valuable to your family? We have also held a baking competition with employees. They were asked to make local dishes and tell the story behind them. Like Dutch oliebollen or a Chinese mooncake or an Indian samosa. Actions like this help get the conversation about diversity started. It leads to understanding when you show interest in each other.’ Smiling: ‘The condition was, of course, that the food be baked with FrieslandCampina products.’

And your employees, how do they view this subject in the meantime?
‘We get a lot of feedback from our employees. We actively ask for it. It is remarkable how much importance our employees attach to an inclusive company. In fact, they demand that we be an inclusive company. In job interviews with young talents, it is often about our purpose, Nourishing by nature. We get a lot of questions about it. Just like our slogan Unleash your nature. We have developed this employee proposition to empower everyone, to allow everyone to be themselves. It stands for who we are as a company and what we promise our current and future employees. We challenge everyone to discover themselves. We regularly share personal stories of employees online. That is educational and inspiring. As a company, we attach great importance to diversity and being able to be yourself. Everyone is valuable, and we believe everyone has talents.’

How do employees feel that this goes beyond just nice words?
‘Because it is really supported. It starts with a personal story, with a text on a website or on LinkedIn. But in the end, what matters is that it's more than words. The importance we attach to D&I is reflected in our targets, we try to make it measurable, it is part of our leadership- and talent programs, it is reflected in almost all training courses, it is a subject that returns in conversations with colleagues and managers.’

What are the most important pillars of the D&I policy for FrieslandCampina?
‘We have chosen to prioritize four topics that are important to us, and which we really want to set in motion. These four topics are gender diversity, cultural diversity, mental health and sexual orientation. For these four topics we have formulated concrete targets. To realize these we organize activities and volunteer programs. The interest in all those programs is overwhelming. Almost everyone wants to participate.
We often work together with NGOs. They know the way and have lots of experience. For example, we have a volunteer program running for refugees, where our employees support refugees as mentors, and help them look for a job or a good place to live. This we do together with TENT and Refugee Talent Hub, two NGOs that support refugees worldwide to settle in new surroundings. With LEAD we have a similar program in the field of gender diversity and with Workplace Pride we are stepping up in the field of LGBTIQ+ inclusion.’

What do you think are the biggest pitfalls in D&I policy?
‘I think you have to make sure that everyone feels represented and that the policy doesn't tilt to one side and excludes people the other way. Sometimes small groups can suddenly get a disproportionate voice. But in all honesty, I don't see that very often. Of course I sometimes get men in my office who feel passed over, men with a lot of experience and excellent qualifications. But I like to explain to them that our policy is not aimed at excluding men, but is about equal opportunities. Those men also have daughters or nieces who want to have equal chances when they start work. Again, this is about starting the conversation to create common ground. Entering that dialogue is very important to me.’

What remains to be done for FrieslandCampina to become the most inclusive company in the world?
‘In order to become that, everyone has to behave inclusively. After all, it's about behavior. That is sometimes passed over. Most companies ask their employees what the organization should do differently around diversity and inclusion. That's not enough in my view. If you want to create an inclusive culture, you should ask your employees what they themselves do to, for example, welcome their new colleague, how they show interest. The sum of all those micro-behaviours makes a company inclusive and diverse - or not.’

What would you advise companies that want to do more on this theme?
‘First of all: know your employees. Ask for their feedback. What opportunities and threats do they see in the field of diversity and inclusivity? And act on that feedback. The employee will provide you with the answers to most questions. Make them aware of what inclusivity is, and encourage them to behave more inclusively.
Furthermore, you must ensure that your D&I policy is propagated by the management team. They ultimately make the decisions, they must ensure that various policies are implemented and that they are in continuous dialogue with each other. And it is important to realize that you cannot change everything at once. Choose your spearheads and explain why you chose those pillars. And finally: choose partners, don't do it alone, but use the knowledge and strength of other parties. They can speed up your organization.’

This interview was published in Management Scope 09 2022.

This article was last changed on 26-10-2022