Diageo: A Shared Vision For Female Empowerment

Indian women on bottling line

A cross-sector approach and effective collaboration is the key to realising the UN sustainable development goal of gender equality and empowerment of women, writes Diageo’s sustainable development director David Croft.

 “How can we embrace inclusion if we can’t successfully work in partnership?”

This century should see an unprecedented rise of women creating value within world economies. While this is beginning to happen, the fundamental issue here is not economic empowerment, but how women gain equal rights and independence. If this is to be achieved, we need true collaboration to capitalise on the strength of differing sectors and their areas of expertise. If businesses are to play the significant role expected of them in all of the UN Global Goals, how can those within business – and indeed the very organisations they represent – work together to make this a reality?

Companies, civil society and governments are increasingly focusing upon diversity and equality, both in terms of delivering rights and supporting opportunities for growth. Although not universal, this shift has the potential to trigger social momentum that improves access to core rights, creates social capital and generates shared value for employees, farmers and manufacturers, customers and consumers, and their communities. Within this, trust and respect are essential enablers, supported by a shared goal, but probably hindered by scepticism surrounding motivation.

“$12 trillion could be added to global GDP by 2025 by advancing women’s equality”


There are relatively few examples of multi-sector approaches that are delivering true success in terms of collaboration. Those that are embody a shared vision within their approach, and a shared recognition and understanding of the different needs of individual partners. An open and frank conversation about those needs, and the potential for compromises against them is critical in building that understanding. Without this, apparently strong coalitions risk breakup despite that shared vision, and it can be difficult to achieve when new partners from different sectors may have previously been confrontational opponents.


Success also stems from an ability to compromise to achieve an outcome that is greater than the sum of the parts, and an ability to relinquish a degree of control in the running of the partnership to members from other sectors. Neither are necessarily behaviours often associated with businesses, although the private sector is not alone in acting in that way. Ironically, organisations likely to drive these new partnerships frequently have strong driving principles, and those very principles may hinder their ability to compromise their approach.


Diageo’s approach to diversity and inclusion is broad, encompassing the way we work with our own teams; our external programmes with communities, working with civil society, governments and other companies; and increasingly the work of our brands talking with consumers. It is embodied in one of the three pillars of our 2020 goals, that of enabling thriving communities where diversity and inclusivity are embraced. This is and will continue to be one of the most material issues affecting our business.

Creating an inclusive, collaborative culture is core to Diageo’s purpose and performance. Beyond basic rights, a more balanced team means broader conversations and better decision-making. Within FTSE 100 companies, Diageo has the highest number of women at the most senior levels, with women as 45 per cent of board directors, and 40 per cent of our executive team. This still has to improve, and broaden, with a progressive next goal for leadership teams to be 35 per cent female by 2020, and further beyond that. Our approach includes flexible ways of working, supporting parental care, recognising that women bear disproportionate responsibility for unpaid care work, and changing the culture, business practices and expectations around men and the share of work.

Indian women working on production line-minPartnerships

Looking beyond our direct operations, into the communities where we operate around the world, there are partnerships with NGOs and other institutions such as WaterAid and Technoserve to deliver access to water and sanitation in Africa to over 10 million people in 10 years. As a result, in Ghana for example, women and children spend up to 33 per cent less time sourcing water, enabling them to do other things. For example, more women are running commercial businesses now that they can rely on the water source. Children, especially girls, are spending less time sourcing water and more time at school, supporting improved academic performance. Key here though is the recognition that time itself is not necessarily empowering, it merely enables the potential for empowerment, while more is needed to bring it to pass.

Elsewhere, similar partnerships have created empowerment initiatives, such as with CARE International in the Sri Lankan hospitality sector. Elsewhere, the China Women’s Development Fund is delivering a five-year national programme to provide a wide range of learning opportunities designed to improve the social and economic status of around 100,000 women. Diageo Korea and the local Ministry of Gender Equality and Family are collaborating to deliver women’s empowerment through learning, with a focus on building capabilities and skills including economic literacy, counseling and mentoring programmes alongside improving workplace environments, and funding to provide safer housing facilities for marginalised women.

Shared goals

Perhaps these programmes sound typical of a business’ approach, but what is powerful and driving their impact is the collaboration with others in civil society and the public sector, to deliver a shared goal that contributes towards a wider societal benefit, articulated by the Global Goals. These progammes also indirectly support the development of diverse teams for Diageo’s future. It is an approach that has a strong element of advocacy to build awareness and drive changes in attitude, an area where perhaps consumer brands can play a greater role in the future.

Smirnoff’s new “We’re Open” work is all about inclusivity. Chris Fonseca, an inspiring deaf dance teacher from London teaches other deaf dancers about ways to enjoy music beyond just hearing it. In Brooklyn, the DISCwoman film showcases a local artist community and booking agency that has a clear vision: Empower females within electronic music and provide a platform that celebrates diverse individuals with talent. Launched on International Women’s Day, this champions women and provides a platform to tell their stories in a way that is inherently linked to the purpose of the Smirnoff Sound Collective.

Growth opportunities

If the Global Goals and the rights associated with them are to be delivered, we need more and effective collaboration. The economic backdrop might be seen as limiting, but there are strong growth opportunities that might also motivate. McKinsey’s report suggests $12 trillion could be added to global GDP by 2025 by advancing women’s equality and following already-established themes. Despite this opportunity though, many seem slow to consider it, suggesting there are deeper reasons for lethargy, perhaps cultural conscious or unconscious biases and prejudices. These no doubt exist, and can be challenged. For some, it could of course be a case of believing that there are simpler ways to find $12 trillion of growth.

A multi-sector environment can enable change. In part, this is because no individual sector or even one part of business can make and embed the breadth and scale of change that is necessary to embrace diversity and deliver the Global Goal. By its nature, a cross-sector approach, driving effective collaboration based upon trust also brings the potential to break down the barriers to improving diversity and inclusion. How can we embrace inclusion if we can’t successfully work in partnership? While there are great examples emerging, scaling up remains a challenge that requires collaboration around both activity and advocacy on common themes. We may increasingly understand those themes, but can we work collectively to deliver?