General Mills Reaffirms Commitment to Equal Opportunity and Women’s Empowerment

Mar 9, 2015 10:20 AM ET

Yesterday, hundreds of thousands across the globe celebrated International Women’s Day. This important holiday has been observed since the early 1900’s and still today it continues to serve as a day to remember gender equality and women’s empowerment in our society and around the world.

At General Mills, women play a vital role in the success of our company and our communities – from the smallholder female farmers who supply artichokes for our Green Giant brand to our workforce (more than half are women) to our female consumers across the globe, of all ages and backgrounds.

As a woman, a mom of two girls and a business leader at General Mills, the importance of empowering, advancing and investing in women is very close to my heart.

For decades, General Mills’ commitment to empowering women and girls has been a key pillar of our company mission of Nourishing Lives. In support of our mission and in honor of this important international holiday, we recently signed on to the United Nation’s Women’s Empowerment Principles (WEP).

Established by the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality, the Empowerment of Women and the United Nations Global Compact, the WEPs outline a set of seven principles for business, which offer guidance on how to empower women in the workplace, marketplace and community. These principles include:

  1. Establish high-level corporate leadership for gender equality
  2. Treat all women and men fairly at work – respect and support human rights and nondiscrimination
  3. Ensure the health, safety and well-being of all women and men workers
  4. Promote education, training and professional development for women
  5. Implement enterprise development, supply chain and marketing practices that empower women
  6. Promote equality through community initiatives and advocacy
  7. Measure and publicly report on progress to achieve gender equality

Principles such as those outlined by WEP have been part of General Mills values and success for decades.

Our ongoing support of women in the workplace and in the communities where we operate is illustrated through our long-standing commitment to building a diversity and inclusive culture, delivering remarkable and measureable philanthropy, and creating shared value across our supply chain.

Here are just a few examples of our efforts to empower women and girls globally.

Women in the workplace

Within our own four walls, we actively cultivate an inclusive environment and respect all dimensions of diversity, including gender, race and sexual orientation as well as cultural values, preferences and beliefs. Women now hold 44 percent of management positions and comprise 53 percent of all salaried positions in the U.S. Among the 14 members of the Board of Directors, five are women and three are people of color.

Over the past 10 years, the number of minority and female officers at General Mills in the U.S. has increased dramatically. As of 2014, company leadership includes 17 percent minority and 35 percent female officers. Similar results are tracked and progress is seen at all levels in the organization: officer, director, manager and throughout the company.

Women-owned suppliers

For more than 20 years, General Mills has been dedicated to establishing and growing successful business relationships with minority- and women-owned businesses, which provide important raw materials for our products as well as logistics, marketing and consulting services, among other things.

For example, General Mills has been purchasing honey from Sweet Harvest Foods, a female-owned business, since 1998. Our spending with Sweet Harvest Foods has increased from US$250,000 to US$20 million over the last 16 years. In addition, our relationship has expanded to include support for the Sweet Harvest’s outreach efforts to help smallholder farmers develop sustainable beekeeping businesses in Sierra Leone and Brazil.

Creating shared value for women globally

We are also supporting the work of supplier Agro Mantaro with artichoke farmers in Peru – more than half of whom are women.  In partnership with CARE, a humanitarian organization, training is provided to the farmers on crop management and post-harvest practices, helping them increase yields and improve profitability. The program also provides microloans to purchase artichoke shoots and seeds; guidance about forming farmer cooperatives; and financial planning education and information about formulating business plans.

Artichokes from Peru’s central Junín region are destined for Green Giant in Europe. Together, we are helping create shared value – more than 160 families benefit from the program.  During the first year of the program, participating farmers grew significantly more artichokes per hectare, achieving a productivity increase of 71 percent in May 2014 compared with the previous year’s crop.

Empowering women entrepreneurs and expanding access to education for young girls

In 2009, General Mills founded Join My Village in partnership with CARE USA to leverage the collective power of individuals through social media to improve the lives of women and girls in some of the poorest communities in the world.

Now in its fifth year, Join My Village has positively impacted a quarter million people in Africa and India. The program is also helping to economically empower thousands of women living in impoverished communities, which increases family livelihoods. Through Join My Village, communities have established village savings and loans associations (VSLAs), which enable groups of women to pool a portion of their savings to help one another start and expand their small businesses. Since 2009, 125 new VSLAs have supported more than 6,700 women and their families.

In addition Join My Village has granted thousands of educational scholarships to girls in Malawi and India, built dozens of homes to bring teachers to remote villages, provided textbooks and reference materials to thousands of students, improving livelihoods for 73,000 people.

I have always been proud of these programs and the many other ways that General Mills works to empower women and girls around the world.  And now, as a signatory to the UN Women’s Empowerment Principles, we have another reason to be proud. 

About the author: 

Kim Nelson is the senior vice president of External Relations at General Mills, based in Minneapolis, Minn. She oversees the General Mills Foundation, Global Communications, Government Relations, Sustainability and Corporate Social Responsibility. She began her career at General Mills in 1988. See more at