The Sweet Sound of Success: Jill Baskin, The Hershey Company CMO Talks D&I

By Advancing Diversity Podcast Archives
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When MediaVillage hosts its third Advancing Diversity Hall of Honors on January 8 at CES, the advertising and media community will have an opportunity to join hands in solidarity and support of diversity, inclusion, and action. Leading to that event, each of our 2020 inductees has shared the strategies and best practices they have used to accelerate the move from advocacy to activism.In this installment — with its companion podcast episode — Ginger Conlon, editor-in-chief, and E.B. Moss, head of content strategy, for MediaVillage shine a spotlight on Jill Baskin, chief marketing officer of The Hershey Company.

Baskin oversees all aspects of marketing for some of the sweetest brands on earth and offers a clear explanation for how and why diversity and inclusion (D&I) is a key tenet of the company. She discusses how Hershey has instituted pay equality, how its founder's charitable works continue to this day, and how a business built on accessible luxury became a standard treat in homes around the world.

The following is an abridged version of the deep-dive conversation. Listen here to the full interview. Subscribe or listen to the Advancing Diversity Podcast on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher or watch it on YouTube or listen to the entire podcast here.

Moss: This is a wonderful opportunity to share the origin story of The Hershey Company.

Baskin: It's really a great story, so thank you for the opportunity to tell it.

While trying to start a business, Milton Hershey failed four times before he successfully founded The Hershey Company. His recipe for success was [discovering] the process to make chocolate at scale…. This brought the price down and he was able to democratize chocolate so anyone could afford a little bit of sweetness, not just the wealthy. Now we're in our 125th year….

That resilient entrepreneurial spirit and desire to bring chocolate to everyone [is an inclusive action that] guides the company today.

Conlon: Milton Hershey said, "One is only happy in proportion to how happy he or she makes others feel happy and is only as useful as his or her contributions help others." Knowing this, it seems that diversity and inclusion are naturally central to The Hershey Company mission.

Baskin: It's a very important pillar of our company, for business reasons and as it comes straight from our founder. Milton and his wife had no heirs. So, they founded a school for orphans that today is a world-class boarding school serving 2,300 underserved girls and boys each year. They live at the school ... and employees are encouraged to participate with the students in all sorts of ways, from faith groups to helping out with a Halloween party or a Christmas party to reading stories to young children at the homes.

Moss: How have your D&I efforts impacted The Hershey Company's bottom line?

Baskin: We believe it is good business. By having and activating a diverse workforce, we will do a better job of listening to the consumer. We also ask that our suppliers are inclusive. We have a lot of purchasing power as clients and it's important to use that to advance diversity. [For example,] I have started requiring that our casting is inclusive. Often, I send [work] back because it is not representative of the real world.

In our industry, we know women are driving about 85 percent of consumer purchasing … so having women reflected within our talent pool [and consumer messaging] is essential. Together we can turn insights into actions and decisions that resonate with consumers.

Conlon: Do you have an example of a D&I activation that you are especially proud of?

Baskin: I developed an in-house agency to create advertising for our brands. This organizational restructure instantly unleashed creativity and energized the company. Our in-house agency team is extremely nimble, which accelerates the speed of production and provides us with marketing campaigns and messaging that we control. My agency team is small but mighty [and] diverse. It is effective and inclusive.

Conlon: What aspects of Hershey's D&I initiatives most inspire you personally?

Baskin: It's the company ethos that inspires me … all of us working together. And I know that sounds a little Pollyanna, but I'm telling you, Hershey is the best place I've ever worked. I think that's partly because of our inclusion efforts. ... With women in leadership positions, like Michelle Buck, our CEO — one of only 36 female CEOs in the Fortune 500 — I just think it presents a lot of opportunities for women. If you get a chance, work for a woman!

Moss: Can you describe how Hershey has also made a commitment to equality through an equal pay program?

Baskin: We closed the gender pay gap. At Hershey, men and women earn the same amount for the same or similar job, dollar for dollar. To measure this and to ensure that equal pay is maintained, every single role is evaluated once a year. If we identify anyone on staff that we feel isn't being paid equally to others of the same number of years, work responsibilities, etcetera … we bring the situation to our pay equity committee, and they will make any adjustments [that are] necessary.

Moss: You've worked on the agency and the brand side of the industry. Where is it easier to enact change through D&I activism and advocacy?

Baskin: It's easier on the client-side…, [but] that doesn't mean that I'm letting agencies off the hook. I believe agencies should be more active in their recruitment of diverse candidates because we'll get better [and] more actionable ideas as a result. But I am going to let them off the hook a little because they are paid to reflect client direction. Clients must be very clear about how much D&I they want in the messaging they put out to the world and how that communication is framed.

Conlon: What's your hiring process, and where you source from to ensure a fit with your corporate culture?

Baskin: We're about two hours from Philadelphia…, yet we find that it isn't hard to recruit and hire. Every person through the interview process is told [about] the Hershey origin story and they learn about our corporate culture, which extends into the greater community. They see that inclusivity starts at the top.... We have 42 percent gender diversity on our board of directors and 50 percent diversity on our executive committee.

AJ Petross, our vice president of diversity and inclusion, reaches out to partners ahead of our recruiting events to ensure that qualified candidates know that we are committed to diversity, inclusion, and equality. She connects with prospects through The Network of Executive Women, The Society for Black Engineers, Women in Supply Chain, and others. We attend ROMBA, which is Reaching Out MBA, a career event for LGBTQ students, and we also interview at MBA Vet, which is a career event for transitioning military people.

Our head of human resources, Kevin Walling, sits on the Thurgood Marshall College Fund and we interview through them. We [also] reach out to diverse student organizations and through our internal business resource groups to promote our inclusive interview process.

Conlon: What single piece of advice would you give to another chief marketer who is trying to get inclusion woven into their marketing?

Baskin: Speak up [and act]. We have an awesome pulpit as the CMO to speak up on behalf of the importance of diversity and the benefits of inclusion.

Weaving diversity and inclusion into the fabric of your company is good for business. And we have proof. In this podcast series, our Advancing Diversity Hall of Honors 2020 inductees each discuss the many ways their organizations champion diversity, equality, and inclusion, as well as examine the benefits to their company, constituents, and community. Each episode features one inductee's strategies and best practices that others can adapt to help their organizations accelerate the move from advocacy to activism.

The 2020 Advancing Diversity Hall of Honors inductees includeJill Baskin, chief marketing officer, The Hershey Company; J. Michael Haynie, Ph.D., vice chancellor for strategic initiatives and innovation, Institute for Veteran and Military Families; Tim Jones, chief executive officer, Publicis Media, Americas; Tim McNeal, talent development, Walt Disney Television; Sue Obeidi, director, Muslim Public Affairs Council, The Hollywood Bureau; Tony Rogers, chief member officer, Sam's Club; Tiffany R. Warren, founder and president, ADCOLOR, and senior vice president, chief diversity officer, Omnicom; and Shelley Zalis, chief executive officer, The Female Quotient.

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