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Spotlight on … Jonathan Saw

Spotlight on … Jonathan Saw

January 2023

Vice President, Head of Diversity and Inclusion
Pernod Ricard North America

Your presentation to the Council’s STRIDE Summit in November was well received. Can you give those of us who weren’t able to attend a glimpse of what you said?

I said that in an organization’s response to pressing social issues, it isn’t enough to make bold pronouncements on social media – to issue statements such as “we support this or that position.” There’s a great deal more to be done. We need to look what is in our control as an organization to affect change. For example, we need to make a serious assessment of the entire employee lifecycle and how we are doing in terms of diverse representation — recruitment, hiring, promotion and the education of employees. It’s a matter of getting your own house in order. These are some of the concrete actions we can take to back up the statements of support – and the approach we take at Pernod Ricard North America. The positions you take on a social issue, including any donations and external statements, will vary, of course, from company to company.

There’s been a mounting expectation in recent years that organizations will respond to social issues that seems unprecedented. Most people trace this to the killing of George Floyd in 2020. Is that when it started?

Since 2020, it is true, there has been an expectation that companies will do more in these areas. But I think George Floyd was an accelerator, much as antisemitic and anti-Asian violence were also accelerators. However, that expectation from consumers already existed. I think it is generational and societal. Millennials and Gen Z simply have different expectations of the organizations they work for or whose products and services they buy. Millennials and Gen Z people are making up a larger percentage of the population, so they are exercising more influence in society. Think about it. Just a few years ago, CSR was not a big deal — it was just about recycling and things like that — but it’s much bigger now. So, the expectations of what a corporation can do has grown. The events of 2020 have only sped up the transformation.

You’ve also spoken about the importance of “complex data” in informing how our companies respond to social issues. Most of us in public affairs are liberal arts people, right? We’re not especially comfortable with data.

I don’t think public affairs professionals give themselves enough credit in dealing with data. I’m a liberal arts person myself. By noncomplex data, I mean the results of basic surveys, for example — demographic information — which tends to be HR-based. Complex data is looking at the intersections between all the non-complex data. In addition, it involves integrating other data source outside of demographics, like so-called wellbeing surveys and inclusion metrics. Until recently, what we had to work with was very soft and fluffy — surveys about how people “feel.” But now we have much richer information about what goes into those feelings, and indeed levers for changing organizations and adopting new behaviors. We’ll miss the mark if we fail to make use of it.

You’ve worked for some high-end brands — Tiffany & Co., where you were director of global diversity and inclusion, and today at Pernod. What have you learned from these experiences to help those of us whose employers don’t have such cachet?

What I’ve learned, among other things, is that the desire of employees to feel included and that they belong is universal. And this need isn’t the same as a commitment to diversity. There are fairly homogenous countries where race and ethnicity aren’t a big factor, but the desire to feel included is still present. We all want employees who feel included and valued and accepted, and we want to feel included and valued and accepted ourselves. That’s necessary for us to perform at our best. At Pernod, we talk about “good times from a good place,” and inclusion is at the center of this and indeed encapsulated within who we are as a company made up of “creators of conviviality.”

Can you tell us about your own background?

Professionally, I started in the public affairs arena, doing industry relations work for Phillip Morris, before moving to health care public relations at Edelman.  That’s where I got my grounding in data analysis and insights which have been so helpful in today’s DEI sphere. After a few years of strategy work there, I struck out on my own doing strategic communications work which quickly shifted to DEI consulting. Putting communications at the corner of the organizational change that companies wanted to do in DEI was the core of my value offering to clients as diverse as Bank of America, Johnson & Johnson and Tiffany & Co.

Getting social issue engagement right is an intimidating challenge. Is there one encouraging thought you’d leave us with?

I think we all need to remember what I think of as “the collective power of small steps.” A lot of people taking small steps is more powerful than big lifts by just a few people.

Reach Jonathan at [email protected].

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