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Why we must all choose to challenge for International Women's Day


International Women’s Day 2021 (IWD) is an opportunity to reflect on the progress both Diageo and society have made towards improving gender equality. But the unprecedented challenges of the last twelve months should be a reminder to us all that progress is never guaranteed.

Now, more than ever, we must be resilient and ‘Choose to Challenge’ in order to drive true change.

I am proud that even in the most challenging of global circumstances, Diageo can rightly celebrate the progress we have made in this past year.

In February, the final report from the Hampton-Alexander Review confirmed that all-male boards have finally disappeared from the FTSE 350. We were delighted that Diageo ranked No. 1 in the FTSE 100, with 60% women on its board. This parity would have been unrecognisable when I joined the world of work a quarter of a century ago.

In 2021, the world is very different to the one we were living in a mere twelve months ago. The pandemic has upended societies and economies and created a stark reminder that progress on gender equality can’t be taken for granted. 

Women make up 39% of the global workforce, yet women account for 75% of the jobs lost permanently to this crisis. Domestic pressures on our female workforce have been exacerbated – with the time women spend on family responsibilities increasing disproportionately compared to men.

This year, progress on gender equality seems more fragile and uncertain than on any IWD that has gone before. But from challenge comes change. If opportunity is born from a crisis, we must now challenge the status quo and ensure gender parity remains a priority.

IWD asks us all, women and men, to put our hand up high, and show the world we are in.

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HR has the opportunity to lead on trans and non-binary inclusivity


We must challenge what we do

We should challenge ourselves to have policies and practices within an organisation that effect real change. At Diageo, we have a parental leave policy in place to support all parents within our workforce, regardless of sexuality, adoption, foster care or surrogacy.

With our Flex Philosophy, we recognise each of our employee’s unique circumstances, supporting them to embrace flexible working practices that allow them to balance work and life demands more effectively.

In the last year, we have introduced guidelines focusing on gender identity & expression as well as menopause to support employees during key life phases and address equality and inclusion in the workplace more deeply.


We need to challenge our businesses to be accountable

Increasing diversity should be the responsibility of each and every one of us.  At Diageo, as a ‘must do’ building block in our Performance Ambition, the onus is on all our employees to champion an inclusive and diverse culture.

As a centrepiece to our 2030 Diageo Spirit of Progress goals, our business has the opportunity to bring to life the goals we set for ourselves over the next decade.

Women now make up 38% of our executive committee, and we are increasing the number of women in leadership roles across the company; we have recently set new goals to ensure 50% of all leadership roles are held by women by 2030.


We should challenge ourselves

Challenging our own perceptions and attitudes and showing up more as allies for those around us is what shapes our community and where a small contribution from everyone can make a big difference.

In this moment, it is the collective responsibility for each of us to renew our commitment to equality and work harder than ever to inspire change and progress. And it starts with all of us choosing to challenge.

I’m in – my hand is held up high – how about yours?


Caroline Rhodes is global I&D director and HR director at Diageo.


In celebration of International Women's Day this year across the week HR magazine will be providing expert perspectives on gender equality and the expectations of women in the workplace. 

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