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NEW partners push for change to tackle gender bias

trudy and panel

Companies must abandon traditional methods of addressing gender bias and sexual harassment to create more diverse, inclusive workplaces, three corporate leaders told more than 300 senior executives at the 12th annual NEW Executive Forum, July 31 at the Omni La Costa Resort in Carlsbad, California.

Abbie Luersman, chief human resources officer for Ahold Delhaize; Tim Massa, chief people officer at The Kroger Co.; and Alicia Petross, vice president of diversity, inclusion and engagement at The Hershey Company, candidly shared their insights on the state of gender equality in their companies during “Unscripted: A Courageous Conversation on the Road Ahead,” led by leadership expert and author Trudy Bourgeois, founder and CEO of The Center for Workforce Excellence

On addressing sexual harassment

Tim Massa: Anytime I or someone on my team dealt with an individual being victimized or harassed, we dealt with it confidentially, in a discreet way. That was the framework — respecting all parties involved was the protocol and I prided myself in managing it confidentially.

But this is a societal issue, not an HR issue. It’s a new hire issue, to explain on day one, what we expect, and it’s a leadership issue. It’s time to dispel the secrecy and say the facts. That’s the piece I’m trying to lead now.

On companies working to eliminate bias 

Abbe Luersman: When Ahold and Delhaize came together, we asked, who do we want to be as leaders? Cultures start with leaders and leader behavior. We did a culture diagnostic and decided how we wanted to evolve. We created a leadership journey and [identified] specific characteristics of a leader.

When we see a misbehavior, we address it head on, but [we are working through] how we communicate that collectively across the organization. Now, if there is an incident, we bring everyone together — all of the employees in that market, including store associates — and explain how we are dealing with it.

On creating a more diverse and inclusive workplace

Alicia Petross: It’s about educating everyone on what is possible in your organization. Talent is available everywhere, but we had to get very intentional, talking about our legacy and purpose and storytelling that to attract talent. Then, when talent comes in, we do a ferocious job of on-boarding.

There is no such thing as leaving your personal life in the parking lot. At her first town hall as our CEO, Michele Buck talked about bias and marginalization in the U.S. It was raw, emotional and sometimes tearful — and it was important because those issues impact us all.

On pay parity

Luersman: When we see [inaction], we need to call it out. “Enough is enough. These are the facts.”

When you do a pay parity study, look deeper — you can’t just look at the average woman’s pay. Do you look at pay in terms of experience and performance? In most cases, that makes the pay gap even greater.

On creating workplace change

Petross: Be focused, be intentional, be real and be in it to win it.

Massa: A leader told me to stand on the shoulders of others. Whose shoulders are you are you standing on — and who are you pulling forward?

Luersman: Be intentional, be inclusive and shake those cages.