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Diversity Doers: Establishing a network of ambassadors to take diversity work across 70+ countries

How The HEINEKEN Company balances across global inclusion and local expectations, in an organization that spans 85,000 employees and almost half the countries in the world.

Pascale Thorre, Global Inclusion and Diversity Head at The HEINEKEN Company, shared with us their experience of balancing between global inclusion and diversity objectives and local contexts. 

JL: Pascale, you lead I&D work in a very big organization; you have around 85 000 employees in 70+ countries. How have you gone about driving I&D across such a wide range of countries, all with unique histories and different contexts for Inclusion and Diversity?

PT:  When starting this work our ambition definitively was to have an environment that allows us to leverage the power of our diversity as well as to have an environment where everybody feels that they matter and that they contribute to our business success. So indeed, the question we had to answer was “How do we make this happen with such a diverse footprint?”

We decided to approach this by having a GloCal strategy. We have a global I&D strategy under which we foster inclusion and pay attention to the gender balance of our senior managers. But within this global strategy we also want to respect the culture of every country, as well as the business dynamics in different countries, as they can be very different.

JL: How have you solved this tension between driving global objectives and being open to local specificities?   

PT: What we have done is that we have trained over eighty I&D ambassadors, 1 or 2 in every country. They advance our global objectives on the local level, but they also work with their local context in mind. So they might say: “Right now the important topic here is people with disabilities, or ethnicity, rather than gender balance”. And if they have local challenges that are beyond our two main global pillars, they will add to their local agendas.

JL: How does the work of an ambassador typically progress?

PT: We have a six-step process ambassadors follow. The first thing they do is that they meet with their management team. Then they look at the organization: they talk with people, they gather data and they work out a list of pain points and opportunities. Once they have done this they meet their management team again to say: "Okay, we have this data, we have analyzed it, we have gathered a list of opportunities. What is most urgent and important to tackle?" Because it is better to start I&D focused and impactful, rather than broad and surfacing.

Once the priorities to be tackled for year one are decided upon, the ambassadors, together with the country team, either marketing, corporate affairs, HR, leadership, they design the I&D strategy and deliver on the action plan. The last step is to share best practices with their fellow ambassadors.

JL: As the ambassadors have such a crucial role in advancing your I&D agenda, you must have a clear idea of what the characteristics of an ideal ambassador are. What kind of people should one select for an ambassador role?

PT: Our ambassador network is a very diverse group of people. All of them are engaged and high achievers. So we have a strong profile in terms of ambassadors, which is one of the most important factors for making this work.

When recruiting the ambassadors we wanted people who would be set for success. People who already were performing well in their day-to-day jobs. People who have passion for inclusion and diversity, and people who already have a voice in their countries. The nomination process was treated as if it was a job even though it's not a job. It's a role on top of one’s day-to-day job.

JL: What advice would you give a person planning to take a GloCal approach for inclusion and diversity, and driving it through an ambassador network? What are the preconditions for success?

PT: The first prerequisite is that the entire organization is aligned around the GloCal strategy. This means that every country needs to think through the resources that they will have to engage into the I&D work. It is important that there's a shared understanding around the fact that we will make things happen together and we will put the means to make that happen together.

The best way ensure that it gets done is by making sure that your GloCal strategy is in the list of business priorities and the company's strategic plan. It has to be set as a priority. And as a priority, it has to be reflected in any tool that the global or local organizations are using in their respective communications. This really is one of the prerequisites.

The second prerequisite is resilience. When you have people acting in role on top of their job they need to juggle with time. As a consequence, they need to have what it takes to be resilient. They need to be able to switch between the job and the role. Any driver for that ability to switch, being superb organizational skills or passion for one’s topic, is from my perspective, a key enabler.

And then you have the third enabler, which is creating a sense of community. Our ambassadors are alone in their countries, but they have each other. We create a community of sharing and support within every group of ambassadors. The network is a great resource in itself.

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