Diversity is increasingly becoming a serious HR issue for companies in the 21st century marketplace. Organizations have been forced to develop strategies for increasing the representation of minority groups and making their workplaces more favorable for them. General Mills was recently named one of the most inclusive companies in the world. This text examines the company's diversity program with the aim of determining what it does differently from competitors and what the possible weak spots are.
General Mills: Diversity and Inclusion
Diversity is one of the major HR issues that companies have been forced to deal with to gain competitive advantage. Companies with effective diversity and inclusion strategies are generally perceived as being more favorable workplaces than those with ineffective programs. General Mills was recently named one of the 50 most inclusive workplaces by DiversityInc. This text examines the company's diversity program with the aim of identifying what it does differently from other companies, whether there are any areas that need improvement, and the positive elements that upcoming companies could emulate to gain competitive advantage in their respective industries. It explores among other things, the strategies that the company uses to implement its diversity and inclusion program, the specific areas to which it pays emphasis, and how it designs its organizational structure to facilitate strategy implementation. Although diversity and inclusion are the main focus areas for this paper, it also does a lot to cover other areas including the company's growth and marketing strategies, corporate strategies and so on. I recognize that these too play a role in the company's continued success; and if this paper is geared at giving insight to upcoming entrepreneurs on General Mills' success strategies, then it will need to present more of a wholesome approach.
General Mills is America's leading producer of packaged foods, dealing in a wide range of breakfast cereal, prepared mixes, snack foods, and flour (General Mills Company Overview Report, 2014). Some of its popular brands include Wheaties, Trix, Chex, and Cheerios in the breakfast cereal category; Hamburger Helper, Betty Crocker, and Bisquick in the mixes category; and Nature Valley Granola, Pop-Secret Popcorn, and Yoplait Yogurt in the snack category (General Mills Company Overview Report, 2014). Headquartered in Minneapolis, Minnesota, the company grew from a simple flour mill in the 1860s into one of the world's largest companies, serving more than 90 countries worldwide. Much of its global activity stems from two joint ventures -- Snack Ventures Europe, a venture with PepsiCo where GM enjoys a 40.5% stake, and Cereal Partners Worldwide, where it enjoys 50-50 percentage ownership with Nestle. Not only does it have a diverse customer base, GM also maintains a diverse workforce by recruiting talent from different communities and cultural backgrounds as a way to foster innovation and ensure that the food choices and ideas brought to the table can effectively address the unique and specific needs of its diverse customer base (General Mills, 2015). The company's diversity strategy focuses not only on the primary areas of sexual orientation, race, gender, and religion, but also on the cultural aspects, which include communication style, beliefs, and preferences (General Mills Diversity and Inclusion Segment, 2015). Its inclusion program is pegged on the core values of developing, respecting, and investing in employees. Thus far, it has been successful, but as market dynamics change and the intensity of competition increases, the company will need to identify and address the weak points of its diversity strategy in order to cement its position in the market.
History and Growth
GM began to trade publicly in the NYSE in 1928 under the leadership of James Ford; however, even before that, its founder Cadwallader Washburn had shown great interest in the concept of diversity and being accommodative of people from different cultures (Funding Service, 2001). In the very early years of the company's formation, for instance, Washburn sought the services of a French engineer to boost the competitive position of the newly-formed flour milling company by upgrading the production processes and improving the quality of produced floor (Funding Service, 2001). Reports indicate that with this, the company's flour became the best flour available in the American market (Funding Services, 2001).
Upon assuming control of the company from...
He began by consolidating the company with twenty-seven other milling companies in different parts of the country, and had, within five months in office, made GM the world's largest flour-milling company (Funding Services, 2001).
Product-wise, the company ventured into the production of packaged consumer foods to cater for the growing postwar demand for the same among urban dwellers. Bisquick, the company's first baking mix, was introduced in 1931, before Kix and Cheerioats were launched as the company's first ready-to-eat breakfast cereals in 1937 and 1941 respectively (Funding Services, 2001). By 1946, the latter had grown to become the number one cereal in America.
Riding on its success in the consumer product market, the company, at the height of the Second World War, diversified its commodity range even further by venturing into the production of dehydrated foods and animal feed formulas as well as the manufacture of bags, medicinal alcohol, and war equipment for the navy.
Edwin Rawlins, an outsider, was appointed president of the company in 1959, a move that was taken to symbolize the company's commitment to diversity. With this, the company not only ventured into the new snack foods category, but also diversified its consumer base into the European market. To cement its global presence in the consumer products industry, GM formed joint ventures with Europe-based PepsiCo and Nestle; and diversified its range of operations to include restaurants and specialty retailing.
By 1977, the company was operating internationally, with a diversified business range that included specialty retailing, fashion, games and toys, restaurants, and food processing. In the 1980s, most of these were dropped, and the company chose to refocus on food. Today, GM operates in over 90 countries with a highly-diversified food product range, and an equally-diverse employee base
Analysis of GM's Diversity and Inclusion Program
GM's diversity and inclusion program is well-captured in two of its key public icons -- the corporate mission, which emphasizes the concept of nourishing lives, making life richer, easier, and healthier for consumers in different cultures (GM Diversity Brochure, 2012); and the corporate website, which does a lot to symbolize the intensity of gender and cultural diversity among employees and top management officials. At GM, diversity is not only a value, but a business strategy for attracting and retaining top talent (GM Diversity Brochure, 2012). Unlike most established companies, which focus only on the primary elements of diversity such as sexual orientation, race, gender, and culture, GM's diversity and inclusion program focuses on the cultural aspects as well, which include communication styles, beliefs, preferences, and values. According to Ken Powell, the company's Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, this all-round approach to diversity makes GM a "better employer, a better supplier… and a better world citizen" (GM Diversity Brochure, 2012). The company fosters inclusion by listening to the voices of employees, respecting their views, and investing in their personal and professional development (I-Sight Inc., 2013). The company maintains strong affinity networks and diversity councils for mentoring employees from different cultures, and increasing their awareness of issues surrounding diversity and inclusion. It relies on these very networks, which also symbolize its culturally-rich workforce composition, to instill a culture of respect and inclusion among employees (GM Diversity Brochure, 2011). These affinity networks include:
The South Asian-American Network
The Middle-East and North Africa Network
Black Champion Network
Betty's Family (LGBT) Network
The Asian Heritage Network
The American Indian Council
Multiple function and division-specific diversity and inclusion councils
The company understands the varying needs and styles of its workforce, and runs a variety of employee initiatives and programs to tend to the same, and to consequently maintain high levels of job satisfaction. These include workplace wellness programs that have been recognized as best-in-class; employee benefits including eldercare and childcare resources, domestic partner coverage and adoption and parenting benefits; and workplace flexibility options that give employees the power to define when, where, and how work gets done (GM Diversity Brochure, 2011). These flexibility options include flexible user-shared environment (FUSE), everyday flexibility, extended time off, and flexible work arrangements (GM Diversity Brochure, 2011).
Based on its comprehensive diversity program, GM has been named among the top-100 best places to work, and also among the i) best companies for working mothers by the Working Mother Magazine; ii) best companies for multicultural women; iii) best places for LGBT employees by the Human Rights Campaign; iv) best companies for diversity by DiversityInc; and v) best companies for Latinas by the Latina Style Magazine (GM Diversity Brochure, 2011).
This focus on employees as a way of appreciating diversity is the strong point of the…
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