EXCLUSIVE

PEPSICO is allowing employees to swap out Australian public holidays based on the "Christian Anglo-Saxon calendar" for ones "more culturally relevant" to them such as Chinese New Year or Eid.

The trial concept, dubbed "floating cultural holidays", was first introduced last year as part of the company's broader diversity and inclusion drive, which this month saw the local arm recognised with a prestigious global award.

"We have around 45 nationalities in our Australia and New Zealand business, it's something that we're increasingly recognising, celebrating and trying to find new ways of creating broader awareness of cultural differences," said PepsiCo senior HR director Shiona Watson.

"What we've said to our employees is we recognise for the most part the Australian public holiday system is based on a Christian Anglo-Saxon calendar. We said we'll allow our employees some flexibility."

Ms Watson said some public holidays such as Christmas, Easter, Anzac Day and Australia Day were still non-negotiable.

"We've kept them for now," she said. "As with every program we'll stop and evaluate. We've just started with the Labour Day public holidays, Queen's Birthday and sporting holidays [such as] Melbourne Cup."

PepsiCo Australia senior HR director Shiona Watson.
PepsiCo Australia senior HR director Shiona Watson.

Ms Watson was one of eight female employees and leaders from the local business who earlier this month received PepsiCo's Harvey C. Russell Inclusion award at a ceremony in New York, presented by CEO Indra Nooyi.

The award is named after PepsiCo's former vice president, who became the first African-American vice president of a major international corporation in 1962. The local team was recognised for its efforts in increasing female representation, pay equity and flexibility.

The winners, who all received an allocation of shares, included Ms Watson, culture, diversity and engagement lead Laura Sprules, and chief information officer Ursula Phillips, along with about 60 other global employees.

Ms Watson said as a result of efforts to increase female representation in "non-traditional functions", 60 per cent of the research and development team and 70 per cent of the sales leadership team were now women.

She said the supply chain was now an area of focus, with PepsiCo, like many Australian companies, struggling to attract and develop female talent in manufacturing.

Around 40 per cent of PepsiCo's 1800 local employees are women. Ms Watson said the goal was to have a 50-50 split at middle management level and above. By 2025, PepsiCo aims to have 50 per cent female senior leadership, up from 41 per cent today.

"This isn't about just focusing on hiring women, it's about focusing on hiring the best possible talent within the market, but creating environments where everyone has the capacity [to succeed]," she said.

Ms Watson said in terms of hiring mechanisms, there was "no silver bullet" when it came to boosting the number of women in a particular area.

PepsiCo global chairman and CEO Indra Nooyi.
PepsiCo global chairman and CEO Indra Nooyi.

"It's about making sure your frameworks and processes are not building in unconscious bias or over-indexing factors which are irrelevant," she said. "To be honest, there's nothing that we've had to specifically change. It's about making sure the way we language ads, the way we look at criteria on a resume, the way we ask questions in the interview process, to make sure you're not [introducing bias].

"From the entire team's perspective, we look at unconscious bias training, we talk about things that are inherent in our subconscious that we need to be aware of. That's one element. Another really important element is the culture you create - ensuring that we are creating flexibility for all and where we reward for performance, not gender."

Employees at PepsiCo now receive a market-leading 16 weeks paid parental leave, up from 12 weeks, and former CEO Robbert Rietbroek championed family-friendly flexible work policies. Ms Watson said Mr Rietbroek would also encourage people to apply for promotions.

"Without leadership support, flexibility remains words on paper," she said. "One of the things Robbert was very good at doing was saying, 'Actually if you look at the requirements of the role and our internal talent, I think two individuals actually meet that criteria. They haven't put their hand up for the role yet and I want to understand why.'

"It's about nurturing and developing your internal talent. Sometimes people just need the vote of confidence that says we believe you have the skills to do the role. It's just about opening that door and saying come on through."

The award recognised the team's efforts "working towards" 100 per cent pay equity, but Ms Watson said men and women were paid equally.

"I always say 'working towards' because it's about maintaining consistent vigilance," she said. "Someone gets promoted into a different level - it's not a static thing."

Ms Watson said PepsiCo considered diversity and inclusion not only a business imperative a "moral obligation".

"Having worked in a number of organisations, you feel the difference in this place," she said.



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