‘We all have certain biases that we need to learn to fight’
As a woman it can be hard to survive in a male-dominated industry, and even harder to actually run it, even in 2017. This is something that Chief Corporate Relations Officer at Heineken, Blanca Juti, knows all too well, but she’s not letting biases stop her.
As we enter into the second half of the Grand Prix season, of which Heineken is the global sponsor, we caught up with Blanca – all-round inspirational woman and fountain of business knowledge – to find out what it really takes to get to the top…
What does being Chief Corporate Relations Officer at Heineken entail?
‘At Heineken, the Corporate Affairs team drives our communications, public affairs, brand PR and what is closest to my heart: sustainability. We understand that our operations make an imprint in the world and we strive for that to be as positive as possible. Our sustainability framework is called Brewing a Better World. We strive to reduce our environmental footprint, advocate responsible drinking behaviour and to work and support with the communities around the world where we operate.’
What is a typical work day like for you?
‘There is no such thing as a typical day for me. It’s so varied, that’s why I love it. I could be talking to a government official or an NGO, looking at different technologies to further our sustainability agenda, working with our marketing colleagues with our responsible drinking campaigns, speaking to media, writing my blog, having a beer with colleagues at the end of our bootcamp or if I am very lucky presenting the trophy to a winning F1 Grand Prix driver.’
How did you get into your career?
‘My career hasn’t followed a conventional path. I am a very curious person and there is a fair amount of serendipity in my career and life. I am an Anthropologist with a PhD in literature who has been a diplomat, has done sales, marketing, investor relations and communications roles. Prior to Heineken I worked in technology at Nokia and then in gaming and entertainment as the Chief Brand Officer of Rovio, the company behind Angry Birds.’
How have you found being a woman in what is considered ‘a man’s world’?
‘Being a woman in a “man’s world” can be a challenge, but only if you let it be. I understand that I am who I am. I am a woman. I am Latin American. I am an Anthropologist. These are the facts behind who I am and thus I have been true to myself and have always played the cards I’ve been dealt in my career. I have felt this has not stopped me at all.’
How have you overcome sexism through your career?
‘Bias is everywhere in life – be it sexism or otherwise. We all have certain biases that we need to learn to fight. There are times in my professional and personal life where I have seen a bias surface. Being aware of this is helpful: you can address it straight on. Likewise I try to be aware of my biases. Everyone has them and being aware of them is important.’
What is the ratio of men to women in your field?
‘The beer industry and also technology are traditionally more male dominated environments. But things are changing. Millennial men and women don’t want to be trapped by gender stereotypes and they are looking for work in places that understand that. I have also not wanted to be boxed in by my gender. I love being a woman but I don’t want to be limited by expectations and stereotypes and likewise I don’t want to limit men or women. Everyone should feel free to choose their own path. At Heineken we have always been a very inclusive company with many nationalities working together. Increasingly women are taking leadership positions too and I have felt both welcomed and respected by my colleagues.
There are two of us ladies at the Heineken executive team and we work very well as a team all together. There is enormous respect and deep collaboration. I can say the same for my Corporate Affairs Team. At the moment, my management team is more male dominant but the pipeline coming up is very even. We have enormous talents representing both genders and many nationalities; although I would like to see more from Asia and Africa.’
What is the biggest misconception about women in leadership roles?
‘Sheryl Sandberg has done a good job of describing how ambition in women is seen as aggressive or pushy whereas in men it is seen positively. A well known study of gender from Harvard proves the point. When a CV has the name Howard, students say that is the person they want to be. When the same CV is presented as Heidi, she is seen as too pushy. Bias is ingrained early on. The expression “running like a girl” understood already by children of young ages to mean slow, is an example of that. If you ask kids to draw a president or a banker vs a nurse or a teacher, you will get men for the first roles and women for the second. We ask female executives what it is like to be a female executive, but not male executives. Women in sports and entertainment are paid less. I think things are beginning to change. And I think it is important to support that change. In reality such gender stereotypes don’t only hurt women. They also hurt men because they constrict them in what they want to be, show or experience.’
What qualities are essential for your career?
‘Corporate Affairs requires that you are in tune with what is happening in society: that you understand the social trends and developments as well as the geopolitical environment. I would say it requires a fair amount of strategic thinking as well as empathy and an ability to listen and connect.’
What qualifications do you need for your career?
‘I find that most of my previous experiences come in handy. A diplomatic background is good in public affairs. Anthropology comes to use when understanding social trends and developments. My experience in start-ups and technology is useful when looking at sustainability, where innovation is key. Communications and Investor Relations are both important, as is my commercial experience. Most of all I think it is about leading people, motivating them and supporting them in their personal growth.’
Who were your role models while you were growing up?
‘I have had many, male and female. My parents taught me not to set limits for myself and they supported us girls in equal measure to the boys. My mother tells a story how (under the age of two) I climbed a very big slide and then let myself slide down. She was fearful. The slide was metres and metres high and certainly not meant for toddlers, but she did not show her fear. I have always lived by that spirit.’
What is the best piece of business advice you have been given?
‘At one point in my career my then CEO asked me how old I was. It was a cheeky question and I asked him why it mattered. I was in my mid thirties and was successfully leading an investor relations team. I felt I had a dream job and was definitely not looking for anything else. His advice was: if you don’t explore other things before you are 40 you will be pigeon holed in your current role. He was right – a career in sales and marketing followed and now Corporate Affairs. I am so glad I took his advice!’
What advice would you give to people interested in following in your footsteps?
‘I always tell my kids that life is not a train where you board and wait for the conductor to tell you that you have reached your destination. There are so many choices to be made and they are for each individual to make. Many people are waiting for the next step or promotion as if life were simply linear. I have instead wanted to be led by curiosity and a desire to learn something new, rather than the next step. The most important thing for me, is that one truly enjoys life and lives by one’s values.’
Tell us about Heineken’s involvement in F1…
‘Last June, we announced Heineken’s global partnership with F1 Management. This unique partnership is in line with our long-standing sporting platforms – UEFA Champions League and Rugby World Cup – where we focus on connecting and elevating the passion of the fans that enjoy our product while they watch the action at home or in bars, and not associating our brand with what is happening on the field of play. Together, our goal is to bring more people into the exciting world of F1. Our story around this partnership is two fold: a brand campaign aimed at driving commercial opportunities, and a new and innovative take on our responsible consumption platform.’
What makes F1 ‘More Than a Race’?
‘We know that F1 is so much more than a two-hour race. It’s a weekend-long spectacle of glamour and excitement, taking place in some of the world’s greatest cities throughout the year. Through “More Than A Race” we want to bring more fans into the world of F1 and bring to life the spectacle, drama, entertainment and technologies of this world-class property for more consumers – and more customers – around the world. Heineken is opening up F1 to new audiences, and making the sport more accessible for all.’