Isabelle Renault, vice president EMEA at DSM will be speaking at Food Ingredients Europe this year on the topic ‘Building a sustainable food business: Spotlight on inclusivity and diversity,’ as part of the Women’s Networking Breakfast. We spoke to Marcela Aidar, vice president of people and organisation at DSM to find out why and how they're building a culture of diversity, equity, and inclusion.
What do you consider as being the main benefits of having a diverse workforce? Have you found that there are any challenges associated with an increased level of workplace diversity?
“Our purpose at DSM is ‘brighter Lives for ALL,’ not brighter lives for some. Diversity is therefore in-built to who we are!
“At the meta-level diversity is essential to sustainability, to ensure we adapt and are resilient. We need diversity to reflect our customer/end user base, thereby ensuring we deliver products and solutions that meet their needs.
“Creativity and innovation are driven by different viewpoints, mindsets and experiences. A diverse workforce makes it easier to avoid ‘group-think,’ better identify potential challenges and opportunities, and build a dynamic and energized workplace.
“When it comes to the challenges, without education, skill building and awareness, it can be hard to harness the value of diverse perspectives, and we may reject them or retrench our own position. That’s why it’s important to learn approaches to open up dialogue, encourage listening to others’ perspectives, and educate ourselves to understand the experiences of others.”
At DSM, are you taking any practical steps to increase the number of women in positions of power? If so, what results have you seen?
“DSM established targets for women executives ten years ago and has maintained steady progress since. We have seen the percentage of women at executive level increase to 26% against our 2025 target of 30%. At the top of the business, we have a female co-CEO and a 40% female executive committee.
“Progress has been achieved via a combination of aspects such as focussing from the top - maintaining rigorous, regular attention to our goals – and culture, [for example] making a clear link between who we are, and what we stand for as a purpose-led business.
“Governance is also an important element. Ensuring an effective blend of ownership for creating an inclusive culture, developing talent, and increasing representation through co-CEOs chairing our Inclusion and Diversity Council, which includes regional and business leaders and employee representatives. We also offer business leader sponsorship of our gender pillar and employee resource group support.
“Together with our recruitment partners, we are ensuring diverse candidate slates for key roles, de-biasing recruitment and selection processes, and raising hiring manager awareness of unconscious bias via training.
“Development opportunities are available for targeted women via internal and external programs, and we are building an inclusive culture via awareness trainings (Brighter Together), policy training (Respectful Behaviour), and measurements (EES Inclusion Index).”
The environmental, social and governance (ESG) credentials of brands are increasingly gaining importance amongst consumers. How should brands be responding to this growing consumer demand? Do brands who choose not to act risk being left behind?
“Consumers and employees alike prefer brands with a clear and aligned purpose. Increased transparency is demanded by stakeholders, and poor ESG credentials are perceived as risks, both reputational and material.
“Ultimately businesses need to decide who they are. For DSM, ESG is integral to our business strategy – it makes business sense. It is part of our culture – who we are and what we stand for and is therefore authentic to our brand.
“Brands must ensure that they walk their talk – that their ESG commitments are not cosmetic, but verifiable via policies and practices. At DSM all of our ESG commitments are externally assured. Integrity and credibility are key to trust in our brand.
“Employees carry the brand, so culture and everyday experience must reinforce the brand promise internally, reinforced through the likes of reward structures/ At DSM, the ‘how’ is linked to our culture for all employee levels.”
Diversity, equity, and inclusion are amongst DSM’s core values. How do you ensure that these values are reflected throughout the business, both internally and externally?
“Internally, we exemplify diversity, equity and inclusion via our purpose-Led, performance-driven purpose and brand, food commitments, including improving smallholder farmer livelihoods, and our D&I commitments, such as living wage and equal pay.
“Externally, via our advocacy and partnership support for the likes of Catalyst, WIN Global Council; Valuable 500 (Disability); Workplace Pride; World Business Council for Sustainable Development, and World Economic Forum Future Councils.”