Silke Muenster was appointed Chief Diversity Officer at Philip Morris International (PMI) earlier this year, having previously worked in market research. For her, inclusion and diversity is a business imperative despite the challenges of implementing it around the world.
What attracted you to making the switch from market research into diversity?
As much as I liked market research, I‘m excited by the direct impact this new role as Chief Diversity Officer will have on people’s everyday life, their satisfaction and positive engagement with the company.
I am super happy with the commitment that our leadership has for this new role, which reports directly to the CEO. It signals how serious we at PMI take inclusion and diversity. Our ambitions are super energising, and I have enjoyed every minute since I took up the position.
It’s very unusual for a diversity officer, especially in the UK and Europe, to report directly to the CEO. Was the decision influenced by the events of this year?
No. I was offered the role at the start of the year, and I took up the position in March; way before we knew the true impact of COVID-19 and racial unrest following the murder of George Floyd in the U.S.
The role reports directly to our CEO as part of our transformation. We strongly believe that inclusion and diversity is a business imperative, which is more important than ever as we completely transform our business to accomplish our vision of a smoke-free world and to become more of a science and technology company.
Inclusion and diversity will be a cornerstone of our successful transformation. We want to change our internal and external image at PMI significantly, and I think the importance of this was clear to the board and our leadership team. That is why they decided to go ahead with the chief diversity officer reporting to the CEO.
Did you have to learn any new skills in your new role?
I can honestly say that my market research background has been superb in enabling me to take a deep dive into the data to understand what is and is not working.
Being able to analyse the data – potentially across multiple demographics and geographies – to gain a clear picture of the issues within your organisation is a critical component of the role. Only then can you create measurable solutions targeted to specific groups that will bring about meaningful change.
As a market researcher, you need to have an understanding of consumers, so this was also a useful aspect of my skill set when it com to trying to understand your internal stakeholders – our people.
It helped that I am also an avid reader as the amount of reading and learning on this topic is enormous. It has not been easy, but I work with someone who has been doing this work for a while and that has been a great help.
What is PMI doing to accelerate equality across the business? Is there a particular area of focus?
We will continue to focus on gender because we know that more female representation promotes greater inclusion for other minorities as well. Having said that, we will place a much stronger focus on diverse ethnicities moving forward. For example, a significant part of our global operations are in Asia, so we are focused on growing Asian talent over the next few years.
In all honesty, the pandemic has fuelled engagement around the inclusion and diversity work we do across all of our communities, including LGBTQ+, people with different abilities, and with working parents. There’s so much passion among our employees and leadership team that getting the sequence right is one of the struggles we have.
You recently had an event, the Century of a Woman, what did that involve?
We have founded an employee resource group for women, as we have done for other focus groups across our global workforce. As part of this, we have launched a series called Inclusive Conversations, where we discuss and try to raise awareness and understanding of the issues different minority groups face. It is an integral part of our long-term activities that will allow employees in those specific groups –and allies— to discuss and create awareness and a sense of community more broadly.
What strategies do you use to help with I&D in the company?
We have a strategic framework we use to help drive a sense of joy and belonging in PMI. Our strategy starts with analysing and measuring inclusion within the business. Everybody tends to measure diversity but not inclusion. Still, we think that inclusion brings the value of diversity to life, so we are running a pilot to measure the sense of belonging among our employees in a few different parts of our business, both geographical and functional.
At the same time, we are running a management team programme designed to raise more awareness of what inclusion means and to provide an opportunity for them to develop their strategy. We know that it’s fundamental to get more men and leaders in general to own the I&D agenda and see it as their responsibility to drive inclusion and inclusive behaviour forward within their respective functions and markets.
As a global company, what are the challenges of implementing D&I across multiple regions?
Different activities work for different cultural groups, so you need to consider that what works in Western Europe might not work in Asia. We, therefore, develop and pilot activities in specific geographies first before rolling them out globally. For example, in Switzerland, we are running a pilot aimed at driving female representation in a particular function and, a female development programme called a Career Navigator.
With regards to ethnicity, culture and nationality, we are taking a two-pronged approach. And by that, I mean potentially creating a mentoring programme for Asian and/or Black talent that sits alongside a global awareness-raising development programme for managers about the different needs of different cultures.
Are managers held accountable or measured on how inclusive they are?
Our leaders have a diversity KPI in their objectives, and this is part of their evaluation at year-end which also influences the bonus they receive. It’s a really important element because we know everybody is committed and convinced by having this as a target. In the day-to-day business, when you have to balance business priorities and inclusion and diversity, having it as part of your targets makes sure that inclusion and diversity don’t end up at the bottom of the list.
Is there an initiative or programme of which you are incredibly proud?
I think it would be our global EQUAL-SALARY certification. The fact that we are certified globally for paying men and women equal salaries for equal work is certainly something about which the entire company and I are super proud.
The other initiative is the steps we are taking with regards to smart work. Once the coronavirus restrictions are lifted, we have committed to introducing a working model that will ensure much more flexible ways of working as part of a hybrid model — coupling remote work with some office work (role permitting), in line with local rules and regulations.
We know flexible working arrangements are appealing to everyone, not only for women or a specific minority group, so I’m convinced that this will help a lot on our agenda towards more inclusion and diversity at PMI.
What will smart work look like in practice?
While we are still developing the guidelines, it will mean that people can work flexibly for a significant part of their time from a remote location – it doesn’t have to be from home. There will only be a certain amount of days where supervisors can ask them to be in the office, and that is more to do with teamwork, where it might be helpful to have face-to-face interactions.
We also know that some people are missing the social interactions that the office brings so we foresee that this hybrid model gives the flexibility individuals want while still having the benefits of meeting colleagues and having informal interactions in the office.
How important is coaching and mentoring?
I love people, and I’m curious about their wellbeing. When I see people struggling, especially those who feel they do not necessarily belong, I find it rewarding to either coach or mentor them – helping them to get to a better place. Given that I feel I belong at PMI, I really would like other people to be in a similar position.
What do inclusion and diversity mean to you personally?
That we celebrate the differences we all have. For me, it’s super important that there is an atmosphere where people can speak up and feel encouraged to disagree, be creative and bring new ideas to the table to help drive innovation. I think it’s important to be clear that different people have different strengths and that we want to leverage each of those strengths. Sometimes that comes with the need for uncomfortable discussions. Inclusion and diversity are not about agreeing all the time – it’s about allowing constructive disagreement—so we can make progress, and in our case, to help us accelerate toward a better, fairer, smoke-free future.