Since 2009 Daniela Murelli has been the Corporate Social Responsibility director of the company Sanpellegrino, part of the group Nestlé Waters Italy. Appointed by CEO Stefano Agostini, she is also Gender Balance advocate and works to improve awareness regarding gender diversity within the group.
What is the background of your commitment to gender balance?
I make sure that the issue of gender diversity is part of the agenda of our management committee and I am particularly involved in building awareness on this topic both inside and outside of the group in Italy. Our gender balance initiatives are based on a strong business case argument: first, most of our shoppers are women hence, to have a more consistent consumer insight we need to have female representatives within our organization. Second, the most successful graduates in Europe are female (60%-70%); hence, if we want to recruit talented people we need women. In the end, we seek for the complementarity between women and men, as it leads to a more efficient decision-making process.
Which steps have you taken to improve gender balance?
Nestlé Waters Italy started to deal with gender balance in 2007, when the HR director initiated an off-site day dedicated to gender diversity: the Iniziativa Primavera (literally, Spring Initiative). The company invited all the women working in the headquarters to discuss the problems that female employees were experiencing so it might better understand them. First, the group wanted to get a picture of the gender situation in terms of numbers. Then, we created work groups and got a better sense of how to remove the obstacles that limit women to perform at their best in their job. As a result of these conversations, we have implemented projects focused on work-life balance topics such as flexible working hours, part time, working from home, tele-working, and other forms enhancing flexibility. The second major project Nestlé Italy has elaborated is the Campus 90 Giorni (Campus 90 Days), when schools are closed, while working parents have no holidays. We have arranged a space in our office building where children are attended by educators who stay with them from 9am to 5pm organizing instructional and entertaining activities. On the one hand, children are happy because they come to work with their parents; on the other hand, parents can work in a more relaxed manner knowing that their children are enjoying themselves. The cost for the family is really low, which is extremely helpful since not all of them can rely on grandparents or afford a baby sitter.
How did men react to the Iniziativa Primavera?
Initially it was not easy, but we wanted to extend the initiative to men. Then, men became curious and the word-of-mouth started drawing them to participation. We have a small group of men who constitute the bedrock of the initiative. Some have contributed greatly to the advancement of the projects and are working with us. There was the need of confronting each other, of accepting different styles of communication, of addressing behavior that was previously creating prejudice. We promoted transparency and awareness of the fact that women and men become complementary if they accept each other’s differences. The latter is one of our primary goals and part of our bilingual leadership program, where bilingual stands for female/male. These activities and the business case have been convincing for our male employees.
What does Nestlé commit to currently?
Nestle Italy focuses on awareness at the top management level. By awareness, I mean the recognition of the importance of having a gender balance within one’s team. Although the international experience of many of our managers has led to more openness to diversity, we are working on the promotion of women to higher positions. In the last three years, we have had an increasing number of female managers. We are not pro quotas; rather, we believe in meritocracy. We take our best people regardless of their gender. Even so, we improve the access of women to management positions by shaping role models. Three women have been appointed as heads of production, which usually is a male position. Since last Oct. 1st our factory in Ruspino (the factory where the Sanpellegrino sparkling water is bottled) has had a female director, and the director of production there is also a woman. This is indicative of how women themselves are changing. Women start to dare more and take on new jobs. In terms of evaluation and dissemination of our projects, we work closely with the university Bocconi (Osservatorio Diversity) and with women’s networks such as ValoreD.
What is the secret to achieve gender diversity?
First of all, you must believe in diversity. To do so, it is necessary to focus on women, their needs and values, in order to tear the barriers of prejudice down. There are a lot of stereotypes regarding women that can be overcome by creating a culture of mutual understanding. The topic is increasingly gaining ground, with northern Europe as our inspirational center.