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5 Questions with Karen Ress

Thursday, June 13, 2013   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Barbara Francella
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Karen Ress is vice president and general manager, international brands for Nestlé Waters North America. A member of the company’s retail management team, Ress represents the organization on the company’s Balance4Performance Team, dedicated to gender diversity, and serves on the Global Waters Gender Balance Steering Committee. Ress’ career began in packaging procurement with General Cinema Corp. and has included roles in purchasing, production scheduling and fleet operations for Latrobe Brewing; brand management for Rolling Rock beer; and sales management, trade marketing, category marketing and brand management for The Perrier Group of America and Nestle Waters North America.

How would you characterize Nestlé Waters North America’s commitment to gender diversity/equity?

The company’s recognition of the need to focus on gender diversity or "balance” began in 2007 in the retail organization, which includes sales, marketing, customer service and corporate communications. Our first initiative was to become a Network of Executive Women sponsor, learn about what other organizations were doing in this area and define our activities for the next few years. Today our commitment to gender balance spans the entire company and is a high priority for future business success.

What internal initiatives and strategies support that commitment?

It starts with the commitment of senior management and a "know the numbers” mindset. The specific initiatives are functional and corporate mentoring programs (we have 41 senior female mentees this year); executive roundtables; Connect & Discover workshops; sponsorship of NEW and the Women’s Foodservice Forum; and gender education that includes understanding and leveraging the differences between men and women, unconscious gender bias and stereotypes. We also are including gender awareness content in our existing Beginning The Journey and Make Your Mark leadership training programs.

We are recognizing gender diversity in our Organization Talent Review process to ensure women with high potential acquire the skills, the visibility and opportunities for advancement.

How are the company’s leaders held accountable for advancing women to leadership roles?

All leaders support and encourage their female (and male) employees to participate in the activities and organizations I just detailed. We are working hard to understand the underlying issues and opportunities to develop a robust gender scorecard across functions that look at a number of dimensions of the hiring, retention and promotion processes. Eventually we will determine individual and functional key performance indicators.

How does NEW support the company’s initiatives?

NEW is an important asset. We have 100 members who are leveraging NEW resources and events. Members and other employees are exposed to leadership skill development opportunities through regional meetings, national meetings and other resources, such as the NEW Leadership Academy. We have NEW regional committee members in both Canada and the U.S. and participate every year in the Leadership Summit and the Executive Leader’s Forum. I have brought eight male senior executives with me to the Forum over the last three years, which has opened eyes and sparked some very interesting conversations! Of course NEW is a great forum to build critical relationships with our industry colleagues and partners, which enhances our corporate reputation.

Why is the advancement of women to leadership roles important to the organization?

Having women at the table when strategic direction is debated, new policies are developed, organizational structure is defined and roles and responsibilities are discussed is critical because women bring diversity of thought, experience and expectations. We manufacture and market healthy hydration products. They are purchased largely by the female head of household. It is just common sense and great business sense to have women central in the decision-making process. We want to attract the best talent to Nestlé Waters and that means building an organization and culture that is attractive to our daughters. They have to see how they will fit in and have a great career with us.

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