FMCG can do more to improve DE&I

Head of Retail, IRI, Jaime Silvester

Jaime Silvester joined IRI in June 2017, leading the high growth area of Retail Collaboration Gateways and Loyalty Solutions before broadening her responsibilities to Head of Retail UK and joining the Executive Board in June 2019.

The FMCG grocery sector still has much to do in terms of demonstrating its leadership in diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) and improving efforts to attract the next generation of diverse, bright young talent into the industry. This is not breaking news for most of you. From where I’m sitting in a tech business operating within FMCG, we have a double whammy. Not only is there an issue within Grocery but there is a real lack of diversity within STEM too.

STEM shortage
The STEM worker shortfall each year is an estimated 69,000 so encouraging more young people to see the value of STEM skills within the industry is essential. The challenge of attracting a potentially more diverse workforce is an industry wide issue and it needs to start from an early stage. Particularly when you consider that less than 6% of UK students studying STEM subjects at university are black. The reality is that there are simply fewer graduates from ethnically diverse backgrounds applying for STEM roles.

Often, we find that school leavers and graduates have a perception that jobs in data and technology are heavily focussed on data science; that these jobs are ‘geeky’.

Of course, there are the more traditional roles, such as solutions consultants and data scientists but the important message to get across is that there’s far more to STEM than, for example, just writing code.

Most people don’t even think about it, but we use big data and technology every single day. Whether it’s using ‘tap and go’ contactless payments with our bank card or spending points on our supermarket loyalty cards. For example, the amount of data and technology that goes in to determining which products appear on our supermarket shelves is mind blowing. Millions of people shop online now, which has increased significantly during the pandemic. The fact we can order just about anything and have it delivered to our doors within 24 hours is all down to how data and technology work together.

People who have worked in the industry for a long time often have very focussed and specialised skills. However, the skills required from today’s workforce are new and highly evolving. To be successful in a STEM career it’s important we attract people who are adaptable, agile and possess flexible skill sets.

Attending networking events, workshops, careers fairs and company showcase events such as ‘Black Women into Tech’ is an excellent way to ignite that spark of curiosity within a wider, more diverse generation of young people, while promoting the wide range of STEM career options available. But we need to do more.

There are some great supportive peer networks and mentoring programmes out there but this isn’t simply a tick-box exercise. Businesses need to understand the importance of nurturing young and diverse talent. How we, as an industry, flex and adapt to new ways of working and thinking is vital to the way we constantly innovate and differentiate our sector.

Young people at every level of education should be encouraged to cultivate an interest in STEM. To do this schools, business and the industry must demonstrate how STEM can encourage diversity in the true sense of the word.

The current lack of diversity risks losing the experiences and perspectives of significant segments of the population to the detriment of our industry.

Ethnically diverse brands
Embracing DE&I isn’t just about how we tackle the challenges of recruiting and training a more diverse workforce. It’s also about how we, as industry leaders, investors and consumers, promote and encourage diversity within the industry by supporting diversity on the shelf. Shockingly, the estimated UK FMCG turnover from Black-owned brands is less than 2%, with no more than three such brands currently stocked within any one UK retailer. Ethnically diverse brands are often small start-ups that lack the large budgets, the connections and the experience to succeed in today’s retail eco system. So, what can we do to change this and help build their brand footprint within the UK FMCG market?

Firstly, we can help them to get on the shelf. By sharing knowledge of their category, their role within it as well as the shoppers who buy it, new brands can cement a firm, clear proposition based on insight. Secondly, we can help them have the best chance of selling by understanding how shoppers are interacting with their brand and working with retailers to build distribution.

By offering FMCG insights, consultancy and mentoring to help develop their relationships with retail partners, we can ultimately give such brands a better chance of success by helping to raise awareness among retailers, increase wider distribution and ensure greater choice for the conscious consumer.

Walk the talk
That’s exactly what Psalt are doing with their  ADD PSALT programme. A non-profit organisation set up to incubate support for Black-owned brands within FMCG, ADD PSALT partners with businesses like IRI to form a network of industry professionals who can coach and mentor start-ups to give them the knowledge and the foundation on which to build a successful brand.

Generating Genius, is another organisation created to help address the challenge of inspiring the next generation of geniuses into STEM careers, particularly those from ethnic minority and disadvantaged backgrounds.  Through partnerships with organisations such as IRI, Generating Genius aim to showcase the wide range of exciting employment opportunities available to young people who may not have been given the same life chances as others. Such partnerships also provide businesses with wider access to a more inclusive and representative talent pool of students who may be looking for alternative pathways into work.

DE&I initiatives such as these aren’t a quick fix for what is an industry wide challenge. However, they do offer significant strides in the right direction on what should be viewed as a long-term journey. An inclusive and diverse organisation helps future growth and prosperity and it’s one that I believe partners, investors, consumers and employees have come to expect.

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