I am a lawyer by training and trade and—until fairly recently—vocation. I started at Philip Morris International 18 years ago as legal counsel. And then, just two years ago, I was asked to move into my current role: vice president Inclusion & Diversity.
My first instinct was to doubt that I could do the job. It was outside the scope of my formal training and expertise and a considerable jump in leadership level. My younger self, plagued with self-doubt, would have turned it down. In fact, years ago I did turn down a promotion to my first management role at PMI. Fortunately, at the time, my new boss to be—who became an important mentor—encouraged me to take the leap by giving me some very practical advice. He said translate your concerns into answering the question “What would it take for me to succeed in this role?” And then demand all the support you need—training, mentoring, support from peers and your boss.
I think a lot of women have similar feelings of self-doubt. I’m sure men do too, but I believe women tend to react differently to them. Indeed, various studies have shown that women feel they need to be fully proficient in the skills required by a job before they feel comfortable taking it; men, on the other hand, will usually jump right in, sure that they can gain the necessary skills as they go.
So fast forward to two years ago, and remembering that advice, I took the job anyway. I have been stretched out of my comfort zone, and there have been plenty of mornings when I’ve felt completely overwhelmed, out of my depth and been tempted to hide under the bedcovers. In those kinds of dark moments, when the self-doubt gets loud, I still try to focus on my strengths and how I can bridge the gaps. Ironically, I find my own personal courage to keep going from the fact that my purpose is to create a more inclusive, gender balanced workplace at PMI. And, in particular, to help remove the barriers to women progressing to leadership roles. I can hardly encourage others to step up if I’m not walking my own talk.
It’s a position I never saw myself in, even though I have been passionate about the rights of women and girls since I was growing up in Australia. I was being groomed for this role since the day I was born, though I didn’t know it. We were a family of daughters (I am the oldest of four sisters), so “girl power” was a given in our home. With our decidedly female majority—even our dog was female—it never crossed my mind throughout my childhood that boys could do anything better than we could.
In recent years, PMI has made some really good progress in becoming a more diverse, inclusive and gender-balanced organization. In numeric terms, our initial goal is to increase the representation of women in management roles across the company to 40 percent by 2022; right now that number is 35 percent, which is up 6 percent points since year end 2014. So I’m confident that we’re on track to meet that goal. More important than numbers but more difficult to measure is changing culture—there’s an increasing sense of humility, curiosity and openness. I take so much energy and inspiration from the women and the men I work with every day who have a genuine desire to support the achievements of each other and create a more inclusive workplace for all. For example, throughout the week in the lead up to International Women’s Day (8 March), we've been sharing stories of inspiring women from across the globe in a drive to elevate female role models at PMI. We also planned a host of events and networking opportunities for the women and men of PMI, all focused on celebrating the benefits of inclusion and diversity.
And on March 4, we became the first multinational company to obtain a global EQUAL-SALARY certification, from the nonprofit EQUAL-SALARY Foundation. This certification verifies that PMI pays men and women equally for work of equal value everywhere we operate all over the world. This is an achievement of which I am particularly proud. I wanted us to back up our words and good intentions in relation to gender equality with practical, third-party validation that we are getting the basics right, and from which we can then continue to build. And I wanted to make a big, bold statement—so rather than certify our affiliates in a handful of counties each year, I pushed a proposal to have the foundation simultaneously audit all our locations around the world.
PMI is changing from within, and these initiatives and many others are proof points to the outside world. Not to mention an answer to my own questions about my abilities.
To the extent it might help other women overcome doubts they may have about their own capabilities, here’s what’s worked—and continues to work—for me.