Our journey over the past few years has been about creating a unique RCL FOODS culture that people know and love – and where work is safe, meaningful and fun for all our people. Part of that involves creating a climate where diversity is celebrated and encouraged…not just because it makes us do better business, but because it's good for our people and our society. As we celebrate Women's Day this month, it's a good time to ask what we are doing to attract women to our business and empower them to succeed.

Building a diverse and inclusive culture at RCL FOODS is an essential part of building an organisation that is relevant to our consumers and the society we live in – not to mention being key to "seeing and doing things differently" so that we can keep growing. When it comes to creating a gender-diverse business, we have adopted a dual approach which involves both recruiting and developing more women – or what we call 'Get More' and 'Grow More'.

On the 'Get More' side, we have implemented a recruitment drive which prioritises hiring and placing female candidates in line with our employment equity targets . 'Grow More' is about empowering women at all levels of the business so that they can make a positive, confident contribution and embrace opportunities for growth.

Russell Baudach, our Group Talent and Organisational Effectiveness (OE) Executive, explains that "We are taking an active role in making sure that a larger percentage of women are given an opportunity to grow and advance their careers by participating in company-assisted programmes, learnerships, apprenticeships, the Management Trainee Programme and the RCL FOODS Leadership Development Programme. We have had success in gender transformation in many of our divisions and business units and we are replicating best practice across the company to ensure broader transformation is achieved."  

So what's on the go for women in the business at the moment, and what plans are in place for the future? Here are some of the areas where we are making MORE IMPACT by seeing and doing things differently.

Doing MORE to recruit women

Five years ago we launched our Management Trainee Programme to help us build a talent pipeline of potential future leaders in our business. We have recruited 130 bright young graduates onto the programme so far, of which 54% has been female. Over the last financial year, women have made up 38.8% of new staff joining the business, of which the majority were in the A and B band level. At the  Professionally Qualified & Experienced Specialists and Mid-management level, a significant 43% of our hires have been females, which shows that we are starting to broaden women's representation in the higher levels of the business too.

Empowering women,  Our Way

We have had great success in bringing about a more gender diverse leadership team in our Chicken agricultural operation, where we increased the number of women in senior leadership from 9% in 2015 to 30% in 2017.  This is as a result of the Women in Agriculture initiative which aims to create an environment conducive to attracting, empowering and retaining women in the sector. Some 28% of our female Agric managers have now participated in the programme, which has created a solid 'network' of women leaders who meet regularly to support and mentor each other. And it doesn't end there: the coaching they are receiving will empower them to coach and mentor other aspiring women leaders too!   

Other ground-breaking programmes focused on female development and training are Vector's Women with Drive programme (which is currently training 10 unemployed women from KZN to become professional drivers), and our Female Artisan Development Programme in the Sugar & Milling and Consumer divisions. Our Management Trainee Programme has produced five home-grown female engineers, with another six in the pipeline, while 19 women are learning the nuts and bolts of various engineering disciplines through our Apprenticeship Programme.

Other key development programmes are also playing a role in empowering women. 71% of participants in our Supervisory Fundamentals Programme have been female, while 24 women have gone through our Millbake Academy. Finally, a total of 130 women leaders have attended our RCL FOODS Leadership Development Programme which we introduced three years ago in partnership with GIBS.

The Commission for Gender Equality has praised us for prioritising women's development and we were even invited to a prestigious "Ring the Bell" event run by UN Women in honour of International Women's Day in March.

Where to from here?

"These initiatives are helping us attract, empower and retain women, and we are pleased to see greater representation of women in 'hard skills' areas and management. But transformation is a journey and we will continue to DO MORE in terms of recruitment and development," says Russell.  

At the same time, we need to focus on bringing our value of 'respect for people' alive in all areas of our organisation so that every employee feels like a valuable part of the team. It's culture, even more than structures, that make real change happen. And the more it does, the better off we'll be!