jana gessner

Women in Safety: Jana Gessner, PepsiCo's EHS Vice President

Feb. 12, 2019
"Our recipe for success is that we spend a lot of time devising a workplace that meets the needs of our employees," says Jana Gessner, vice president, for EHS at PepsiCo.

Jana Gessner will be presenting a keynote address on “Putting People First: How to Create a Culture of Caring at EHS Today’s 2019 Safety Leadership Conference. The conference will be held Nov. 5-7 in Dallas, Texas. For more information, go to safetyleadershipconference.com.

In competitive times, companies need an edge. 

For PepsiCo that edge takes the shape of the diversity of its workforc. “Evaluating manufacturing in North America and here at PepsiCo, the supply chain continues to modernize and become more complex,“ explains Jana Gessner, vice president for EHS at PepsiCo. “ Complexity requires a workforce that views situations in a new light. Women’s experiences and thought processes are different.”

One of those differences, that has been widely studied, is the collaborative style of women. “This style leads to very strong strategic partnerships,” says Gessner. Strong partnerships are part of the diverse and inclusive environment that PepsiCo. has carefully cultivated. “We have women plant managers and have brought women into management roles,” says Gessner.

In fact, 29% of the company's supply chain workforce are women.  Work is being done to increase that number. Across PepsiCo, there are several internal programs designed for the development and advancement of women in the supply chain, including a program called LIFT, or Leadership Investment For Tomorrow, which connects executive to sponsor high-potential women for development, visibility and career opportunities.

But it's not just leadership roles that are opening up to women. This strategy applies to all job levels at the company. There is a Women’s Inclusion Network which helps keep female frontline associates engaged by helping connect PepsiCo associates with internal and external partners.

Building a career is not something that Pepsi leaves to chance. For example, its North America Beverage team is piloting a program called Women in Operations, which connects female supply chain colleagues. “This program offers ‘coffee talks’ where women can discuss issues that are both personal, such as how to balance work and family life, and how to move their careers forward by ensuring their voices are heard at work,” says Gessner.

One way to ensure that women choose to build careers at Pepsi is to understand the capabilities of their workforce. “I have 189 people on my team and I have a clear idea of where my talent is and where they want to go,” says Gessner. Through a program called People Planning, employees can decide what types of roles they want and at what locations. “This is a huge advantage for an employee. I can offer people a variety of roles and critical experiences to match their aspirations.”

Attracting Talent

While ensuring the current talent is retained, the company also needs to attract new talent, which is a top concern of all manufacturing companies.

As part of the company’s STEM outreach program, young women at the middle school and high school age are being encouraged to explore STEM careers at PepsiCo.  Through its Career Accelerator Days, PepsiCo associates provide middle and high school students, administrators, teachers and parents with exposure to its careers through demonstrations, discussion and hands-on experiences.  To date, 6,500 students have been reached with a focus on girls and underserved communities.

Regular campus visits and social media engagement are also part of the company’s efforts to encourage college students to consider manufacturing careers at PepsiCo.

“I find it very exciting to talk to women at college campuses about the issues our company deals with and how they can become involved," says Gessner. “For example, I talk about technology including how it impacts safety. We need to make the connection between scientific developments and manufacturing.”

These efforts have been successful as 53% of new manufacturing leadership hires at Frito-Lay were women. 

Once these women walk through the front doors at PepsiCo, the company works hard to retain them. Formal programs ensure their continued skill development, which is very important to new employees. A program called the PepsiCo STEM Women’s Community works to foster a work environment that supports and retains PepsiCo Women in STEM careers, including those in supply chain positions. 

In addition to career development, mentoring has been shown to be a useful tool in retaining employees.  PepsiCo is a platinum sponsor of Million Women Mentors, a movement that involves 60 corporations across 44 states, working to help young girls and women enter and persist in STEM-related pathways through mentoring relationships. PepsiCo is working to secure 1,000 associate mentors globally by the year 2020.

And of course, recognition is key to keeping job satisfaction at high levels. So PepsiCo regularly recognizes the contribution of women in supply chain roles. In 2017 alone, PepsiCo recognized more than 60 North America-based supply chain associates for their extraordinary contributions as part of our annual Chairman’s Circle of Champions awards. Approximately one-third of the honorees were women.

 All these programs and strategies are working.  When the company has offered jobs based on-campus recruiting, 90-95% of those who accepted are staying with the company.  “We are seeing diversity across our global supply chain,” says Gessner.

The company’s efforts are being recognized externally as well. PepsiCo was a recipient of the first ever Women’s Foodservice Forum Women in Manufacturing Award, which recognizes companies in the manufacturing sector of the food industry with demonstrated commitment to drive gender equity in their organizations and across the industry.

Best Practices

“Our recipe for success is that we spend a lot of time devising a workplace that meets the needs of our employees, “says Gessner. “The company culture includes humility which I have learned as I have traveled around the world. And we encourage employees to travel and understand different cultures. We provide a work-life balance and want employees to have personal satisfaction in their work. And we are continually working on improving ways to support women in our organization.”

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