Melissa Whiting Reveals PMI’s Approach to Closing the Gender Gap

Melissa Whiting Reveals PMI’s Approach to Closing the Gender Gap

PMI, Philip Morris International, is a multinational company looking to transform its brand and what it represents. This kind of profound change does not come simply from focusing outwardly on customers, consumers and target audiences, but also inwardly, on its own corporate culture.

This is something that Vice President of Inclusion and Diversity at PMI, Melissa Whiting, is keen to expand on.

“If we want to be successful, we know we have to unleash the innovation, creativity, humility and open-mindedness that diversity brings. So inside PMI we’re working every day to become more agile, inclusive and gender balanced.”


Closing the Gender Gap

A key aspect of this drive to an equal opportunities workplace is to do with gender.


“Women make up half the world’s population, intelligence and talent. In short, a gender gap is a talent gap, pure and simple”

Melissa Whiting, PMI


PMI wants to transform the gender imbalance of its corporate culture, based on the principle that diverse employees thrive more effectively in gender-balanced organisations, because the culture is more open and accepting of differences.

However, this is a considerable challenge in practical terms.

“It’s complex, because making progress depends on tackling numerous interconnected and complex behavioural, societal and structural factors.”

It is like climbing a mountain, and requires a similarly practical approach.

“You don’t make a bee line for the highest summit without stopping at camps along the way.”


A Global EQUAL-SALARY Certification Scheme

For PMI, the first part of a solution has been to examine the basics for equality by going through a rigorous, third-party EQUAL-SALARY certification process on a global scale.


“The global EQUAL-SALARY certification verifies that PMI pays men and women equally for equal work. We operate in more than 90 countries and the certification applies to all of them”

Melissa Whiting, PMI


Even in the 21st century, such a basic measure of equality is not always guaranteed, even in countries with clear legislation to tackle gender discrimination.

“That’s why the certification is an important foundational building block for us, towards improving PMI’s gender balance. We wanted to make sure our actual pay practices matched our good intentions.”

The certification process involved a thorough, worldwide audit by PwC, with a strong qualitative element involving interviews with local managers and female employees, and a review of HR-related policies and practices.

“This qualitative part was very important in helping identify gender blind spots and recommend action, as needed.”


Lessons for Closing the Gender Gap

The process PMI has undergone with the EQUAL-SALARY certification scheme it initiated, has clear lessons for businesses and organisations looking to establish gender equality in the workplace.

The first is to gather the right data, regularly.

“We report progress quarterly for targets to increase the representation of women in management. It’s also about going deeper into the data and looking at things like recruitment, performance ratings and promotions.”

This kind of in-depth examination can help identify inequalities or barriers to advancement and the actions needed to address them.

Another lesson is to do with perception.

“It’s not just the company’s commitment to gender equality, but also employee perceptions of it.  If female employees perceive there is a glass ceiling, this in itself may be enough to become a barrier to progress.”


“A perception of inequality will often dampen aspiration and confidence levels of young women”

Melissa Whiting, PMI


The certification scheme has given PMI a positive platform from which to launch a company-wide dialogue about establishing equality in the workplace. It is a foundation to build on and encourage further action.

“We need to tell a story in which men themselves see progress in gender equality as a positive reflection of their leadership,” concludes Melissa. “It is about making an emotional connection about why gender balance is good for everyone.”


About Melissa Whiting

Throughout her early years as an in-house lawyer, Melissa had a passion and interest in equality and fairness, in developing people, in organisation culture and in leadership.

This led her to her current role as Head of Inclusion & Diversity at Philip Morris International (18+ years with the company) where she is using her skills in collaboration, problem solving, communication and influence to lead PMI’s commitment to fostering an inclusive culture and workplace.


To discover more about the transformation of PMI, please visit Can PMI Shift its Business Reputation With Mission Winnow?