Faces of HR

Faces of HR: How One HR Pro is Recognizing and Celebrating Women on Women’s History Month

With March being National Women’s History Month and March 8th being International Women’s Day, many organizations are likely planning to pay tribute to the women on their teams and recognize the many contributions that they have made. Our latest Faces profile is not only right on time but also no exception.

Andrea Ferrara

Andrea Ferrara, CHRO at PepsiCo Beverages NA (PBNA), is a 33-year veteran of the iconic beverage company. As one of the largest beverage companies in the U.S. PBNA is responsible for providing consumers with an iconic portfolio of more than 300 beverage choices, including brands like Pepsi, Pepsi Zero Sugar, Gatorade, bubly, and Mountain Dew.

Over the course of her impressive career, Ferrara has worked in domestic and internal locations, serving in numerous HR roles across PepsiCo’s foods and beverages businesses. In her current role, which she assumed October 2017, she leads the human resources organization for PBNA which has more than 55,000 associates – many of whom are in frontline roles – and 400 locations across the United States and Canada.

Innovation, a human centric culture, and DEI are just a few of PBNA’s company values, but representation is also important, according to Ferrara. In honor of National Women’s History month, PepsiCo is celebrating their female frontline workers with the national introduction of ‘She Is PepsiCo.’

“Our frontline workers are and will continue to be imperative, essential parts of our business,” Ferrara shared with HR Daily Advisor. “They are the people who keep the wheels turning each and every day and deserve to be celebrated as such. It’s not a secret that these roles are typically male dominated, but we have a host of exceptional women who hold these frontline positions, some of which have done so for over thirty years. She Is PepsiCo is one of the way’s we aim to celebrate and empower these dedicated women, taking a moment to showcase their dedication and leadership to our teams and their communities. “

This year the program will honor more than two dozen associates from 20 different cities across the U.S. and Canada. Each associate will be celebrated with their own personalized truck wrap that shows the women in their work setting.

“These highly visible delivery trucks that normally carry images of brands such as Pepsi, MTN DEW and Gatorade, will now feature the faces of the women honorees across North America as the trucks carry products along regular business routes,” Ferrara notes. “The PepsiCo fleet makes up one of the company’s most valuable, and widely seen marketing assets and is an effective vehicle for quickly and broadly raising awareness about career opportunities for women. Representation matters, and it is our hope that others seeing these women in these roles will understand that there isn’t just a role for them available, but a place for them to truly thrive and grow.”

In our latest Faces, meet Andrea Ferrara.

How did you get your start in the field?

I feel blessed to still be practicing an area that I studied in school. I was raised in a small town in western Pennsylvania which was heavily influenced by labor, leading to me studying labor economics in college. PepsiCo then recruited me as a campus hire upon earning my master’s degree in industrial and Labor Relations. From there, the rest is history – I’ve spent my entire career at PepsiCo, working in various HR functions such as employee relations, compensation, talent management and acquisition, which has led me to the position I’m in now.

Who is/was your biggest influence in the industry?

I’d say one the biggest influences have been all the incredible HR leaders before me. PepsiCo has a long legacy of practicing the craft of HR at the highest level, and it’s important to me to carry that forward so we can continue to grow leaders. The ability to both lead and learn from this incredible HR team is so meaningful. I learn from them every day and continue to be inspired how we lead through challenging times, like we faced in 2020. During that time my team remained focused on how to continue to operate and serve the needs of our employees, most of which are in frontline roles. There’s no greater influence than your team when they are demonstrating how they are putting their employees needs first and doing so in innovative ways that can be adapted across practices and industries.

What’s your best mistake and what did you learn from it?

Well, I never looked it as a “best mistake”, but when driving large scale change, not fully understanding the capacity the organization had to execute was a key learning. Pacing and prioritizing is key and often determines how well the change sticks. Understanding the end-to-end business early in one’s tenure of a new organization is critical. The ability to understand how the area in which you work impacts the business and financial objectives drives more holistic thinking. The wider frame of reference you have, the smarter your choices become and the better ability you have as an HR professional to drive business outcomes.  I always encourage new hires to spend time with their finance partners to understand the P&L and the details of our make, move, and sell organizations. 

What’s your favorite part about working in the industry? What’s your least favorite part, and how would you change it?

The opportunity to connect with our people and help shape what is possible for them. I find great joy in helping to build our next generation of leaders and think the idea of “passing the baton” to them is so special. My role enables me to drive a strategic development agenda and help be the steward of our culture. Across PBNA, we strive to create a truly human centric culture, that is representative of our company’s values. It can be a uniquely personal experience that isn’t easily found in other industries, and one I hold with great respect and gratitude.

Something I struggle with is how we can reach all our 55,000 associates. That connection is essential as we are focused on communicating with each of them and creating a human-centric culture where every employee feels their work is valued, they can continue to grow as a professional and that they are welcomed and included by the company. We’re very focused on ensuring that we’re meeting the individual needs of each employee as challenging as that can be with 55,000 unique sets of needs and communication preferences.

It sounds like through your experience you really care about people, and you want to help them feel safe and comfortable, which is important in the industry. Please elaborate here.

Yes, ensuring our people feel safe and comfortable is absolutely one of my biggest priorities, and that starts with ensuring we have a strong cultural foundation. And we ensure all our tools, processes and practices ladder against those cultural pillars to drive the right behaviors and outcomes. We especially saw how effective this was for leadership during the pandemic, when our employees needed that reassurance from us that their safety and comfort remained at the forefront of our decisions. We built some creative and multi-faceted ways to reach our office-based and frontline employees to firstly thank them for all they were doing for us, and to emphasize we were taking every precaution necessary to keep them safe. I saw how far that went during those especially trying times and believe it has led to a stronger base of trust amongst our leadership and employees that has only grown these past years.

How can HR most effectively demonstrate its value to the leadership team?

HR plays an integral role when we can help drive the overall business, understanding how to maximize our leaders to enable the best results.  Being that set of ears and eyes that helps identifies issues early and proactively deliver solutions. We can drive strong business outcomes by understanding and supporting our people.

At PepsiCo, we’ve always had a proud legacy of building leaders from within and have historically been a company that grows its own talent. I’ve never taken this lightly and have seen it as one of the key ways HR can be of value, fostering junior employees, developing their skills and capabilities so they can rise into senior roles at the company. We see this starting at the frontline, not just the executive level, and offer frontline leadership training for those who are looking to grow within the company. We also aim to arm frontline managers with the proper tools to support and better understand their associates.

During the pandemic, how do you keep company culture alive for a mix of frontline workers and remote workers?

Frontline workers account for 75% of our workforce, so they were in the locations every day. We found new and creative ways to celebrate success through social distancing and leveraged virtual tools and training to keep people integrated into the day-to-day business. We learned the power in the words “We are Pepsi” as a rallying cry to get through the tough times. 

I also took a personal approach to connecting with my team by writing to the macro group about how I was handling the pandemic, me as Andrea, not me as the CHRO. Despite being on zoom and email much more, it did enable me to reach all our HR leaders so that was the silver lining. Being visible and accessible is what matters and that can take different forms.

Can you talk about PepsiCo’s continued commitment to DE&I, achieving gender parity, and pay equity globally?

At PepsiCo, we have an ongoing mission to foster an inclusive and diverse workforce for all our people. Our company was built on an understanding that we continue to thrive because of our diversity, and we have a number of commitments and ambitions in place to ensure we are working to help address inequalities for historically marginalized people, underserved communities and businesses. Since 2016, we’ve set external goals around gender parity, pay equity and prosperity for all of our communities, and in 2020, we launched our Racial Equity Journey in the U.S., which has a focus on increasing Black and Hispanic representation at the manager level.

Our “She Is PepsiCo” program is also a part of “A Space to Be You,” which aims to create an environment where our people can fully be themselves. Through all of our practices, we always want to ensure anyone who joins our workforce or steps onto our premises feels accepted as they are, and that they don’t have to be someone else to reach their maximum potential.

Where do you see the industry heading in five years? Or are you seeing any current trends?

Employee needs and expectations have rapidly changed in the past three years. What employees prioritize as most important has clearly evolved. Companies that can rapidly flex their programs, policies and development approach will most likely keep winning the war for talent. Today, our employees prioritize their wellbeing and a flexible environment for them to work in higher than in year’s past. Part of driving a human centric culture requires us to listen more and try to implement new ways of working. We leverage organizational surveys to frequently check in on our employees and allow us to understand their unique pain points so we can quickly adapt.

What are you most proud of?

I’m especially proud of how we’ve managed to build an even stronger workforce and company culture, coming out of a time that was exceptionally difficult for people and companies alike, globally. I saw my responsibility as an HR professional during that time to take a human approach to leadership, practicing more empathy and deepening my connection with our associates. It gave me invaluable insights into the needs of our people and has undoubtedly shaped my priorities and how I choose to lead moving forward.

Do you have any advice for people entering the profession?

My advice to newcomers in this industry is learn the business in the most holistic sense, network internally and externally and be intellectually curious. Building relationships and connecting with others daily is key to learning this business, and while networking may look different than it did a few years ago, the pandemic has also opened new ways to connect with others beyond our immediate circles. I’ve found these personal connections and conversations have helped me grow as a leader and have given me confidence and passion to instill on others. HR professionals are often misconstrued as solely focused on rules and policy, but the greatest success comes from the leaders and professionals that think outside of this, working to inspire others and foster an environment all are excited to grow in.

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