An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

Access to the broadest talent pool.

Given the challenges ahead of us we need access to a broad talent pool, we need the right people with the right skill set on the job regardless of their gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation or disability. We cannot afford to leave great talents out because of them being members of an underrepresented group. Especially younger generations who take a close look at the DE&I agenda of future employers.

As a part of our series about “How Diversity Can Increase a Company’s Bottom Line”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Silke Muenster, CDO, Philip Morris International.

Silke was appointed Chief Diversity Officer (CDO) at Philip Morris International (PMI) in March 2020 — a newly-created role reporting directly to the CEO. She joined PMI in 2011, where she was director, Market and Consumer Research until 2012 when she became vice president, Market Research.

At PMI, she is known for being incredibly proactive on inclusion and diversity (I&D) — she is a coach and mentor to other women, has built a women’s network at PMI and prior to her current role, worked closely with senior leaders across the organization on workplace strategies and tactics to advance I&D. Over the past months, she has successfully expanded the focus of the company’s I&D strategy and established a number of global Employee Resources Groups (including on gender, race and ethnicity, and LGBTQ+ inclusion) with the purpose of creating a space for community and connection among employees, and to foster a sense of belonging, visibility, and greater understanding of different experiences and dimensions of diversity at PMI.

Prior to PMI, she led research roles at the Coca-Cola Company, Apollinaris & Schweppes and Marbert Kosmetik. She began her career at Research International after earning her degree in mathematics from Ruhr University, Bochum in Germany.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dive into the main part of our interview. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit more. Can you share a bit of your “backstory” with us?

I began my career at a Market Research agency called Research International owned by Unilever, shortly after earning a degree in mathematics from Ruhr University in Germany. I subsequently spent more than 30 years in market research, marketing, and strategic planning roles for several companies including Coca-Cola. At Philip Morris International (PMI), I led market research until I was appointed to the newly-created role of Chief Diversity Officer in 2020.

I’ve been passionate about diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) initiatives throughout my career, coaching and mentoring several female colleagues. As a working mother of three sons and a mathematician by trade, I’m no stranger to being the only woman in the room. This would often make me feel isolated and unwelcome. That’s why, in my current role, I’m committed to cultivating an environment that enables everybody to feel the joy of belonging to a workforce that celebrates individuals and encourages all perspectives.

I have a two-year-old granddaughter, and I’m determined to help pave an easier path for her and future generations.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career? Can you tell us the lesson or take away you took out of that story?

Unfortunately, I can’t share most of the funny stories but my takeaway is that a lot of failures become funny stories in hindsight. It is always good to remember that what seems to be a drama today is something you might laugh about in a couple of years.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you tell us a story about how that was relevant in your own life?

“The standard you walk past is the standard you accept.” Lieutenant General David Morrison, retired senior officer in the Australian Army.

To sustainably and rapidly drive progress, we cannot only rely on leaders to foster workplace inclusion. Everybody has a role to play, which is what Lieutenant General David Morrison’s alludes to. We need to drive education and awareness to establish an environment where microaggressions and unfair treatment of others — because of gender, sexual orientation, race, religion, or any other diverse characteristic — are called out. Individuals who are willing to speak up in this way become allies, helping to influence the behavioral and attitudinal changes needed to achieve a workplace where everybody can be their best, true selves.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are?

The list of people who helped me to get me where I am is really long. I had many fantastic bosses during my career. Although interestingly enough, I had only two female managers, but they are the ones I am most grateful towards. They were my mentors and role models at the same time.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

I believe we stand out because we’re walking the talk of change and progress. In 2019, PMI became the first multinational company to receive the global EQUAL-SALARY certification from the independent not-for-profit EQUAL-SALARY Foundation — confirming that we pay men and women equally for equal work in the 90-plus countries where we operate. In May 2022, we were global EQUAL-SALARY re-certified. Recently, we also reached our global company-wide target of at least 40% female representation in managerial roles by the end of 2022. This was an important step in our efforts to improve gender balance at PMI, and I’m delighted that we achieved this goal ahead of time. But, of course, we still have a long way to go — so it’s critical we continue to drive progress. Our next aim to foster gender balance in our organization is to achieve 35% of women in senior roles by 2025.

Are you working on any new or exciting projects now? How do you think that might help people?

We recently announced the results of our cutting-edge “Inclusive Future” study, which explores how businesses can measure inclusion and foster a culture of equity and belongingness. The publication of the study follows a yearlong academic research project conducted independently by the International Institute for Management Development (IMD). It examined a broad range of qualitative and quantitative approaches and practices that organizations can implement to drive organizational change in this vital area.

The project investigated the impacts of Covid-19, Black Lives Matter, MeToo, and socio-economic disparities on inclusion and inclusive leadership, highlighting the need for a more comprehensive measurement approach that examines all six key dimensions of inclusion: psychological safety, uniqueness, fairness, participation, belonging, and authenticity.

It also recommended the Inclusion Net Promotor Score (iNPS), a practical new pulse tool that we’re currently piloting to measure inclusion using a single question.

This pioneering research provides PMI — and other companies — with a broad range of methods and tools to help foster a culture where everyone is accepted and celebrated for who they are.

We’re only at the beginning of our journey. But step-by-step, we’re building an organization where every employee feels able to bring their best, authentic selves to work.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

Fairness is one of the most important values one can have in my opinion. Over the years, I have spoken up whenever I noticed something that wasn’t right, or unfair, whether that be at work or in general. I have been a mentor to many people especially women and in my current role I have the opportunity to make sure that at PMI we use our influence to bring change to the world, especially when it comes to DE&I.

Let’s now jump to the main part of our interview. This may be obvious to you, but it is not intuitive to many people. Can you articulate to our readers five ways that increased diversity can help a company’s bottom line?

  1. Driving creativity and innovation.

An inclusive and diverse organization cultivates an environment where creativity and innovation can flourish, driving a company’s ambitions. At PMI, our ultimate goal is to deliver a smoke-free future. This means we are transforming from a traditional manufacturing and distribution business with a single product line to a science and technology leader in smoke-free products that are a much better choice for the millions of men and women who would otherwise continue to smoke. To achieve this, we need to unlock the full potential of all. That’s why building a truly diverse and inclusive organization is so pivotal to our success.

2. Driving consumer centricity.

At PMI, a diverse workforce that represents the consumers we serve is critical. In order to better understand the needs of our global consumers, we need inclusion and diversity. Women make up half the world’s intelligence and university graduates, influencing 60–70% of today’s consumer spend — so tapping into this talent pool to better reflect the needs of our consumers is a business must. That’s why we are committed to closing our gender gap at PMI.

3. Access to the broadest talent pool.

Given the challenges ahead of us we need access to a broad talent pool, we need the right people with the right skill set on the job regardless of their gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation or disability. We cannot afford to leave great talents out because of them being members of an underrepresented group. Especially younger generations who take a close look at the DE&I agenda of future employers.

4. Consumer expectation.

In today´s world consumers expect brands to have a point of view and companies to act responsibly. Creating a diverse and inclusive culture is simply the right thing to do — for our employees and for society. We have a duty to lead by example and we’re committed to building an inclusive culture that enables each employee to contribute their best work.

5. Stakeholder expectation.

There’s a growing expectation for companies to ensure their workplaces reflect the full diversity of their consumers and society, as well as contribute to a fairer, more equitable world. This expectation gained momentum during the global pandemic, which brought systemic inequalities and deep societal divisions to the forefront of the public agenda. Businesses have a responsibility to help address these chasms and deliver a better, fairer world for everyone.

What advice would you give to other business leaders to help their employees to thrive?

Employees can be their best, true, thriving selves when organizations provide them with a psychologically safe environment — the backbone of an inclusive culture. The best way to ascertain if a company is truly inclusive is to measure it — because what gets measured gets done. By strengthening their methods of measuring inclusion, companies can better foster a culture of belongingness. Business leaders should encourage their employees to get involved in DE&I discussions. This will enable employees to experience that vital sense and joy of belonging, giving them the confidence and safety to speak up, ideate, create, innovate, and reap the personal and professional benefits of a fully inclusive culture.

What advice would you give to other business leaders about how to manage a large team?

It’s important to understand that, for a multinational company like PMI, our DE&I activities won’t work for every cultural group. For instance, what resonates for people in Western Europe may not for people in Asia, and vice versa. That’s why we embarked on our “Inclusive Future” deep dive in the first place — to better understand the nuances that exist and, in turn, developing new tools to tailor our initiatives. This will enable us to pilot activities in specific geographies. As businesses leaders, we have a responsibility to act, to measure, to identify, and to address any issues around inclusion that may exist. Then we must respond with precision and purpose to foster work cultures that celebrate, value, and include everyone equally.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why?

Given I am an extroverted and very curious person there is a long list of people I would love to meet! The top three on the list are Jason Sudeikis, as I am a real Ted Lasso fan and love the way they weaved inclusion topics into a TV series. Next one is of course Brenée Brown, I love her books, podcasts and speeches and I imagine her to be fun in a meeting! And the third one is Sam Harris, as I am doing his guided meditations, and I have one million questions — still.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

For a more comprehensive overview of our Inclusion & Diversity work, please visit the I&D section of our website: Readers can also learn more about our “Inclusive Future” initiative here:

Thank you for these excellent insights. We wish you continued success in your great work.

Silke Muenster Of Philip Morris International: How Diversity Can Increase a Company’s Bottom Line was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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