HRreview had the opportunity to conduct an interview with Hae-in Kim, Director, Talent, Culture and Inclusion at British American Tobacco (BAT) who discussed issues surrounding diversity and inclusion within the company and how BAT have tackled workforce challenges brought on by the pandemic. 

Why is diversity and inclusion important?

A workforce that reflects the outside world and wider society – in background, perspective and experience – is crucial for businesses to continue attracting and retaining employees and consumers, as well as providing value to suppliers and partners. Diversity also enables businesses to better challenge the status quo, to innovate and to transform themselves. In these challenging times, this ability has never been more important.

However, businesses can only harness the benefits of a diverse workforce if they create an inclusive culture where everyone feels valued, can be their authentic selves, and feels a sense of belonging. Diversity and inclusion are interconnected, and businesses should simultaneously drive their efforts across both these areas for the wider benefits to be truly felt.

Why has BAT continued to accelerate D&I in its business?

Our diversity has long been at the core of our company culture and is a source of pride for us. From our inception in 1902, we have grown into one of the world’s most international companies, present in over 180 countries around the world.

In March 2020, we unveiled an evolved strategy with a bold new purpose of building A Better Tomorrow by reducing the health impact of our business. We’re doing this by offering a wide range of enjoyable and less risky products. We are harnessing new technologies and the latest science to evolve our portfolio, and we have set ourselves a target of having 50 million users of our non-combustible products by 2030.

At the same time, we also announced a refreshed Sustainability Agenda, which includes our ongoing priority of investing in our people and creating a diverse, inclusive and engaging culture. We have always been clear that our people are crucial to our success. Without them, we will be unable to deliver our strategy and ultimately build A Better Tomorrow for all our stakeholders.

Diversity and inclusion continue to play an integral role in our transformation journey. Our diverse perspectives and skills enable us to have a deep understanding of our diverse, global consumer base, and develop innovative, potentially reduced-risk products that meet their evolving preferences. Our inclusive culture further empowers our people, providing a real sense of belonging and a supportive working environment where our varying approaches and perspectives can constructively collide.

What challenges has the pandemic presented in terms of nurturing company culture and employee engagement?

Remote working, the lack of face-to-face interaction and limited team building opportunities mean it’s even more important for employees to feel connected, visible and valued by the company.

We have harnessed our strong digital infrastructure and technology, enabling us stay in touch with, and learn from, our people around the Group so that we can continue to foster an inclusive culture where we can thrive. We have rolled out digital employee engagement and listening sessions, and virtual townhalls, allowing us to share our experiences and to understand our people’s priorities.

We have also introduced a number of digital initiatives and programmes to support our people’s physical and mental health, and to help keep them engaged, energised and informed. These include virtual individual wellbeing and counselling consultations, weekly talks on various topics, including mental health and fitness, virtual cinema clubs and online workout sessions.

What innovative ways can companies embed D&I in their culture and day to day activity?

It’s important for businesses to recognise that D&I isn’t achieved through a “once and done” process. It needs continuous refinement, adjustment and improvement.

At BAT, to explicitly demonstrate the importance and our commitment to the D&I agenda, we have reflected inclusion in our role titles for our HR colleagues. In addition, appointing Diversity Champions within our leadership teams has been an effective way of ensuring the D&I agenda is owned and championed across our business as we work towards our 2025 global ambitions. These include increasing the number of women in senior leadership teams to 40 per cent, and in management roles to 45 per cent; achieving a 50 per cent spread of nationalities within key leadership teams to better mirror BAT’s consumer base.

Interactive training sessions on issues such as Unconscious Bias and Cultural Awareness help to build knowledge and sets the tone for your values as a company. To ensure a common level of understanding and awareness, we have recently developed a digitally enabled D&I training which will be a mandatory course for our management population.

D&I can also be driven and supported through internal networks. At BAT we have 19 affinity networks around the Group, including Women in the UK, B United (a self-governed global community of LGBTQ+ employees) and B YOU (a self-governed community for African Americans at Reynolds, our US business). These networks celebrate the differences amongst our employees as a source of strength for our business. Empowering and encouraging our people to value and bring their differences has resulted in a more engaged and united workforce which has proved critical during the recent months.

During BAT’s internal Inclusion Week, we held our first virtual networking event. During this event, representatives from a number of our networks spoke about the great work they’re doing and how people can get involved. It was a fantastic event to share stories and learnings about the range of support channels available at BAT.

Do you have any advice for businesses wanting to future proof their talent pool despite working in a virtual environment?

Now more than ever, it is critical that companies continue to invest in their culture and their people in order to empower and encourage them. Companies need to remain agile, nimble and creative, and offer a number of support and developmental tools and initiatives that meet the varying needs of their people.

Currently, the line between people’s work and private lives is blurring while we continue to work from home. It’s crucial that companies recognise everyone’s individual situations and offer support and flexibility to enable a positive balance between work and personal responsibilities. Last year, we hosted a virtual session where leaders from across our business spoke about how lockdown has impacted them and how they were balancing non-work responsibilities such as childcare. This honest and open dialogue was a simple but effective way to raise awareness of our different circumstances and bring us together to share in our common challenges.

We have also continued to invest in our people’s career development by running virtual classrooms where our employees can learn new skills across different areas of our business, online ‘BAT talks’ where senior managers share expertise, and virtual lunch and learn session.

Throughout the pandemic, our people’s grit and determination has been extraordinary. They continue, to be, without doubt, the reason why we continue to perform strongly, and why we are so excited about the future as we work together to build A Better Tomorrow.