Launched at the Women Deliver 2019 Conference, the Deliver for Good Business Ally Network is fueling cross-sector collaboration to advance gender equality across the Sustainable Development Goals. In this exclusive Q&A, we hear from the Network’s founding partners – Anna Van Acker, President and Managing Director of Merck Canada and Carolyn Tastad, Group President and Executive Sponsor of Gender Equality at P&G – on the power of partnerships to drive transformative change benefitting all.
Katja Iversen: This month, the United Nations will host the High-Level Political Forum to review progress against the Sustainable Development Goals – including Goal 17 on Partnerships. Your company has leveraged the power of partnerships to fuel greater societal change. What are some of the core tenets of cross sector engagement (private sector meets public sector/civil society) that bridge this gap between profit and purpose?
Anna Van Acker, Merck: In today’s ever-changing global health landscape, we recognize that no one sector can tackle complex public health challenges alone. Health-related issues facing women and their communities are multi-faceted and require a multi-sector approach. We need to bring together diverse and often non-traditional collaborators that each bring a unique perspective or critical skill that can help us bend the curve to improve gender equality. At Merck, we value our partners as experts and are committed to open and honest dialogue to help make the world a more equitable place.
Within public-private partnerships, sectors can do what they do best – and complement each other’s efforts. Companies like Merck bring our scientific expertise to find new solutions to address health challenges. Across the globe, Merck works with diverse organizations, including multilateral institutions, governments, NGO and professional associations. Through these partnerships, we work together to leverage each other’s expertise and skills to tackle health challenges including maternal mortality, cervical cancer, diabetes and HIV.
And here in Canada, we’ve been part of the Project Red Lily partnership, which created a strategy to improve health outcomes of First Nations Peoples in Saskatchewan – HIV and HCV rates in this community are among the highest in the country. Now, the Saskatchewan Health Authority, health care providers and First Nations community leaders are reviewing a proposal to create a culturally safe treatment program to expand access to HCV, HIV, and STI care for First Nations Peoples in Central Saskatchewan.
Carolyn Tastad, P&G: When it comes to tacking big, complex issues, we know we can’t do it alone. That’s why partnership is so critical to success. The key is to find partners whose skills complement yours and who can extend the reach and the impact of your programs.
One of the great examples from P&G is our Always Puberty & Confidence education program. For the past 30 years, we’ve been championing girls’ confidence, partnering with more than 30 global agencies in more than 70 countries to bring puberty education and products to girls around the world. Our grassroots partners and global organizations like Save the Children, UNESCO, and UN Women enable us to reach 17MM girls each year through this program.
Another example of how we’re leveraging partnership is in our Children’s Safe Drinking Water (CSDW) program. Women and girls are disproportionately affected by the global water crisis. Our CSDW Program began in 2004, and, with the help of our more than 150 global partners, we have been bringing the power of clean water to children and families around the world. We established a goal to provide 15 billion liters of clean drinking water by 2020, which we achieved earlier this year. Thanks to our many strong partners, we were able to extend our commitment to deliver 25 billion liters by 2025.
To deliver these kinds of programs, we must find like-minded partners – NGOs, non-profits, retailers and suppliers – where, by pooling our resources and bringing together our complementary capabilities – we can get more done.
Katja Iversen: There are many private sector initiatives doing great work toward gender equality. Now alongside Women Deliver and other civil society organizations, you are a founding member of the Deliver for Good Business Ally Network. What makes this network different from other gender initiatives you’re part of, and what do you hope to see the Network achieve over the next 3 years?
Anna Van Acker, Merck: According to the World Economic Forum, recent data suggest that it will take 108 years to close the overall gender gap. That is unacceptable and requires all facets of society to address this issue. The private sector has broad reach and can address head-on the issues of opportunity, value and equality. We’re proud to be part of the Business Ally Network because we believe in the power and necessity of partnerships and are inspired and honored to be working alongside champions for gender equality, while encouraging others in the private sector to join this important movement. We hope to learn, we hope to contribute, and we hope to make changes for women around the world.
The Business Ally Network is an incredible opportunity to bring the best of Merck and the private sector to advance gender equality around the world. Over the next three years, we look forward to more companies joining together to create a set of specific action plans for business leaders to help achieve the SDGs and to continue the conversation about delivering for good within the private sector for our employees and beyond.
Carolyn Tastad, P&G: We’re proud to be a founding member of the Deliver for Good Business Ally Network because we know that tackling highly-complex issues like gender equality isn’t something we can do alone. It will take all of us – working together – to create a more gender equal world.
The Deliver for Good Business Ally Network has a truly global, broad-scale scope that enables partnerships between the public and private sector to find innovative, holistic and integrated solutions to advance gender equality across all the areas impacting girls’ and women’s lives.
Over the next few years, I hope we can find other private sector companies to join us in the Network, to break down barriers and work hand-in-hand with civil society to address some of the greatest challenges hindering progress.
Together we can use our individual and collective power to make the world a better place – for girls and women, and for all of us.
Katja Iversen: The private sector is essential to advancing gender equality – yet many commitments remain surface level or add-ons to Corporate Social Responsibility initiatives. Merck has been a trailblazer in going deeper – through innovations that help women, families and communities thrive. How and why do you think the private sector can more effectively deliver value to both shareholders and society?
Anna Van Acker, Merck: At Merck, we bring our expertise in science to develop new medicines that improve the health of millions around the world. We have a responsibility to partner with stakeholders to help improve public health by inventing new solutions to meet the unmet and evolving health needs of girls and women. In Canada, Merck invests in important research projects to advance science with investments totaling more than $1 billion since 2000 – all with the aim of helping people live happier, healthier lives.
Critically, we realize that gender equality cannot be considered a surface level issue – it must be at the forefront of our corporate culture and at the core of everything we do. Multinational companies like Merck have a large footprint – our reach extends widely: to our employees, our vendors, our supply chains. Given this influence, we must hold ourselves to the highest standards – how we operate internally and externally matters to both our shareholders and society.
Katja Iversen: Merck has taken the extra step to advance gender equality through initiatives like Merck for Mothers, which builds on Merck’s commitment to public health – and women’s health more specifically — by implementing programs, partnerships, and solutions so no woman dies giving life. How can other companies better harness their expertise to address pressing global issues impacting girls and women?
Anna Van Acker, Merck: The private sector has so much to offer as a partner in global health and development. However, businesses can only be effective if we listen to and learn from our community-based partners. As a company that supports programs in our backyard and around the world, Merck must meaningfully engage community leadership to understand public health challenges and how we can solve them in ways that respond directly to local needs.
For instance, in Canada, through our Merck for Mothers initiative, we are supporting efforts to reduce maternal mortality among Indigenous women in two provinces: Alberta and Ontario. Both programs are focused on improving maternal health among Indigenous women by increasing awareness of cultural practices around pregnancy and birth, while linking women to services including housing, support for substance use and culturally safe maternity care. These solutions – designed for and led by Indigenous communities – promise to make positive change for women and their families.
Katja Iversen: You have been a longstanding champion for gender equality across the private sector including at P&G where you have emphasized equality-based workplace policies, long-term talent management to promote equal gender representation, and changing the culture of leadership. What progress have you seen toward this goal over the course of your career and how do you remain resilient and committed in the face of challenges?
Carolyn Tastad, P&G: At P&G, we aspire to build a better world for all of us – a world free from gender bias, with equal voice and equal representation for all individuals – a world where everyone sees equal. We know that when we do this, communities are healthier, businesses thrive, and the world is a better place for everyone.
We are focused on creating an inclusive, gender-equal environment within P&G and beyond our walls. At P&G, we’ve set a goal of 50/50 representation at all levels of our company. Today, 47% of our managers are women; 40% of our most senior leadership – our Company Officers – are women; and 40% of our Board of Directors are women. We’ve made excellent progress – but there’s still more to do.
We’re continuing to improve our policies and benefits to be fully gender-equal. For example, our flex at work policies are used equally by men and women. We have improved our parenting leave program that provides benefits to birth mothers, adoptive parents and fathers. Our benefits extend support for life transitions, like aging parents.
We know that building a gender-inclusive environment takes all of us. At P&G this is not a women’s effort – men are part of our Corporate Women’s Leadership Team. And, in partnership with Catalyst, we offer MARC (Men Advocating Real Change) workshops to drive deeper understanding of privilege and bias.
We’ve continued to make steady progress towards our goals, and we remain committed to getting to equal representation at all levels and to ensuring that all our employees feel valued so they can perform at their peak.
Katja Iversen: As a leading executive, why are you personally committed to having more women’s voices at the table and what actions do you plan to take to further act upon this commitment?
Anna Van Acker, Merck: Our success as a company depends on supporting talent within Merck and promoting diverse voices, perspectives, and solutions. We know that business succeeds when women are equally represented and supported, and we know that our society and economies succeed when women are valued equally, both through pay and through opportunities to lead.
At Merck Canada, I’m committed to creating opportunities for women and ensuring that we strive for having gender equity at all levels of the company. I’m proud to say that in Canada, 63% of our employees and more than 50% of those in management positions are women. And recently, Merck joined the NYSE Board Advisory Council, which aims to advance diversity of corporate board membership.
A gender equal workforce requires a supportive environment – as a woman in an executive role, I am committed to developing new leadership throughout the company and cultivating conversations about these critical issues to understand how we can continue to learn, grow and make sure we are living our values and fostering a culture of gender equality.
Katja Iversen: P&G has enormous influence in the world of advertising through the cultural narratives it uses to promote its brands. How is the company tackling gender bias and changing the narrative about girls and women in advertising and what can companies do to ensure that this shift from gender biases is not temporary, but permanent?
Carolyn Tastad, P&G: As the world’s largest advertiser, our messages reach billions of consumers, and we know the impact this can have. Big brands and big advertisers like P&G have a critical role to play in advancing inclusion and equality.
That’s why a big focus of our gender equality efforts is to leverage our voice in advertising and media to tackle gender bias, through campaigns like Always Like A Girl and Olay Face Anything. Whether we’re addressing issues like equal pay with Secret or modern masculinity with Gillette – or simply portraying men as equal partners by showing dads changing diapers or Swiffering floors – advertising influences how we see the world and it has the power to change mindsets.
To ensure this work has a lasting impact, we have to work together to drive broader change. For this, we’ve teamed up with others in the industry through the ANA’s #SeeHer initiative and the U.N. Women Unstereotype Alliance to eliminate bias against women in advertising and media, and we also partner with Free the Bid to get more women in front of and behind the camera.