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Ivan Menezes: The leader behind Diageo's push to become one of world's most diverse companies

Diageo CEO Ivan Menezes speaks at the annual Confederation of British Industry (CBI) conference in London, on 18 November 2019. Photo: Ben Stansall/AFP via Getty Images
Diageo CEO Ivan Menezes speaks at the annual Confederation of British Industry (CBI) conference in London, on 18 November 2019. Photo: Ben Stansall/AFP via Getty Images

As the chief executive of Diageo (DGE.L), Ivan Menezes is a role model for other Indian and ethnic minority business people. Menezes also understands he can use his power to help those that look up to him.

India-born Menezes’ has been named the EMpower Executive Role Model 2021. Menezes has topped the annual ranking of ethnic minority executives put together by diversity and inclusion organisation INvolve, with support from Yahoo Finance UK. The list celebrates people who are blazing a trail in the world of work and using their power to support progress.

Menezes topping the list reflects the leadership shown last year in the wake of the Black Live Matter movement. Shortly after the murder of George Floyd, which sparked the protests, Menezes spoke out and used some of the strongest words of any executive to condemn what he saw as outright racism.

Read more: The EMpower Top 100 Ethnic Minority Executive Role Models 2021

“We have all watched in shock at the brutal killing of George Floyd and the outpouring of protest around the world,” Menezes said at the time. “This is not just a tragedy, nor is it an isolated incident. It is an outrage. As a leader of a global business and a person of colour, I strongly denounce any kind of racism, injustice or unequal treatment.

“The scourge of racism and injustice is found across the world and at this critical point in time, I say to our black colleagues: we stand together with you, we respect you, we hear you and we care about you. Black lives matter.”

Publicity shy Menezes has run FTSE 100 (^FTSE) alcohol giant Diageo since 2013. During his time in charge, he has made it a priority to promote both women and ethnic minorities.

Read more: The EMpower Top 100 Ethnic Minority Future Leaders 2021

Last year, Diageo launched “Society 2030: Spirit of Progress”. The far reaching plan included goals for reducing the company’s environmental impact and promoting responsible drinking. It also set ambitious targets to increase the number of ethnic minority leaders within the company. Diageo pledged to have 45% of its senior leaders be from ethnic minority backgrounds within the next decade. If met, it would mean Diageo would have one of the most diverse leaderships of a major corporate.

“As a global business, we are committed to playing our part to protect the future of our planet and to leading the way for others to follow,” Menezes said at the time.

Currently, three of Diageo’s eight board members are from BAME backgrounds. The “Spirit of Progress” plan has galvanised action to help push the ratios forward. Since it was announced, a global taskforce has been set up to establish how to meet the 45% target. A progressive Ethnic Diversity Framework was developed in response, which has set up training programmes for BAME staff in certain areas to ensure a pipeline of talent.

Read more: The EMpower Top 50 Advocate Executive Role Models 2021

Diageo was also an early signatory of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI)’s Change the Race Ratio plan, which commits businesses to tackling racial barriers within the workplace.

Under Menezes’ leadership, Diageo has worked to support BAME communities externally as well as internally. The company announced a $20m (£14m) community fund to support social justice in North America last June, helping black communities and businesses to recover from COVID-19. Diageo has long-standing partnerships with the National Urban League and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and has pledged over $1m to these organisations and 100 Black Men of America to support work for racial equality and social justice.

“This moment in history needs to be a catalyst,” Menezes said last year. “I will not allow us to be complacent about the progress we have made or to sit on the sidelines. We will deliver on our commitment to you and to society, to promote inclusion and diversity, and to take every action and step needed to make that a reality everywhere.”

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