Blog Post

ERG Spotlight: Cargill’s Women’s Network: Latin America and APAC Expansion

December 15, 2015
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Cargill’s Women’s Network

By: Varshaa Kutik, Diversity and Business Impact Regional Lead- APAC & EMEA and Blanca Villela Global Diversity and Business Impact Lead, Cargill

Cargill recently globalized their business resource groups (BRGs) and encountered a variety of challenges in doing so. The question early on became, “how do we translate the vision, mission and impact of our business resource groups that are already well established? And how do we add value to the business like we’ve done in North America and Europe in Latin America and Asia Pacific in a manner that is locally resonant?” Cargill’s many BRGs in North America include The Cargill Asia America Alliance, The Disability awareness council, The Ebony Council, The Hispanic Latino Council, The Pride Network, The Veterans and Military Support Network and the Cargill Women’s Network. Given that women make up a smaller percentage of the overall workforce than men, Cargill leaders noticed that the male female ratio widens as you consider more senior positions in the organization. As a result, BRG leaders knew that Cargill’s Women’s Network (CWN) needed a global presence. To get the process started, regional leaders were equipped to respond to questions from local leaders, such as:

  • Why do we need a formal chapter of the Cargill Women’s network to address this critical business issue?
  • Can we, as leaders, not commit to it and just start making the changes happen?
  • Shouldn’t we spend time ensuring our processes are more inclusive and allow for better gender balance than spending effort to set up business resource groups?
  • What will a local chapter of the CWN do?
  • By setting up BRGs are we saying women need to solve this challenge on their own?

It is important to state that the intention here is not to minimize differences between the LA region & the APAC region as there are several regional, country specific and location specific nuances. While the regional leads support every BRG to align with the global framework the local BRG leadership is empowered to address and honor local needs. This article aims to provide a high level overview of the challenges faced by a global organization with its headquarters in North America as it attempts to provide a broad framework within which to address the global issue of gender inclusion across its multiple locations.

Local leaders recognized that gender inclusion and balance is critical for the sustainable growth of the business, but there was also a perception that creating BRGs was an ‘American’ approach to the situation. The leaders were previously exposed to multiple and often conflicting internal and external perspectives about building a more gender inclusive workforce that effectively mirrors the marketplace. The perceived ambiguity and uncertainty in problem definition and required solution, coupled with the human tendency to resist change, meant it was critical to assemble CWN chapters locally to drive change needed in a manner that would resonate with local leadership. FGD’s and gaining a better understanding of barriers to change revealed there was skepticism around segregating employees into different categories like females, people with disabilities, LGBT etc. These insights led to discussions about cultural differences, the emphasis on harmony and the need to blend in across several Asian contexts versus the perceived American approach that emphasizes visibility for historically underrepresented groups. The preference was to create business resource groups inclusive of both men and women to drive change and make business impact.

The key learnings to make the Cargill Women’s Network successful in the regions are:

  • Having a strong business case was essential given the sensitivity about BRGs as a support group for female employees, as well as and being mindful of the legal implications in Latin America and Asia versus North America and Europe;
  • Having discussions with local leaders to address any conflicts they might have and ensure they are able to articulate the business case and link it to their business reality;
  • Sourcing senior male sponsors to advocate for BRGs generated wide spread interest among both male and female employees across levels, reinforcing the fact that this was a key driver for change and not just a ‘nice to have’;
  • Bringing in outside speakers generated further interest and engagement across levels;
  • Seeking nominations from managers of their high potential talent to form a core group that will drive this organizational wide change was one of the most effective approaches;
  • Filtering those with passion for the topic and willingness to take the lead from the pool of nominated high potential employees;
  • Providing the framework and empowering local CWN leadership teams in each country and location to define their team’s charter while ensuring directional alignment towards the global BRG framework;
  • Providing direction and guidance from local leaders and the regional Inclusion and Diversity leads;
  • Finally, the 4-step approach — awareness, talent attraction/branding, professional development/ retention, and community engagement/product development — was provided as a road map for the evolution of each BRG.

Today, the landscape across the Cargill businesses in Latin America and Asia looks quite different. The regions have moved from an annual celebration of international Women’s day to location specific, localized CWN chapters with clear structures, accountability and focus. Well-defined action plans that link to the regional business plans along with a sharp focus on measuring impact and effectiveness is becoming the norm. Various CWN chapters are owning and driving diagnostics and need analysis, awareness sessions and trainings and external outreach activities. They have identified and segregated the barriers for women in the workplace to be primarily structural, cultural, personal and organizational, and have committed to driving infrastructure improvements, mindset shifts and engaging men in gender initiatives.

Some examples of the types of activities undertaken by the various local CWN chapters are:

  • creating nursing stations and lactation rooms for women particularly in plants and factories
  • facilitating the movement and integration of women from more traditional roles into more male dominated roles such as trading and sales
  • women entrepreneur fairs
  • career visioning workshops for women
  • providing access for female employees to leadership and job opportunities
  • stakeholder management training, skill building and gender intelligence workshops for both men and women and
  • manager effectiveness workshops to equip managers to look at gender differences as opportunities and develop skills to leverage these differences.

Today, the local CWN chapters established across locations in the Asia and Latin America regions are well positioned to support a large and complex organization like Cargill with its multiple businesses to make small yet meaningful impact from a workforce, workplace and marketplace perspective.