Heineken — which last year made its first appearance at Amsterdam’s Pride parade — has trained about 100 employees as local inclusion and diversity ambassadors © Twycer

Despite a decades-long career in a male-dominated industry, Christine Van Rijsseghem has never felt that being a woman has worked against her. “I have been very lucky,” says Ms Van Rijsseghem, chief risk officer at Brussels-based KBC bank.

Yet the executive is acutely aware of the need to have more women in senior roles in finance.

As part of a wider corporate diversity drive, Ms Van Rijsseghem created initiatives to boost the number of female employees at KBC, including the 2014 launch of its internal women’s network, now called Diversity Rocks.

Recruitment policies are instrumental in tackling gender diversity, Ms Van Rijsseghem explains. “We have a rule that we must promote top talent that comes from 50 per cent men and 50 per cent women,” she says. “We don’t do positive discrimination.”

The board of directors at the bank — which ranks 229th on the latest annual FT-Statista Diversity Leaders list — is currently 31 per cent female, while company wide, women account for 57 per cent of staff.

KBC is not the only company in the Benelux region striving for a more diverse workplace. 

About 100 employees at Amsterdam-based brewer Heineken — which has about 85,000 employees in more than 70 countries — have been trained as so-called local inclusion and diversity ambassadors since the start of last year. 

Christine Van Rijsseghem, chief risk officer at KBC
Christine Van Rijsseghem, chief risk officer at KBC

By its own admission Heineken has come later to the diversity and inclusion party than many other companies and is now two years into a five-year strategy. But last year the beer-maker made its first appearance at Amsterdam’s Pride parade (as well as that of New York and São Paulo).

Though coronavirus meant the festival had to be cancelled this year, it did not stop its LGBT+ employee resource group — Hop (Heineken Open and Proud), which globally has more than 1,000 members — marking the occasion remotely, says Pascale Thorre, leader of global I&D at Heineken. 

Hop also supports local ambassadors to raise awareness of the importance of LGBT+ inclusion, and campaigns to “inform employees and fight prejudice through information sharing”, she adds.

Like many of her peers across the region, Ms Thorre says inclusion is crucial to a modern workplace. However, she recognises there is still room for improvement when it comes to gender diversity at her company.

While Heineken’s executive board is 50 per cent female, the company says it wants to improve the number of women among its senior managers, which rose from 17 per cent in 2016 to 23 per cent in 2019. Just over a quarter of its executive team is female.

“We are working on an increase by the end of 2020 and beyond,” says Ms Thorre. “We are very conscious that the talent pool around us is 50 per cent women. It is an important pillar of our global aspirations.”

Some companies have made big strides on tackling gender inequality by rethinking their pay structures.

When Dan Schulman took over as chief executive at Luxembourg-based PayPal in 2015, the payments company took a closer look at fairness in workers’ remuneration. As a result, PayPal says that in 2019, it had maintained 100 per cent gender pay equality in salaries and bonuses globally for the fourth year in a row.

Globally, women account for 43 per cent of the workforce at PayPal, which ranks 134th in the latest Diversity Leaders list. It is also one of the biggest improvers since its appearance on last year’s ranking, where it placed 680th out of 700 companies. More than a third of roles at vice-president level and above are now held by women — a 10 per cent increase since 2015.

Franz Paasche, senior vice-president of corporate affairs at PayPal, says: “[We] focused on how we would address discrimination and help the company really live our values. It mattered a lot to our employees and our leadership team that we would walk the walk and talk the talk internally and externally.”

Franz Paasche
‘We have a long way to go to ensure that we have the most inclusive and diverse population that we can’ — Franz Paasche, senior vice-president of corporate affairs at PayPal

PayPal has also committed an annual $15m to its diversity programmes, which include supporting the recruitment and career advancement of black and minority employees.

Mr Paasche says building diversity at work is a continuous endeavour.

“You are never done and we have a long way to go to ensure that we have the most inclusive and diverse population that we can have working within PayPal and to close the gaps that systemic racism has created in many parts of our economy.”

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