Fast Four Questions: Joanne Fair, Managing Director of People and Culture at Fonterra

Joanne Fair is Managing Director of People and Culture at Fonterra, responsible for delivering Fonterra’s people strategy and organisational health and engagement across more than 22,000 employees globally.

Fonterra is a Global Women partner and have had 15 female senior leaders complete our Breakthrough Leaders Programme. We grabbed a few minutes with Joanne to ask her about women in leadership and the Fonterra experience of BTL.

Global Women: Why is it important for women to take the lead in New Zealand?

Joanne Fair: Women make up half the population, however their voices are often underrepresented at senior levels in business. We know that diverse and inclusive teams bring different perspectives to the table and have a unique energy about them, which typically results in better and more innovative business outcomes. Women have influence in the home, in the workplace, in consumer purchasing decisions and in our communities. It simply doesn’t make sense that their perspectives would not also help shape our commercial agenda and decision-making.

GW: What practical steps can organisations take to encourage more women into leadership roles?

JF: Senior executives can lead the way by giving their full support to help create a diverse and inclusive environment that benefits everyone. Practical examples of initiatives they can sponsor or endorse include: more flexibility in working patterns; opening up talent opportunities by encouraging cross-functional or non-traditional career moves; taking opportunities to visibly support diversity as a priority; and challenging unconscious biases by actions such as ensuring leaders in the business start with a diverse candidate pool for interviewing. We have found, for example, that as more women take on leadership roles, there is a halo effect where other women try new things and take on a career move they may not have otherwise considered.

GW: Fonterra have been onboard with Breakthrough Leaders since the programme was first launched. What flow-on benefits has the organisation seen in their investment in women for senior leadership?

JF: Perhaps most importantly, our early partnership with Global Women on the Breakthrough Leaders programme sent a very clear message to everyone in our organisation that we value diversity, and believe in investing in our women leaders for the future. With an 80% retention rate of programme participants, as time has gone on, we have seen these women take on new roles with confidence, and drive strong business outcomes. For example, in our New Zealand Brands business we now have more than 50% women on the leadership team, of which two are Breakthrough Leaders graduates.

GW: How can those already at the top create or hold space for emerging women leaders?

JF: We now have a cadre of women in key executive roles right across our organisation who are hugely influential. Their voices are being heard in all aspects of our business from leadership roles in supply chain and food safety and quality through to sales and marketing. Not only are they influencing our business, but they are also ‘giving back’ by mentoring and coaching the next generation of women leaders, and in doing so, supporting the development of our pipeline of future leaders globally.