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Robert Walters Leadership Podcast E12: Conversation with Natthanicha Worawannaseth, BRAND’S Suntory

From fairer, non-discriminatory hiring to forming inclusion councils and resource groups to create safe spaces, Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) has become a key organisational value and practice for companies.

Episode twelve of our Powering Potential with Robert Walters podcast in South East Asia sees Natthanicha Worawannaseth, SVP Corporate Function at BRAND’S Suntory, sitting down with Rungnapa Charoenrungsiri, Manager – Human Resource Division at Robert Walters Thailand, to share more on D&I and how BRAND’S Suntory is ensuring a diverse and inclusive talent pool and hiring process.

In light of increasing employee activism and emphasis on organisation-talent value alignment, don’t miss Natthanicha’s advice on developing one’s career, and how businesses and HR teams can best utilise D&I efforts to attract, retain and develop top talent.

Our Robert Walters Leadership Podcast is part of our Powering Potential series, where we feature leaders from diverse industries and the sharing of their experience, advice, and insights into the world of work. Watch the videocast of this episode here.

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Rungnapa Charoenrungsiri: Hi all, I'm Rungnapa Charoenrungsiri, Manager of the Human Resources division at Robert Walters Thailand. I'm your host for this episode of our Powering Potential with Robert Walters, our leadership series, where we interview business leaders, recruitment experts and career growth specialists on their careers, leadership lessons and the latest talent trends.

Today, it's my pleasure to have Khun Natthanicha Worawannaseth, SVP of Corporate Function at BRAND's Suntory, joining us today. Welcome ka, Khun Lucky, and thank you for being part of this episode.

Natthanicha Worawannaseth: Thank you very much for having me today.

Rungnapa: It's our honour. Okay, great. For our listener who might not know Khun Lucky before, Khun Lucky is a senior HR leader from FMCG industry who has helped the company to win many awards including "Top Employer", "Best Company To Work with in Asia for 2021". So without further ado, let's begin with our first question.

Natthanicha: Yes, I'm ready.

Rungnapa: Okay. So the first question is about Diversity and Inclusion. So in the recent years, we have seen companies around the world focusing on diversity and inclusion efforts.

For the benefit of our listeners, can you tell us what does Diversity and Inclusion mean? And how does that translate to practical efforts on the ground for BRAND's Suntory?

Natthanicha: Okay, sure. I think Diversity and Inclusion is really in trend now. You will hear a lot about D&I. So diversity is any dimension that can be used to differentiate groups and people from one another.

There are two types of diversity. The first one is inherent diversity - it is demographic characteristics like race, sex, and age. The second one is acquired diversity, so it means that it comes later - factors such as education, experience, values, skills, and knowledge. Why inclusion is an organisation effort and practice in which different groups or individuals having different backgrounds, culturally and socially accepted and welcome? Maybe I can give you some more examples about Diversity and Inclusion. If you think about the jigsaw, there are so many pieces of different shapes and colours - that is called diversity. But once we placed them together correctly and nicely, they will form such a beautiful picture. This is called inclusion, where everyone is included in the organisation and work and live together beautifully and harmoniously.

In line with our vision of growing for good. Suntory Group is committed to diversity, equity, and inclusion. Although at different stages of evolution, Suntory Group companies have taken steps to derive strength from diversity and enrich our workplace through inclusion. Not only do we commit to recognising values, and respecting diversity, and actively promoting and fostering inclusion, we will find ways to enjoy equity as we listen to the voices and perspectives of our employees and take action. So there is Diversity and Inclusion - the meaning of it, and how diversity and inclusion means for BRAND's Suntory.

Rungnapa: Thank you very much for your explanation, Khun Lucky. So next would be - having been in the HR field for over 20 years now, what do you think is the biggest hurdle that companies in Thailand and Southeast Asia, and even BRAND's Suntory face when it comes to Diversity and Inclusion? And what is the biggest misconception?

Natthanicha: I think there are a few points to consider here not just with Suntory, but also with other companies as well. I always say this - firstly is unconscious bias. It is the biggest disabler of diversity. Our brain automatically tells us that we are same with people who look, think, and act similar to us. The brain used shortcuts to navigate an incredible amount of information, which leads us to make snap decision about who we prefer and who we avoid. I mean this one is also happening to all of us including myself. In an era where different thinking and innovation power is key to secure bottomline results, our unconscious preference for people who are like us, severely challenges our intentions to create diversified and inclusive workplace. Therefore, understanding our own unintended preference enable us to take full control of business decisions, harness the potential of diversity, and create innovative teams.

Secondly is the communication issue. When you have a diverse workforce, communication between team members can become challenging. I don't know if it's also happening in Robert Walters because in Thailand, English is not our mother tongue, and we are working with MNCs consisting of so many other nationalities of employees. Language barriers could mean that team members ineffectively communicate and have difficulties understanding one another. Failure to fully comprehend instructions could lead to a significant drop in productivity and team synergy. So I think it is very important that you encourage your employees to ask for clarification if they are unsure about what they are being asked to do, and better to clarify matters at the outset than rectify falls later.

Rungnapa: Okay, thank you ka.

So the next question is, what is the most memorable experience you have had when it comes to Diversity and Inclusion practice, programmes, or efforts?

Natthanicha: Yeah. Actually, there are many good practices out there, but if you are asking me about the most memorable one, and I always love to give that kind of example. Even though it doesn't belong to my current company - it's one company that I work with. They allow its employees worldwide to take at least 20 weeks of fully paid parental leave. How many months Khun Jum, can you count? So it's about five months in total. Regardless of their gender, sexual orientation, or how they become parents. So it means that either you are a mother, father, LGBT+, and either it's your own child or adopted child, you can take full five months paid leave - up to five months. So I think that one is quite impressive, and of course memorable as you ask.

Rungnapa: I see. Okay. So any tips on how companies and HR teams can best implement Diversity and Inclusion in their hiring processes?

Natthanicha: I think, first of all, you have to write your job posting more carefully to attract more diverse candidates. If you want to attract a more diverse candidate pool, the language that you use in your job posting makes a difference. A study on job posting found those using masculine type like "ambitious", "dominate", were less appealing to female leaders. Second, offer workplace policy that are more appealing to diverse candidates. Research has found that one of the best workplace policies to attract diverse candidates is flexibility. Offering flexibility, such as work from home options and flexible hours not only helps you attract more diverse candidate, it also helps prevent expensive employee turnover. And I'm very proud to say that in BRAND's Suntory, we also offer flexible work arrangements, such as flexible hour - you can come to work ranged from 7:30 until 10:00am, and work flexible place - you can work anywhere in the world. Actually we do not care as long as your performance is good. And also, we have flexible benefits, we give you a budget and you can do anything - for your good health like buying fitness membership, OPD/IPD for your family.

So those types of things are very attractive and appealing to candidates. So I would recommend all the companies to have those kinds of flexible work arrangement.

Rungnapa: Okay, thank you ka Khun lucky. It sound like instead of trying to manage your internal employee with diversity, actually it started from the hiring process.

Natthanicha: Yes, exactly. That is very important. As you are recruiter yourself, you know that you are the front line to make the company impressive, and to build a strong employer branding. Start with recruiters actually.

Rungnapa: Okay, thank you. Well next, since you have gained a lot of experience, and now become a Senior HR leader in the market, may we learn more about your success journey? So, could you please share with us - looking at your career journey in HR, what made you choose HR function as your career?

Natthanicha: I love people, I love dealing with people, and I also believe that employees are the lifeblood of any organisation. Dealing with people is an art. I think you fully agree with that. And if employees are not treated like they make a difference, your organisation will be at average at best. And many companies don't usually consider the Human Resources department as the most important department in the company.

It is such a shame because HR is very critical to the success of every organisation. In fact, HR is the key to company's success. Without an effective and efficient HR team, there will be no talents in the company, right? And without talented people who are dedicated to the company, there will be no business.

And companies usually forget things that HR does, as it's mostly behind-the-scene work. The scope of the HR department is more than just processing payroll and setting employees health benefit. HR plays a very important role in developing a company strategy by enhancing employees' perceptions throughout the workforce and providing a well-rounded experience for employees.

Because I think that HR is that important, so that's why I have selected this journey and I never regret even once for being the HR person.

Rungnapa: Wow. That is impressive ka. So has Diversity and Inclusion affected you personally in your career? And how so?

Natthanicha: I would say that very much. I have been working with MNCs for all my life. And I have been exposed to different ideas and cultures and nationalities. It does help me adjust myself to diverse and different environments, and different types of people. It does give me a wider perspective about people working around me. In addition, I believe that D&I allows me to grow in my career. As you know, I'm lucky that all MNCs that I have worked with are very open to grow and develop female leaders, and they want to build a strong equitable society in the organisation. So that's why D&I is so important to me and impact me in a very positive way.

Rungnapa: Okay. So having helped organisation to win so many awards such as "Top Employee" award, and also recently, BRAND's Suntory also just won one of the "Best Companies To Work for in Asia 2021.” So could you please share with our listeners, what are the key professional and life lessons and tips you have learnt throughout your career?

Natthanicha: Yeah. I would love to talk about that. I think it's important that you share your success with younger people and let them see how you've come to this point.

Okay. First of all, you have to know what you want in your life because if you don't know where you are going, any road will do, correct? So I set my goals very clear in life since I was young. I was very mature since I was very young like in which area I wanted to study, what university, all those kinds of things. I have set my goals and I pursue my dreams with courage and passion. I have been working so hard through all my life. I believe that hard work beats talent if talent don't work hard. Many people especially myself, my staff, they always said that they had never seen anybody so passionate about HR like I am. I'm not sure if you agree with that Khun Jum.

Rungnapa: Definitely.

Natthanicha: Because for all these years that we've been working together, I always challenge the status quo and I believe that things can always be improved. You cannot dwell in your comfort zone, as comfort zone is really a graveyard to your dreams and ideas. In addition, people always said that I'm very resilient and I am a true fighter.

I would say that is a compliment. You don't have to tell me that I'm smart or whatsoever, but a true fighter. So it means that through life, you have to face so many difficulties and disappointments but please do not give up and lose hope. Remember that you are given this life because God knows that you are strong enough to live it.

So I think the tips from me to all of you out there are setting your goals very clear, very early in your life, work for it and never give up no matter what happens.

Rungnapa: Wow. This is a real tip for our listeners that they can really use in their lives and set their goals and succeed just like you.

Natthanicha: You have my mental support if you need my help. Anything, you can really maybe drop me a message in my LinkedIn or contact me through Khun Jum, very welcome to give you that kind of support.

Rungnapa: Thank you ka. So next is, as the current SVP Corporate Function for BRAND's Suntory, what do you personally think separates top talent from professionals in the market? What do you look for in potential hires?

Natthanicha: For BRAND's Suntory, our value is 'Yatte Minahare' in Japanese. It means that there are actually a lot of good people, good talents out there, but what make them stand out in today's world is that when they act with a pioneering spirit, commitment, and strong will to create value and deliver results, cultivates innovation through experimentation, and learning from success and failure along the way. Like this year due to COVID, our business performance was not so good during the first 3 months. But because of our 'Yatte Minahare' spirit, our people have been working very hard, and changed strategy to cope with COVID, and we could finally bounce back beautifully and achieve the target. And among all the BUs in Suntory, I'm confident to say that we are one of the best. For candidates, I will look for someone with this pioneering spirit, who is innovative and resilient, and always improve themselves and never give up when the going gets tough. Most importantly, they have to be a good team player, value diverse ideas, and respect diversity and inclusion.

I think that's the key and the quality that I'm looking for in all the candidates and potential employees of our company.

Rungnapa: Okay. Thank you, ka. So next is, on the flip side, what do you think separate top companies from the market when it comes to attracting and recruiting talent nowadays?

Natthanicha: Diversity and Inclusion should be front and center as part of your employer branding. If you want to attract talent, I think it's more than just stating you support diversity as part of your company culture or sharing your purpose and values. It's about giving diverse talent insight into how they can thrive as an employee at your company.

In today's highly competitive market for diverse talent, the expansion of remote work options has increased the number of job options and opportunities, allowing candidates to be selective about their next career move. Company are at the unique crossroads created by the pandemic and social justice movement, which have turned up the competitive heat.

So it means that having a strong employer brand is more important than ever in attracting the talents. And how you approach and showcase your commitment to diversity and inclusion can be a crucial differentiator. Diversity branding should not only inform candidates about the company culture, inclusion purpose and values, but give them actionable insight into how they can be successful at your organisation. So I think these are the tips on how to separate top companies from the market. And Thailand is a talent war, so it's very important that you have to look into Diversity and Inclusion aspect, as long as you build your strong employer brand.

Rungnapa: Okay, ka. Well, thank you very much Khun Lucky. And with that, we have come to the end of this session and really appreciate your sharing about the insights and personal advice with us. I'm sure our listeners and viewers appreciate hearing how BRAND's Suntory is promoting greater diversity and inclusion in the workplace.

And I've learned a lot today. Actually, Diversity and Inclusion is not just about the benefits for all the sex or gender, but it's also about diverse ideas, and how you recruit them.

Natthanicha: My pleasure and thank you so much Robert Walters for having me here today. And I hope that for HR professionals out there, make sure that you see yourself as a very true business partner, and you are making the difference, especially during the unprecedented pandemic. Okay. Just hang in there and keep fighting.

Rungnapa: Thank you very much ka Khun Lucky. And to our listeners and viewers, don't forget to stay tuned for the next episode of our Robert Walter's Powering Potential. Take care and stay safe. Bye.

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