Women in business interview with Mairéad Nayager
Diversity & Inclusion Mairead Nayager, HR Director, Diageo, answers some key questions on how her own experience has shaped her vision for the future.
Diageo is a global leader in beverage alcohol with an outstanding collection of brands across spirits and beer.
Our products are sold in more than 180 countries around the world. Our brands include Johnnie Walker, Crown Royal, JεB, Buchanan’s and Windsor whiskies, Smirnoff, Ciroc and Ketel One vodkas, Captain Morgan, Baileys, Don Julio, Tanqueray and Guinness.
Why is gender diversity in business so important?
A business needs a strategy and goals enabled by people bringing both diversity of ideas, and consumer relevance, within a culture that is inclusive and open to innovative thinking. To me, gender diversity, but also diversity more broadly, is an enabler for a business to thrive and win over its competitors.
What barriers have you come up against as a successful woman in business during your career?
I was very lucky in that I have inspiring parents, who were entirely unbiased in how they thought about the contribution of men and women to the community, within my family, and in the workplace.
I did spend a few years in a field of expertise that was dominated by men, which taught me, the tough way, how to remain confident and resilient in the face of bias, drawing from what my parents raised me to believe. When I joined Diageo in 2006, there were few women in senior leadership roles, and none on the executive team of the company. However, over time, that picture significantly changed. My hope for emerging talent coming through the organisation, is that members of the executive team who provide more diversity, can inspire others, and in particular women, within the organisation to become the leaders of tomorrow.
Did you always want to work in HR?
Since graduating from Business School I always knew that I wanted a career that combined my passion for people development and brands with working for a successful global organisation and all of the variety of experiences that would bring. I also wanted to know that I could contribute to the strategic and cultural direction of a business and at Diageo, working in HR provides me with all of these things and I can’t imagine being anywhere else right now!
HR does seem to be quite a female-dominated profession. Why would this be and can other business functions learn from HR?
Traditionally HR has been seen as quite a female-dominated profession but not always at senior levels. I believe this is changing. Twenty years ago, you would have seen more men as CHROs and in more commercial roles and women in ‘back office’ and junior roles. This is now not the case anymore. Within Diageo, for example, the women on our Executive Committee represent a wide range of functions and include our Chief Financial Officer, our General Counsel, our Chief Marketing Officer and the President of our North America business.
How does your ‘people’ role help to develop women’s potential within Diageo?
As the Global Human Resources director, I feel passionately about developing women’s potential within Diageo. I genuinely believe that companies will grow quicker if they embrace all diversity, not just helping women to progress. However, I do believe that HR has a key role to play. It is the function that can objectively challenge the rest of the business to attract and grow diverse talent, using analytics and insights to explain why this will make a difference to our performance and growth. HR is also the function that can shape culture, strategy and policy on inclusion, talent management and the environment that will enable women to succeed.
You grew up in Ireland and worked there, in Europe and in Africa for Diageo. How do you think different cultures affect how women are perceived by and progress in business? What was your role in Africa and in Ireland?
I joined Diageo Ireland in 2006, and later spent six years working in our Africa business, before moving to South Africa to work for Brandhouse, our then Joint Venture with Heineken. I then became HR Director for Diageo Europe before being appointed Global Human Resources Director in October 2015.
My reflections are that all over the world women are perceived as having so much potential. However, it does depend on where you are, as to how easy it is currently for women to achieve their goals. Different cultures will bring different barriers and opportunities for women. I think that Governments, companies and the demands of broader society will see the pace of change evolving more quickly in the coming years.
Did your work with the Irish Business and Employers’ Confederation help you to promote women in business in any way?
At IBEC, I represented and advised employers in industrial relations and employment related matters, which gave me a good understanding of how companies can proactively support employees to succeed, through effective policy creation and strong development plans. It also enabled me to influence companies to implement support for women through policies and good working practices, who might otherwise have been ignorant to the value such policies and practices could create.