What Heineken USA is doing to break down bias in the beverage industry

When Segolene Prot joined Heineken USA as senior vice president and chief people officer at the start of 2022, the organization had already been making strides toward advancing diversity, equity and inclusion—companywide unconscious bias training, expanded leveraging of company ERGs and its Inclusion & Diversity Council, community investments and more. And now, that work is all about “dialing things up,” says Prot, whose HR experience has included leadership roles at Internal Flavors & Fragrances, Wolters Kluwer and Thomson Reuters, among others.

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In particular, Heineken USA is building on insights gleaned from its multi-year Behind the Label program, an industrywide research initiative aimed at helping alcoholic beverage companies uncover and confront systemic biases facing their talent. And it’s work that’s needed, Prot says; for instance, more than 80% of underrepresented groups who were surveyed in this year’s Behind the Label study say they struggle to fit in in the industry.

Prot recently spoke with HRE about what the industry as a whole, and Heineken USA in particular, need to be doing to change that statistic.

HRE: What was the impetus behind the Behind the Label program—and what have been some of the most impactful outcomes so far?

Prot: This is our second edition of the Behind the Label report. Our first in 2021 focused primarily on gender and issues facing women in the alcoholic beverage industry, and this latest focused mostly on a culture of belonging. So, the questions were really about biases and the need for inclusion in the industry. We did try to oversample in certain select audiences to get a real diverse view on the topics. The response was great and the output has been fantastic, with some key themes that came to light.

HRE: What were a few of those key themes?

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Prot: There was a really strong need for authenticity and transparency in day-to-day interactions—not necessarily from a high-level perspective but how employees actually experience each day. Some of the other key findings were the need for stronger connections, such as through diverse mentorship. Employees also want to know the clear benchmarks for advancement—how can they chart their path in clearer ways? In order to meet these needs, we need to create a culture of belonging and encourage connection between employees. The report gave us a lot of the how, and now the question is, what can we put in place to make those things happen?

HRE: In line with that focus, employee experience is a big topic in 2023 for HR leaders. What is Heineken USA planning on the EX front this year?

Prot: We [had] an all-employee meeting at the end of January. I really think it’s fantastic to get all the employees together, kick off the year, share our mission. That’s been a challenge for most companies. Throughout the year, the question will now be, how do we continue this agenda? How do we keep fostering a culture of belonging? We have heard from our people that they are looking for a focus on advancement, so we’re trying to create a learning and development agenda that’s bite-sized. It’s not, “Hey, go on this leadership journey” with topics that are too much to swallow. If we’re capable instead of saying, “This is what it takes to be a leader at HEINEKEN USA, and here are a couple things you can do this year,” employees can better own that journey. So, my perspective will be about how we influence the organization to create such opportunities for employees.

HRE: When it comes to benefits, what trends have you been seeing in terms of the support your workforce is wanting? How are you working to meet those needs?

Prot: One of the biggest topics is wellbeing—not just physical but mental health. We have placed a strong focus on this in the last few years. Like most companies, we have an EAP and this year, we’re dialing up the number of free sessions available to employees. It’s important to make sure employees feel supported and have an outlet that’s not necessarily just us in the people function because we can’t resolve all issues. In terms of other things … in light of some decisions recently by the Supreme Court, we decided to extend travel benefits so individuals can seek the medical care they need in neighboring states if need be; it’s about providing the same access to rights to everyone. That’s our focus—that benefits are all-encompassing. For instance, we offer paternity leave that not all companies have. Do candidates ask about [paternity leave]? Not always; people tend to focus on, “What’s my pay going to be?” But they also feel comforted to see the extent of the benefits we provide. We work to find ways to accommodate the entire diverse workforce that we have.

Related: Learn about “Benefits for the Transforming Workplace” in a keynote by global analyst Josh Bersin at HRE‘s Health & Benefits Leadership Conference, May 3-5 in Las Vegas. Register here.

HRE: How is Heineken USA leveraging people analytics to power your people strategy?

Prot: There are two components here. Obviously, there are the HR systems we use—and with those, it’s very important for our managers and our employees to leverage those systems. We’re using some analytics to see how comfortable people are doing things to manage their careers and their professional lives with us. The other focus is drawing on our monthly or quarterly reports, which we are trying to share more broadly as well. Promotion rates, turnover, how quickly are people flagged in the succession pipeline getting the job or are they not—we’re looking at all of that. The question now is, how do we tell our story with that data?

I have a past life as a Six Sigma Black Belt so data is quite important to me. If someone says, “Hey, I notice there are less women here,” then I want to be able to say, “OK, let me pull out the data and see if this is true.” It’s super important to anchor yourself in data when you’re making decisions and driving your people strategy.

HRE: What was your initial attraction to HR?

Prot: I fell into it by accident, I would say. I was doing the equivalent of an MBA at a French Ivy League school. I spent part of each year doing internships, and in my last internship, I worked for a large French group, for the head of compensation and benefits globally. What really interested me was the work on policy; my geeky mind enjoyed the data component of that. And then my second job after I came to the U.S. was managing internal and domestic relocations for a specialty HCM group, which was super interesting. Throughout my career, I haven’t always had HR jobs—I was in the Six Sigma program, in business operations, strategy—but I always came back to HR. I feel like here I can influence the company’s agenda through our people—and that’s where my passion really lies.

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Jen Colletta
Jen Colletta is managing editor at HRE. She earned bachelor's and master's degrees in writing from La Salle University in Philadelphia and spent 10 years as a newspaper reporter and editor before joining HRE. She can be reached at [email protected]