Why Ahold celebrates International Women’s Day
Can you tell us a bit about your background and your role?
Sure, my name is Subarna Malakar, and I currently serve as a Global Vice President, Diversity and Inclusion for Ahold. In this role, I am responsible for implementing Global D&I transformation strategies and programs that are effective, sustainable and achievable.
Prior to this role, I was the Head of Corporate Responsibly and Inclusion, Asia for Thomson Reuters, where I led corporate responsibility, sustainability and inclusion efforts for the Asia Pacific region. As recognition for these efforts, Thomson Reuters Asia received Diversity Strategy Award in 2014.
Prior to Thomson Reuters, I was with Unilever, based in Singapore, where I led the global external diversity relations, global diversity and inclusion communications, global diversity learning and flexibility programs. Under my leadership, Unilever won the prestigious 2013 Catalyst Award, European Diversity Award 2012, the Women in Leadership: China’s Most Friendly Employer 2012 and the WorkingMums.UK Employer of the Year Award 2012.
Prior to that, I was a Workforce Diversity Director for Sodexo in North America, where I worked with senior leaders develop and implement diversity and inclusion strategies for clients, customers and employees. I also provided direction and strategies to Sodexo’s eight Global Employee Resource Groups and Cross Market Diversity Council. Additionally, I was also responsible for the overall program management for Diversity Business Leadership Summit, a premier annual diversity event for Sodexo attended by the top executives and clients across the Fortune 500 companies.
Interestingly, my career began in technology. And was previously a program manager for Marriott International, systems engineer for the Department of Defense and a computer intelligence specialist for the U.S. Army during Operation Desert Storm and Operation Restore Hope.
I was born in Nepal, grew up in the U.S., and currently live with my wife and daughter in Brookline, Massachusetts.
Why did Ahold celebrate International Women’s Day?
On March 8th, Ahold joined countless other individuals and organizations in a global celebration of women. This year marks the first time we, as a company, are celebrating International Women’s Day – a collective day of global celebration for the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women and a call for gender equality.
Building bridges to leadership for women helps build a healthier company culture, which leads to better overall performance and improves the bottom line.
Within our own organization, we recognize that one answer to higher market share, increased revenue, greater rate of return on equity and improved customer wins is the woman sitting right next to you. So we took this day to not only celebrate all of our female talent, but also to launch our Global D&I strategy and framework.
First of all I think it is important to say that as a large retailer, we have a responsibility to set a high standard. We want to create an inclusive culture for everyone in our company – a culture where everyone is treated respectfully – regardless of race, religion, gender identity or any other characteristics.
We have a workforce of more than 225,000 people who reflect the communities where we live and work. This is particularly true when it comes to our gender diversity mission, given that 75% of our shoppers are women.
Besides the fact that Diversity and Inclusion is morally the right thing to do and that logically, our associates should represent our customer base, it also makes sense from a business point of view. As we celebrate International Women’s Day, it’s a great time to point out the important role that women have in our success. In fact:
• Companies with a top quartile representation of women executives had an average 47% higher return on equity
• 75% of our products are bought by women
• Women will own 60% of all personal wealth by 2025
How important is diversity within Ahold and what initiatives have you taken?
Extremely important. We need to make a shift from Diversity and Inclusion being solely an HR concept to being a real business goal. We have created a simple global Diversity and Inclusion framework to serve as our compass for a locally driven approach in 2016 and beyond. It has five key focus areas:
- Internal Engagement: Raise awareness of the value of D&I throughout the whole company
- Inclusive Workplace: Build the capabilities of our leaders and managers to advocate inclusive behaviors.
- Diverse Talent: Hire, develop and retain highly competent and diverse associates to meet the needs of customers now and in the future.
- Agile Working: Give people the capability to work anytime and anywhere.
- External Positioning: Position Ahold as an “employer of choice”
We will use these focus areas to drive change throughout Ahold and build an increasingly diverse and inclusive workforce. We have quite some work ahead but the momentum is there and I feel confident that we will build a solid D&I house with the senior leadership team, the Diversity & Inclusion team and all our associates as the driving force. Together we can make it happen
How did the attendees of Ahold’s International Women Day react?
It was a great success, the associates really valued that we are now speaking about Global Diversity & Inclusion. We partnered with LEAD and for the first time, we had a event in our Zaandam Headquarters Ahold celebrated International Women’s Day on the 8th of March at their head office for employees who were interested in diversity and gender parity. CEO Dick Boer and CHRO Abbe Luersman kicked off with their story on why it is crucial for Ahold to focus now, more than ever, on diversity within the organization. Key note speaker Marlou van Rhijn held an inspiring and compelling speech about how we should not try to be diverse, but focus on your own strengths and that is what makes you different. The panel discussion with Hanneke Faber (COO Ahold), Rizwan Malik (Sr. Finance Director Kellog), Carrielle Somers (Marketing Operations Metro) and Elaine Parr (Partner Advisory, EY) held a lively discussion on how to unlock potential and think in new boxes in the workplace. Next to the external panel, Ahold’s own store managers took the stage and talked about how they tackled challenges on the store floor related to diversity and shared best practices. Wouter Kolk (COO Ahold Netherlands) wrapped up the meeting with his pledge to parity and to make a difference.
In the U.S., professional speaker Gail Alofsin talked about how no matter what your job title, you are always selling — products, services, ideas and yourself. She focused on how we can build sustainable, successful and powerful relationships with internal and external “customers” in a way that increases the bottom line while at the same time creating a workplace focused on success for all involved.
The session was televised across the U.S. locations, bringing together 250 associates. Kathy Russello, EVP HR told the group, “Within our own organization, we recognize that one answer to higher market share, increased revenue, greater rate of return on equity and improved customer wins is the woman sitting right next to you.”
To show support and raise awareness, associates globally wore purple clothes or lapel ribbons on International Women’s Day. Associates at several locations were invited to share a quote or message about how a woman inspires them on “inspirational walls” that will be displayed throughout the month.
Ahold also launched a new campaign, “Women Who Rock and Men Advocating Real Change” (MARC), enabling associates to recognize colleagues who are committed to driving change within our organizations, advocating and actively practicing inclusion. Nominate a colleague here.
What advice would you have for other companies in the industry if they want to organize a similar event?
It is important to partner with LEAD as they were able to help us acquire external speakers as well as support our overall program. Since this is our first Diversity & Inclusion event, it was critical to get a senior leadership support and commitment. Lastly, it is equally important to work with our internal communication team to cascade the message across the organization.
Ahold is a Foundation Partner of the LEAD Network and a strong supporter of its mission to advance women in the Retail and Consumer Goods sector in Europe.