Charles Bendotti, SVP of People & Culture at Philip Morris International, Shares His Thoughts on Allyship and Inclusion
Charles Bendotti became Senior Vice President, People & Culture at Philip Morris International (PMI) in January 2018. Prior to this role, he spent nearly two decades with the organization working in marketing, sales, human resources, and business. He holds a master’s degree in International Relations, Economy, and Law from the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva, Switzerland, and an Executive MBA from HEC Paris.
Why is inclusion an important element of workplace culture, and why is this essential for business today?
In an inclusive culture, employees bring their true selves to work, they feel empowered to use their full creativity and innovative thinking, and they leverage their background and lived knowledge to challenge the status quo. At Philip Morris International (PMI), where we are disrupting our industry from the inside-out, inclusion is our fuel. I’ll never tire of repeating that companies don’t change industries, people do—and valuing people for who they are is what fosters a collaborative environment, filled with fresh insights and perspectives that drive progress and innovation.
How do leaders’ decisions shape culture? And can an inclusive culture in business help drive positive change in society as well?
I truly believe that how we conduct ourselves at work and how we lead can have a profound impact within and outside a company’s walls. If leaders support and model inclusion and openness—if they welcome everyone and embrace differences—that will very likely help shape the culture. But it does not end there. Culture is defined by everyone’s actions, so it’s a shared responsibility to apply an inclusive mindset to all we do. This is why for me, being a leader also means being committed to developing great professionals who are also great people, wherever they go in their career or in their lives.
Why are you an ally of inclusion?
There is no option for me to not be an ally, this is both a high priority to me as a professional, as well as a deeply personal commitment. Growing up as part French, part Italian, I learned first-hand how cultures can be misinterpreted or misunderstood, how tempting it is to rely on shorthand, to make assumptions, to think you know something about someone because of one particular characteristic. And throughout my career, living and working in many countries around the world, I was often an “outsider.” This taught me to listen, ask, and reach out to others to help foster a more inclusive, supportive, and welcoming world for everyone—in the workplace and in society generally—regardless of background, race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, age, ability, or any other dimension of identity.
What role does allyship have in the workplace?
Allyship is a fundamental part of an inclusive workplace culture and an indispensable ingredient for a successful 21st century global company. And as such, it should be built into every facet of the business. It starts with listening, giving space, actively noticing, and taking action against inappropriate behaviors you witness. It is also a key part of learning from each other and growing through opening our minds to different perspectives. Our colleagues are, for a large part of our day and life, the people alongside whom we advance our goals, learn hard lessons, have big successes. And this works much better when we are there for each other in all ways. Crucially, being an ally shows those from underrepresented groups that they can count on you, that you are there to help create a safe space for all.
A large part of allyship is taking on the struggle as your own. How can we do this while elevating others’ voices?
Yes, this is the challenge. Some of us are in the habit of being supportive by telling instead of showing. As I’ve said, it is about giving space, listening, and about actively working to find the balance between elevating people’s voices and speaking up when they can’t. It is also about making the time to research, study, and learn on your own. The burden of learning how to be better allies is on us, not underrepresented groups. As we are developing new habits, we must be dedicated to this task, and we must be willing to hear when we get it wrong and change and adapt.
As you are a vocal advocate for LGBTQIA+, how can companies better amplify the voices of the community?
You have to both create dedicated programs as well as encourage spontaneous, authentic, year around enagement and understanding. For example, at PMI, we have created global and local Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) to advance inclusion. Because it is critical to have both buy-in from the top and from the line level, ERGs are employee-led, and is sponsored by a member of the PMI Senior Leadership Team. When it comes to LGBTQIA+, I am proud to sponsor Stripes, our LGBTQIA+ ERG. Creating and nurturing a safe space for this community, which faces persistent challenges, is very important to me. I have so much respect for them, their courage to come out, their resilience in the face of having to do it over and over, and their strength when they can’t be their authentic self in a particular space. At PMI, I am proud we celebrate our LGBTQIA+ colleagues, that we participate in Pride events, that we recognize the ongoing challenges the they face both as a community and as human beings, and we make time and space to elevate and discuss those challenges to learn about ways we can all be supportive and advance equity.
Promoting diversity and inclusion is both the right and smart thing to do from a business perspective. How can companies ensure their DE&I efforts are authentic, effective and not performative?
To create real impact, you need clear targets and metrics to hold yourself accountable to and track progress. At PMI, we are aligned on what we are looking to achieve in terms of inclusion and diversity. We have been putting multiple measures in place to ensure DE&I efforts are embedded in all policies, practices, and throughout all facets of the organization – and we are consistently tracking how we are doing. For example, this year, we reached our 40% target of women in management roles and have now set a new target of 35% of women in senior roles by 2025. You must also dedicate resources to the right infrastructure, like for example a dedicated leader and team. In our case, this meant creating a new role, a Chief Diversity Officer who reports directly to the company’s CEO. But above all, driving real progress requires a conscious effort to actively and regularly listen to what employees think and feel about our workplace culture. It’s only through a constant feedback loop that you can understand the true impact of any effort – DE&I or other, and ultimately use these insights to work with employees on new and better ways to address any potential gaps or areas for improvement.
The Inclusive Future content on BlogHer is sponsored by Philip Morris International (PMI). BlogHer has independent editorial responsibility for the content. The views expressed by the authors and contributors may not represent the views of PMI except for those quotes directly attributed to PMI executives.