This is a unique time period, of course—the pandemic, remote work, and diversity and inclusion issues. All of your new companies have essential and frontline workers. How did they help shape your approach to health, safety, and mental and emotional well-being last year?
Schellekens: PepsiCo is a company that is very visible in our communities. More than 230,000 of our 290,000 associates go out to our factories, warehouses, and stores every day, and throughout the pandemic, they have continued to serve our consumers and communities when they needed us most. Our frontline workers are our heroes, and we realized very early on that we had to do everything possible to keep them healthy and safe. We also realized they have different needs than our office workers due to the nature of their jobs. So we focused on ensuring proper social distancing in all of our facilities and the distribution of PPE [personal protective equipment], including donating PPE to fellow frontline workers around the world. We also expanded benefits for associates who were diagnosed with COVID-19 or had to care for a sick family member. And because we know our associates thrive when our communities thrive, we also worked with The PepsiCo Foundation to provide over 145 million meals to hungry families impacted by COVID-19, with a special focus on providing nutritious meals for students who usually get meals through school.
As we were doing all of this to protect our frontline workers and communities from the pandemic, we also faced a reckoning on racial inequality. After some of the horrific incidents we witnessed in 2020, we stepped up our dialogue with our associates and our employee resource groups, and we realized we needed to do a better job of listening to them. There was real hurt, pain, and anger, but also a lot of constructive dialogue. Out of these conversations came our Racial Equality Journey, a more than $500 million commitment to our Black and Hispanic associates and communities. This initiative has three pillars: people, business, and communities. When it comes to people, we are focusing on increasing Black and Hispanic representation at PepsiCo through recruitment, education, internships, and apprenticeships. When it comes to business, we are leveraging our scale and influence across our suppliers and strategic partners to increase Black and Hispanic representation and elevate diverse voices. For communities, we’re working to drive long-term change by addressing systemic barriers to economic opportunity, with tools like scholarships for community-college graduates to help them earn four-year degrees. We still have a lot of work to do, but this initiative is something I’m very proud of.
Capozzi: At McDonald’s, there are over 2 million individuals who work under the Arches, most of them working in restaurants. Having the opportunity to work in the restaurant during the pandemic really allowed me to walk in their shoes. It gives a different lens to the work you are doing. We also did a lot of listening. In appreciation of our crew during the pandemic, many franchisees offered enhanced compensation programs, including bonuses. Last year, we provided additional employee assistance and emotional support counseling sessions for employees in our corporate-owned restaurants in the US, and later in the year, we piloted a program that offered expanded access to backup eldercare and childcare.
We’ve also talked over the last year about transparency and accountability around DEI [diversity, equity, and inclusion]. We took an important step forward this year as we incorporated a human capital metric—inclusive of driving our values, increasing representation of women and underrepresented groups in leadership, and strengthening our culture of inclusion—into the incentive program for our senior executives.
Morris: What our 2.2 million frontline associates did last year for the company, our customers, and our communities was heroic and unprecedented. I am absolutely blown away by the impactful and meaningful work that happened across our business. Our goal as a company is always to support our greatest asset, which is our people. We did that last year by launching a COVID-19 leave policy that the New York Times called “a standard for the rest of the private sector.” We paid out $2.8 billion in cash bonuses to frontline workers as a form of gratitude. We pledged $100 million over five years to a new Center for Racial Equality, and established four associate-led, shared value networks focused on the US criminal justice, education, financial, and healthcare systems to address racial equality. All of those things happened because of what we saw and learned from our frontline workers last year.
Söderström: The health and safety of our frontline workers has been our top priority, and we’ve made significant progress. We’ve invested hundreds of millions of dollars to transform our facilities with protective measures. We hired our first-ever chief medical officer, who reports to me since health and safety oversight has become part of my role. We’ve also added 200 nurses and administrative staff, have been vaccinating thousands of team members, and are piloting several free health clinics this year for employees and their families. In addition, we remain focused on creating career development opportunities for our frontline workers, launching an on-site program called Upward Pathways that provides free training and certificate courses. We also pledged $5 million to five different organizations chosen by our team members that are committed to advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion.
Initiatives like these that resulted from the pandemic helped thrust CHROs into the public spotlight last year. Given that the issues of remote work, D&I, and employee well-being aren’t going away, how does being more visible create opportunities to elevate the role?
Söderström: Last year, our team gave more news media interviews than any other function in the company, as we shared the steps we’ve been taking to protect our team members during the pandemic and what we’re doing to promote a culture of well-being and build a healthier workforce. People and purpose are now on the table in a way they never were before, and they elevate everything a company takes on because of the impact they have on communities.
Capozzi: The fact that our position is more public is an opportunity. Now, everyone is listening. It’s a chance for us all to step up and make more progress and a greater difference. We need to use this time to innovate around how to connect people and ideas better, particularly inside our own departments, because we can then fan that out to the rest of the organization and the wider CHRO community.