Women and Global Leadership at Bestfoods – Discussion Questions

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Should the headquarters of U.S.-based multinationals promote diversity initiatives in their worldwide subsidiaries? If so, what’s the best way to accomplish this?

There is nothing wrong in U.S.-based headquarters taking the initiative for diversity promotion across other locations in the globe. The thoughts and measures of Brody and Shoemate are instructive, for they provide a framework that all MNCs could follow. Since American business culture and social values are somewhat different to that in the rest of the world, the HR Manager taking decisions from U.S. headquarters will have to be culturally sensitive. The HR Manager will also be cognizant of the fact that the definition of diversity is not constant across locations. Moreover, the HR Manager will have to heed to what configurations of diversity ideally suit local teams. Actually, Bestfoods’ diversity program is a good starting point for any company trying to achieve similar goals.

Do you agree with Brody’s idea to hold the forum? Why or why not? Can you suggest an alternative that would accomplish the same purpose or be even more effective?

Laura Brody’s idea of organizing a Women’s Global Leadership Forum for the company is a sound one. Just based on the

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initial reactions from men and women alike augured well for the forum. The idea of asking women regional heads to identify and invite most promising women under their charge is very creative. It immediately created excitement and constructive competition among female employees. The prospect of a leadership forum exclusively for their gender helped reassure many women that the top management (including Shoemate and Bergmann) were on their side. The endeavor of Brody and her team to intermingle women’s objectives with the broader goals of Bestfoods is a masterstroke. Likewise, the numerous surveys and feedbacks taken before, during and after the forum added value to the event. The surveys also provided a database for performing analysis and drawing inferences from.

What challenges and problems do Brody and Shoemate face in getting their diversity strategy implemented?

When compared to institutional factors, it is attitudes and beliefs that have come in the way of implementing the diversity strategy. Men, especially senior men in the company, are quite entrenched in viewing female colleagues as subordinates. Their worldview is strengthened by the fact that they are usually the sole breadwinners for their families, with their wives assuming homemaker roles. But as the survey results showed this mentality is not set in stone, as many men manage to accept and create harmonious relations with a female boss. Toward the end of the forum, many of Brody’s initial apprehensions were dispelled. The widespread consensus to the diversity initiative as well as the resounding support from Shoemate and Bergmann augur well for the success of the initiative.

Prior to the opening session of the forum, what steps have Brody and her HR colleagues taken to promote diversity efforts throughout the company?

Brody was well aware that diversity is not a new concern for the organization. To this extent she had revisited existing diversity and development programs in Bestfoods and had drawn lessons from them. This way Brody can focus on renewing old programs and also creating new initiatives where there is policy lacuna. The generous list of invitees to the forum – from all corners of the company’s operations is in itself a diversity measure. Then the numerous surveys conducted in the lead up to and during the forum helped ascertain qualitative and quantitative issues pertaining to diversity within the company.

What actions or factors contributed to making this a successful change effort?

Foremost, the visionary and proactive thoughts and actions of Laura Brody is the basic contributor to success. Brody had several issues to contend with. She had inherited a diversity and development department that had grown stagnant over the years. Not only did she reignite a spark in this ailing department but she was also able to think out-of-the-box for solutions. She also displayed courage and conviction in being able to articulate her views on the subject of women’s representation within Bestfoods. It was Brody’s and the broader organization’s good fortune that the two significant male leaders Shoemate and Bergmann were not chauvinistic men. To the contrary, they shared Laura’s sincerity and passion for the cause. All these are key factors in making the change effort a success.

What else should Brody and Bestfoods do to institutionalize the changes begun at the Women’s Global Leadership Forum?

The first and most significant step for creating enduring institutional changes was already taken at the Women’s Global Leadership Forum. An effective follow up to the forum would be publicizing the resolutions and agreements made during the forum. The publicity should be both intra organizational and to the general public. The former will reinforce the commitment pledged by top leaders and the latter will create transparency and public goodwill. Further, making the women’s global leadership forum an annual or bi-annual convention within the organization will consolidate its success. By doing so, the culture of equality, diversity and representation will become internalized at the individual, departmental and regional levels.

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