Three women from completely different backgrounds – an experienced tourism entrepreneur, a senior project manager for FMCG and a family business owner, who is striving to make women feel beautiful.
These EU alumnae have worked for industry-leading companies and have found themselves back in their native countries after living abroad. On their return, they brought with them a new outlook on their professional lives and are striving to implement more diverse working environments.
Vicky, Ewa, and Riya individually presented their takes on the topics of diversity and inclusion as part of our Alumni Speaker Series.
Founder of VSN Hub and EU Alumna, MBA 1995
Strategies for Creating More Inclusion in Business
“Happiness is the meaning and the purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence.” (Aristotle)
Vicky, a communications and marketing expert, has her own business which aims to provide a link between ancient Greek philosophy and the cultural and tourism industry. She started her career at Johnson & Johnson and believes the most important thing she learned there was the need for a code of business ethics and conduct. She worked with people from all over the world, who had different cultural backgrounds and religious beliefs, but shared a common work culture under the code of ethics. This is one way in which the company boosted employee satisfaction and productivity.
“Ethical values have no races, no backgrounds, no colors, and no religions. When you work in a specific environment, you have to work under specific values.”
Vicky realized that the most important, yet difficult thing to establish is company culture. Even if you are a small company, you have to understand how important it is. Focus on people and how the company can shape its own culture, while keeping employees in the loop. After Johnson & Johnson, Vicky tried to incorporate similar initiatives into her own company, while maintaining ancient Greek values and focusing on hiring lasting talent.
“Nowadays, it’s more important than ever to understand that people are those who drive the business.”
Company culture can also be reflected in the brand by utilizing an inclusive team in decision-making processes. Vicky used the example of the Acropolis, which has recently become fully wheelchair accessible. The government understood how important it was for people with disabilities to have the opportunity to visit cultural monuments. This more human-centric approach to tourism has generated a competitive advantage for the industry in Greece.
“In the tourism industry, everything is inclusive because we have to welcome people from different areas who have different backgrounds and religions. When people come to our country, they feel we treat them the same. Maybe that’s why Greeks are so well known for hospitality, because we are so open to differentiation.”
Europe Product Change Management Hub Lead, Mondelēz International and EU Alumna, MBA 2003
Overcoming Organizational Barriers to Inclusion
“Diversity will not exist without inclusion, they always come in as a pair.”
With a strong background in the food production industry, Ewa is now leading a team of product change managers for Mondelēz International, with whom she has been working for more than two decades. It goes without saying that Ewa is passionate about leading others and believes the key to success for any company is to create a sense of belonging.
“Mondelēz prioritizes the culture of belonging with diversity and inclusion at the very center. Integrity is one of their key values, making sure that everyone is treated with equality, trust and respect.”
Mondelēz constantly encourages their employees to actively celebrate diversity and find new ways to be more inclusive. The company provides Ewa with inspirational materials for her team, including articles, videos, and a culture wizard tool. Her team is comprised of different age groups and nationalities but, despite their differences, they have been interested to identify some unexpected similarities between them and have become more mindful when communicating.
“The company is now present in almost every country in the world and believes that being such a diverse team gives them the opportunity to grow and deliver business objectives.”
To help break down barriers of gender, race and culture, Ewa suggests identifying areas of improvement by creating an employee survey and, from the results, devising an action plan.
“You would need to collect the data, analyze it, and once you know what the gaps are, you can think of data mining an action plan. It’s really important that this is an integral part of the company’s strategy, meeting its business goals, otherwise it will only stay on paper.”
“In 2020, a lot of focus was put on flexible working, we had to kind of revise our priorities.”
Recently, Mondelēz had started a flexible working procedure, which was ready to be put in place by the time the pandemic came around. Ewa and her team are already discussing the “office of the future” and the possibility of introducing a hybrid combination of office work and working from home.
“The focus is also now on physical and mental wellbeing because while working from home, people are facing different challenges than before. In my case, I am a mom of two kids so, sometimes while I am having a teleconference, I am cooking them lunch at the same time.”
Co-Founder, Candyskin and EU alumna BBA, 2013
Founding a Female-Run and Female-Targeted Business
“We launched Candyskin in 2017, it’s been quite the journey!”
Since the age of 16, Riya has been motivated by her father to embrace the world of work. In between her studies at EU and later during her post-grad, she dedicated her summer vacations to learning more about the textile and manufacturing industry. She then left for China with her sister to see how lingerie was manufactured and four years ago, they founded Candyskin together.
“Currently, we are selling in about 250 stores in India. We have our own e-commerce website, and we also sell through 15 other marketplaces, including Amazon.”
Candyskin, an inclusive intimate apparel brand, aims to make all women feel comfortable in their own skin, whatever their age or body type. Their pieces are sold in over 21 sizes and accommodate the variable Indian climate. Riya explains how they are using different fabrics to suit hot and cold weather conditions, while being mindful to produce clothing which is breathable, anti-odor, and antibacterial. Riya also stresses the importance of providing an affordable, high-quality product.
“We never wanted to focus on just being a very premium brand because that doesn’t work. India is for the masses, and we wanted to sell in high quantities. So, our main focus is to manufacture everything that’s affordable for the general public; products that are really high-quality, but at absolutely amazing prices.”
Like many other businesses, the COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on Candyskin, but Riya and her team have been adapting their range and business model to keep up. As more people are working from home, the brand has been extending their sports and leisurewear and are looking for ways to enter the international market.
“You have to keep on innovating and adapt to the economy and climate. COVID has made a lot of people really price-conscious because people are sitting at home, a lot of them have lost their jobs, everyone’s in a tight situation. So, you have to make sure you’re focusing on that and adapting to it and making the necessary changes.”
Riya currently has over 50 employees, most of which are women, and for her the key to success is not only hiring people who will add value to the brand, but also providing a motivating work environment. The company is keen to encourage its workers by keeping them up-to-date and involved. They are the first to be asked for an opinion on new products, and help the brand grow to meet women’s true needs.
“When we come up with any new product, we first pass it around our employees. We make them try everything and take their review on everything. They’re different body types, body shapes, and it’s good to have opinions and understand what women actually want.”
With strong and determined women at their core, Candyskin have set their sights high. Their next goal is to expand to 1000 stores internationally and continue producing innovative and inclusive products to fit all styles, shapes, and sizes!
Would you like to learn more about the topic of diversity and inclusion from other top changemakers?
Join us for the summer edition of the Virtual Alumni Reunion on July 13 – 15, 2021. Across this three-day online conference, we will be discussing the topic with experienced alumni from all over the world. They will share their insights on issues such as gender equality, income inequality, race relations, ethnicity, and accessibility, among various others. We look forward to seeing you then!