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A gender gap is a talent gap

/ 04:03 AM September 25, 2019

Being a woman executive in a multinational firm is challenging enough, but for a woman to hold a fairly senior post in a multinational tobacco company is, to say the least, unusual if not rare.

Stacey Kennedy, president for South and Southeast Asia of Philip Morris International, is aware that she is “unusual”
in her post, “and sometimes people are surprised when they first hear a tobacco executive that doesn’t exactly meet the picture.” At the interview with her in Singapore with two Filipino colleagues, Kennedy indeed defied the stereotype of a businesswoman in a dark suit. At our interview, she was clad in a green lacy dress (light blue in the next day’s “fireside chat” at the Wall Street Journal House), and with her blonde curls was the very picture of soft femininity.

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But there is nothing “soft” about her accomplishments or track record. Starting right out of university at 22 years old, she joined Pillip Morris USA, and in the years since, has so gotten used to the predominantly male leadership that “I don’t think about it anymore.” But in the last few years, said Kennedy, she has been preoccupied with “how we can be more inclusive and how diversity across industries is really critical.”

For Kennedy, achieving a gender balance in the workplace is “not about box-ticking. It’s not about quotas. This is about having the best chance of growing our business because, in fact, a gender gap is a talent gap.” If companies are tapping into only a certain portion of the population, she said, “we’re missing a great deal of big ideas, innovation and the ability to drive our business forward.”

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Begun about two years ago, the initiative began with the men in the most senior management, said Kennedy. “They got a group of very senior women together, a great example of inclusion at its finest,” she recalled. “When you have a problem and rather than a group of men sitting around saying how do we solve a problem for women, why not invite women to sit with around the table as say ‘help us.’ They were very open to listening. Of course, they had their own points of view, too. We had a very robust dialogue.”

One of the early results of that “robust dialogue” around the world was the recent certification of Philip Morris by an international auditing company that it pays men and women equally. “Women earn pennies on the dollar of what men are paid. It’s not fair, and it is not the best way to attract the top talents in any market.” Philip Morris is the first multinational company to have attained this certification and, as Kennedy put it, “it’s had a dramatic effect at the younger generation that are entering the workforce.”

Even as the creation of a gender-fair corporation is evolving, Philip Morris is also in the midst of a more basic transformation, what Kennedy called “a pretty bold mission to replace combustible (burning) cigarettes with smoke-free products that are significantly less harmful for health.” Responsible for steering this change in 15 countries in South and Southeast Asia, Kennedy said Philip Morris remains fixed on its target customers: adults who already smoke.

But to achieve the level of success that this shift in smoking habits has achieved in a market like Japan, said Kennedy, they would need to “raise the level of awareness and we want to offer smokers a solution. Many smokers are aware that smoking cigarettes is harmful to their health, they’re not really clear what is the problem. And we think it is a simple message that burning is the problem.”

* * *

Vindication has come for former National Printing Office (NPO) director Emmanuel C. Andaya and six other officials. Last Aug. 30, the Sandiganbayan’s Fifth Division dismissed the graft cases filed against Andaya and the rest. This was due to the “failure of the prosecution to present evidence that the transaction entered into NPO with Cebu’s provincial treasurer’s office and JJ Printers Inc. caused undue injury to the government.”

The case was filed in 2011 at the instigation of a private interested party for alleged violation of rules on negotiated procurement. However, the Commission on Audit said it did not find “any irregularity” in the process.

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TAGS: At Large, gender gap, Philip Morris, rina jimenez david, Stacey Kennedy, talent gap
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