“Pick your battle and go for it” — what can your business learn from Danone’s journey towards anti-racism?

Find out how Danone’s employees have been striving for equality and representation in the workplace.

Danone's Journey To Anti Racism

The B Corp movement identifies Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion as fundamental to using business as a force for good. Last year, following the murder of George Floyd, over 100 B Corps convened for an Open Community Conversation to discuss race and reflect on our roles within a system that perpetuates racism. But how have conversations led to continuous action? One year later, we spoke to two members of the Danone team to find out how they have been advancing anti-racism at work.

Yinka Alli-Errington is Category Manager and RISE lead for Danone Dairies UK & Ireland. Francois Brugiere is Head of Creative Excellence and Growing EDP Inclusively lead for Danone Dairies UK & Ireland.

Can you tell us about the work you’ve been doing to advance Danone’s progress to becoming an anti-racist organisation?

Yinka: Last year we established the employee-led forum Racial Inclusion Striving for Equality (RISE). This group of passionate individuals develop resources for all Danoners to further educate themselves on topics of racial diversity. The forum also facilitates open discussions on the topic of race in a way that aims to eliminate any awkwardness.

Danone RISE

Francois: Most people in our company had a strong point of view on systemic racism but no one knew exactly where to start and how to talk about it for fear of offending. Acknowledging our collective biases as an organisation, we found external partners. The Diversity Standards Collective (DSC) offer brands and agencies the opportunity to get closer to diverse intersectional individuals, ensuring in-house thinking and outgoing campaigns are authentically crafted around diversity and inclusion. Working with DSC has helped us make progress with our diversity, equity, and inclusion practices, particularly how we build our brands and our advertising. We’ve also partnered with an organisation called PSALT to introduce a mentoring scheme for Danoners to support young black talent outside of our organisation. We hope that through this we will not only give back to the community but also bring diversity in thought and challenge our ways of thinking through the conversations we have with young black talent.

You’ve both taken great initiative to lead and affect real change within the culture of the organisation. What’s been your biggest achievement to date?

Yinka: Celebrating Danone’s first Black History Month in the challenge of a virtual setting is undoubtedly our greatest achievement so far. It was a true grassroots employee fuelled initiative, with colleagues sharing recommendations for thought-provoking books, podcasts, and TV & films. We presented a live cooking show to celebrate diverse cultures in a fun and inspiring way, providing the Danone community with some different ideas of where to eat and what to cook. The biggest highlight has to be our live interview with the award-winning producer and author David Olusoga.

In Conversation With David Olusoga

Francois: Beyond celebrating Black History Month, signing our partnership with the DSC was a big milestone. It’s the confirmation that the company is willing to put its money where its mouth is. I secretly dream of the day where our organisation will be so diverse that we don’t need this partnership anymore. But until then, I’m thrilled we have it in place!

Danone is one of the largest businesses in the UK B Corp community. Are there elements of your work that smaller companies with limited resources can adopt too?

Yinka: If you’re looking to start up a specific group or forum to bring the topic of race to the forefront of your organisation, start with an idea of what you want to achieve. Allow time for your idea to gain momentum. If you stay consistent, you may be pleasantly surprised to see your idea snowball into a real movement.

Francois: The mindset needed for any business is to understand your biases and open a dialogue with communities that are under-represented. You can set up a group of friends or colleagues who bring different biases than yours to the table and use the most insightful learnings from these conversations. In short: start a positively intended dialogue and see where it goes!

What advice would you give to employees of B Corps and aspiring B Corps looking to take action?

Yinka: Be clear on what you want to achieve within your business, whether that’s to increase education and awareness, diversify recruitment or amplify voices. Set an objective and timescale of what you want to achieve, something which is aspirational yet realistic. Finally, try to gain senior support as it will encourage other employees to take part and listen.

Francois: Working for a B Corp business means you will likely find progressive stakeholders at every level of the company. If you want to make a difference, pick your battle and go for it, I’m sure you will only find positive responses to what you are trying to do. You might even be challenged to accelerate or be more ambitious with what you want to put in place.

Cast your mind back to before you set up RISE and partnered with DSC, what had been your biggest blocker or greatest challenge since?

Francois: Personally, my biggest blocker was understanding where to start. I wanted to make a difference but was absolutely clueless how I would do that. I started networking with a few people in the D&I space and I was quickly put in touch with other people who had been through this before me. They provided a lot of information, advice and tangible actions to put in place. Looking forward, I see two big challenges. The first one is to keep making progress and make sure we don’t lose the momentum we’ve managed to create. The second one is going beyond our company and trying to make a difference at the industry level. I’m convinced the latter could really speed up societal progress.

Yinka: For me, as RISE became larger, the time taken to manage this alongside day-to-day work proved a challenge. We have now set up a committee to grow individual pillars and ensure that we continue to work towards our main objective of opening the discussion on race. Looking forward, our ambition is to fully embed the RISE spirit throughout Danone.

Finally, is there anything else you would like to share?

If anyone wants to find out more on how to set up an employee resource group for multi-ethnic colleagues, or how to build your brands in an authentically diverse way, please get in touch with Yinka (Olayinka.alli-errington@danone.com) and Francois (francois.brugiere@danone.com).

Over the last year, we’ve seen a wave of individuals and businesses using their voices and taking action to demand change. Check out these resources to help you to centre justice, equity, diversity and inclusion in your policies and practices.

A first step for businesses interested in measuring their social and environmental impact is by using the free B Impact Assessment tool. Any company wishing to certify as a B Corp has its performance assessed by B Lab across all dimensions of its business. These companies are on a journey of continuous improvement to ensure business leverages its power to be a positive force in the world.

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