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11 March 2016

The role of women in our business

Why do we celebrate International Women’s Day?

After all, women form the majority of the global population; they are typically longer-lived; and in the vital area of education they have finally been freed to punch their weight. Indeed today women are more numerous (51%) in university enrolment and are outperforming their male counterparts.

So why celebrate this day? The reason is that the battle for women to be able to find their rightful place in the world is nowhere near over. While greater equality in education is to be welcomed, this has not yet fed through to the global workforce, where women frequently find themselves discriminated against – subtly and unsubtly – often paid less than men for doing the same job as well as being seriously under-represented in the boardroom and executive suites.

We are making progress, of course. Discrimination against women is becoming less common, and today the drive for equality enjoys more broad-based support. I am very proud that SABMiller has long championed gender equality, and that it forms an important part of our Prosper sustainable development programme.

Last year, to mark International Women’s Day I challenged my region, Latin America, to do more to make a difference to the lives of women everywhere. Let me provide some perspective on the areas we’ve focused on and some of the progress we’ve made:

1. Consumers. Beer penetration among females is 35% in our region; in other words, only 35% of women in our countries drink beer at all. This is not just a commercial issue, it’s also a matter of social responsibility. We know that when women participate the intensity of beer consumption tends to be lower while the frequency is higher – a more responsible pattern of consumption which is precisely how we would like to see our markets evolve.

We still have a way to go before we engender what could be considered a normal pattern of consumption in our markets, with just 20% of the beer we sell in Latin America consumed by women. We are, though, working to make our advertising, packaging and taste profiles appeal as much to women as they have historically done to men.

2. Retailers. Almost two thirds of our retail customers are owned or managed by women. However, around half of these tenderos are in survival mode, trying to provide for their families while making a rather meagre living. We realised some years ago that our retailers needed help, and I am proud to say that our 4e programme, launched in 2013, is delivering this help. With women representing around 70% of our 4e beneficiaries, we are providing essential support to improving and growing their businesses, supporting family planning and turning tenderos into community leaders, to the benefit of the neighbourhoods around them.

3. Internally. Over the past year we have seen female representation in management positions increase from 25% to 28%, while in executive roles the figure has grown from 18% to 22%. So we have made progress, although we are still a long way off our 2020 target of 35% in both categories. Research has shown overwhelmingly that more diverse leadership teams deliver superior performance, and diversity starts with gender representation.

The good news is that we are building a pipeline of female talent in our businesses from which to find our future executives. Every SABMiller Latin America country has a target to ensure that at least half of external management recruits are women, plus we insist that all selection committees have female representation.

We have also started to address workplace attitude and flexible working options which have held female employees back in the past. Over the past year we have engaged leaders in unconscious bias workshops, which has really helped challenge ourselves to think about underlying perceptions of gender equality amongst other things. And last but not least, I believe we have wonderful role models among our senior women within the region.

None of these initiatives is by itself a silver bullet; nor is there any single global programme that could magically solve gender inequality. I am confident that the more we promote and demonstrate the valuable role women play in our business, our markets and in wider society, the more quickly we can achieve gender equality.