Leadership   //   March 5, 2024

‘Relentless commitment’: PepsiCo’s CHRO on fostering a diverse workforce

Employee appreciation day is in the rearview, but for companies that understand the importance of retention, one day a year isn’t the only recognition they are giving their workers. 

PepsiCo, the second-largest food and beverage company in the world, employing nearly 300,000 people, is one of those companies. It plans to unveil different initiatives that highlight its appreciation for in-office and frontline employees throughout the year. The most recent focuses on recruiting and retaining women in manufacturing – a still male-dominated industry. 

Through the international ‘She Is PepsiCo’ program, a group of women who are breaking stereotypes about working in the industry, will have their images displayed on the sides of delivery fleets to celebrate their accomplishments and raise awareness about different career opportunities for women in manufacturing. 

We spoke with Andrea Ferrara, CHRO of North American Beverages and Nutrition at PepsiCo, to dive into why employee appreciation matters for workers both in and outside of the office, how they make a big company feel small, and why core pillars matter for a business. 

Answers have been edited for clarity and flow.

Why is employee recognition so important?

Employee recognition is something that PepsiCo has a long-standing history with. It really starts with promoting a culture. When you have an organization that employs almost 300,000 people globally, you want to make sure that people feel a part of something big, but also have this family feeling – making a large company feel small. I think that’s really important. When you have hundreds of thousands of people, people need to break through and feel like they’re recognized and like they matter. That’s a little bit of the mindset that kind of goes into it. 

This campaign really is about bringing visibility to the women that make, move and sell our product. So they literally can drive their picture around. It’s a beautiful way to celebrate the work they do and show what’s possible at PepsiCo. It’s really embedded in our culture to show recognition, but I love that we do it in a way that can make the person feel really special in the location in which they work.

How is PepsiCo committed to achieve gender parity and pay equity globally?

PepsiCo has historically had a robust DE&I aspiration. The way it manifests itself is through this initiative we have called ‘A Space to be You.’ That is grounded in this relentless commitment to fostering a diverse workforce. What does that mean? You have to have high collaboration, and an inclusive space. There’s a safe space no matter where you came from, what you look like, who you love – you have a voice and I think this concept of having a voice is really powerful. It really ladders up to that concept of gender parity and an inclusive culture. That’s a mantra that is alive and well and we try to live it every day. 

And we try to do things from a training and development standpoint too and hold ourselves accountable for those PepsiCo-way behaviors. One of those behaviors is to raise the bar on talent and diversity. It’s something we hold leaders to. We do a pay equity assessment every year. I’m proud to say today at PepsiCo men and women are paid within 1% of each other. 

But I think you can’t do it and isolate any of these things to truly drive an inclusive environment. It has to be end-to-end and a holistic approach. 

How do you think about your desk-based workers when it comes to these initiatives?

In some ways, I think a lot of the DE&I programs are easier to do in the big headquarters locations because you have pretty big captive audiences. Sometimes getting to the desk associates is a whole lot easier than getting to the frontline. Philosophically, the initiatives that we do, there is not really a bifurcation between our frontline and our headquarters associates. We use the three C’s – how do I drive connection? How do I show care? And how do I help people have the most fulfilling career that they possibly can? That’s a platform that ladders up to our DE&I initiatives. It’s absolutely the same set of expectations and outcomes, regardless of where you sit in the organization. 

This concept of connection, those relationships with your peers and manager, and the career piece, we actually have the same set of tools for frontline and salaried associates to help them navigate. We have something that’s called an Ace Conversation that we use that asks what are your aspirations, what are your career goals, what really energizes you and engages you. That’s the same document that we use regardless of where you sit. I think that’s part of the magic, where you can start on the frontline and end up sitting in PepsiCo Headquarters. 

It has to be a safe space where people feel valued and recognized and rewarded. That’s table stakes. Then I think you branch into making sure you push people and give people the runway to continue to grow and develop and push themselves. One of the most powerful things about PepsiCo is the breadth of the businesses in which we operate. I’ll use myself as an example. I got to be in the beverage business, then I got to be in the food business. After that, I was in Latin America, I was in Global, I got to do Corporate. I never left the PepsiCo umbrella, but I probably felt like I worked in five or six different companies. I think that’s powerful. 

PepsiCo made headlines for its ‘Work that Works’ policy. Has it seen continued success?

We feel pretty good about where we are. It’s important to have flexibility. We try to take a step back and think about helping people manage their whole lifecycle. I give our total rewards team a ton of credit. They do a phenomenal job of thinking about it in the most holistic sense. We absolutely have flexible policies, like I’m working from home today. We have the request to be in the office some days, but they have the flexibility to work from home.

But we try to broaden it. We also have things around healthy living and giving people the tools to live as healthy of a life as they possibly can with access to nurses and doctors. Then there’s also something around financial planning and being healthy from a money standpoint. It’s a really good suite of tools that’s end-to-end. While work from home is a super important tool, I don’t think it can be the only tool that you give to your associates.