Flavia Schlesinger: “47% of our people in leadership positions are women”

Flavia Schlesinger is Vice President and Chief Financial Officer at PepsiCo Brasil, which has recently launched its own sustainability platform, Pepsico Positive (pep+). In this interview, Ms. Schlesinger tells us more about this new platform, discusses PepsiCo’s investments into social causes, the importance of gender diversity in the Brazilian economy and much more.

Publicado Tuesday, December 7th 2021
Flavia Schlesinger: “47% of our people in leadership positions are women”

Leaders League: In September, PepsiCo launched the Pepsico Positive (pep+) platform, with the goal of rendering all of the company's business cycles more sustainable. How does this new platform work? 

Flavia Schlesinger: PepsiCo Positive will consolidate the company’s actions throughout its production chain and ensure that all processes and goals are more transparent to its consumers and stakeholders.

The new strategy seeks to place sustainability at the core of all our brands, ensuring they operate within the planet's limitations and inspiring people to make positive choices.

This end-to-end transformation aims to drive sustainable long-term value and competitive advantage through three pillars: Positive Agriculture, Positive Value Chain and Positive Choices.

On the Positive Agriculture front, we plan to spread regenerative practices around our entire agricultural area by 2030 and improve the livelihoods of more than 250,000 people in farming communities across the world.

With regards to the Positive Value Chain, we will build a circular and inclusive value chain through actions to achieve Net-Zero emissions by 2040. We aim to achieve Net Water positive by 2030. Also, introduce more sustainable packaging in the value chain. And advance our diversity, equality, and inclusion journey, investing more than $570 million in initiatives and projects to leverage the theme. We will also introduce a new global volunteering program, "One Smile at a Time", to encourage, support and empower each of our 291,000 employees to make a positive impact in their local communities. 

As for Positive Choices, we will continue to evolve our food and beverage portfolio, including incorporating more diverse ingredients into new and existing food products that are better for the planet and/or provide nutritional benefits. In Brazil, in the snack lines, the company has already reduced sodium by 45% in CHEETOS®; 15% in DORITOS®; 30% in LAY'S® and 30% in FANDANGOS®. Additionally, we expect to accelerate the reduction of added sugars and sodium through science-based targets across the portfolio and continue to scale new business models that require little or no single-use packaging.

We are working to transform the way we create shared value, which we believe will make us a better company with a purpose profoundly integrated into our business strategy. And we hope this will set an example for our partners and peers across the value chain.

 

Besides its new sustainability platform, PepsiCo recently announced a R$16.5 million investment into Brazilian communities until 2022. How important is it for leading companies to invest in environmental, social and governance (ESG) initiatives? And what are the benefits for the companies which adopt these measures?

At PepsiCo, both internally and outside the company, the quest for equality, diversity and inclusion is at the heart of everything we do. And more than having goals, we promote concrete social transformation initiatives. 

Therefore, we recently announced an investment of R$16.5 million in Brazilian communities through social and environmental impact projects over the next two years, benefiting more than two million people. The financing is a joint venture with the PepsiCo Foundation, the company's philanthropic arm, and the initiative will be divided into three pillars: Economic Prosperity, Food Security, and Access to Water. Thus, we have signed a partnership with approximately 20 non-governmental organizations focused on the entrepreneurship of black people and women; training young professionals from the inner cities; water resource preservation initiatives and access to water in regions prone to hydric risk in the Northeast and fighting child hunger and malnutrition.

We are also one of the founding companies and member organizations of MOVER, Movimento pela Equidade Racial (Movement for Racial Equality in English), comprised of leading companies aiming to generate 10 thousand new leadership positions for black people, besides creating new opportunities for three million black individuals soon.

PepsiCo traditionally contributed to the communities where it operates. However, today we realize these are urgent actions. We see a new generation that is more aware and engaged with social and environmental issues. We welcome this because we are part of building the future. Therefore, our investments and actions are a movement to build a better future for all, fight historical differences and ensure a better world and natural resources for future generations. 

Although the recent gender equality agenda has made significant progress, it is not yet where we would like it to be

In a recent survey conducted by Insper regarding CFOs within Brazil’s largest companies, it was found that only 10% of heads of finance identified as women. What are the key factors behind this gender inequality in the financial departments of major companies? And how can this inequality be reduced?

I have 28 years of experience in finance, and I can say that although the recent gender equality agenda has made significant progress, it is not yet where we would like it to be. 

Yes, unfortunately, this gap is a reality. And I believe the cause is still the lack of incentive for more women to enter exact sciences, technology, and many other fields in which we are still a minority. We need incentives and equal opportunities for women to occupy positions of leadership. And to open doors for other women in other companies to change this scenario.

Nevertheless, I see that we are progressing. Today, when I look at my team of more than 500 people, I already see great representation, with 42% being women. 47% of people in leadership positions at PepsiCo are women, and the goal is to reach 50% by 2025. Furthermore, our executive committee is around 60% women. We are improving, and to occupy these leadership positions within the exact sciences, it is fundamental that other girls and women mirror us and see that they are capable and can be where they desire.

 

Which key challenges did the Covid-19 pandemic create for PepsiCo in Brazil? How would you evaluate the company's performance in the Brazilian market over the last year?

The pandemic presented several challenges for us, as for most businesses. But I am very proud to say that PepsiCo was very responsive to all the challenges raised. We implemented protocols to ensure that our people could continue to work safely, so the retail food and beverage supply was not affected. Thus, within days we adapted processes for safe home office, manufacturing, and sales operations. 

In sales, we were also quick to expand through e-commerce and, to achieve this, our partnership with retailers was essential. We were able to implement a series of initiatives quickly, like speeding up the process of digital signatures for contracts, with information security going hand in hand with this decision. 

The great challenge for our financial area was to rapidly connect the entire business with data that could generate prompt decisions regarding the consumer and our internal operations. It involved a very intense scanning effort.

Also, we did not neglect our communities and those who suffered the most from the pandemic. Throughout 2020 and 2021, we have already donated more than 436 tons of food and beverages to social welfare institutions throughout Brazil. We are tremendously proud of all this work!

We are one of the founding companies of the Movement for Racial Equality (MOVER) which aims to generate 10 thousand new leadership positions for black people

What new initiatives can we expect from PepsiCo over the next 12 months? 

PepsiCo is a company focused on innovation and the sustainable growth of business. So, I can reveal we will have many launches and that we will continue to expand to new sales channels and continue our accelerated growth in Brazil.

We will also continue to pursue our socio-environmental agenda and keep investing in Brazilian communities to promote social transformation, and also to provide an increasingly diverse and inclusive environment at PepsiCo.

 

By: Danilo Motta