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How liquor brands are shrugging off the family-run ethos to better diversify their workforces

October 6, 2022, 6:00 PM UTC
People want to see themselves in the brands they buy.
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Studies have frequently shown that ethnic and gender diversity on executive teams results in financial outperformance for the companies that are more inclusive.

That data makes the business case for strengthening diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) an easy sell at alcohol producer Constellation Brands, where top leaders say the need is even more pronounced for consumer-driven brands. People want to see themselves in the brands they buy, Constellation contends, and thus diversity of thought internally will be well received externally.

“We see diversity as something that is absolutely critical to the future success of our business,” says Mike McGrew, chief communications, CSR (corporate social responsibility), and diversity officer at Constellation. 

The purveyor of Corona beer, Kim Crawford wine, and Svedka vodka has vowed to boost diverse representation by 50% across the company’s U.S. workforce over the next five years. The company’s current workforce is very white at 80%—far above the 60% representation for that group across the entire U.S. population. The commitment Constellation Brands has made to become more ethnically inclusive would mean that in half a decade, 30% of the company’s workforce would self-identify as Black/African American, Latinx/Hispanic, Asian, or another Person of Color. 

Constellation Brands also wants to boost gender representation to parity. Women make up close to 40% of the company’s U.S. employee base today. 

There’s also been a boost in diverse representation at Constellation’s board and executive levels over the past few years, changes to the team that have been a passion project for Bill Newlands, the company’s CEO.

The inclusivity commitments are part of a broader push at the company to develop diversity of representation across every level of the organization. Constellation believes that by having more diverse thoughts, they can stay ahead of Americans’ ever-evolving shifting drinking patterns.

McGrew explains there are three areas that Constellation Brands is particularly keen to address: enhancing diverse representation across the business, educating teams to ensure an inclusive culture thrives as the composition of the company changes, and encouraging broader social impact in the alcohol industry and within the communities Constellation Brands operates. 

The latter commitment explains why Constellation Brands has outlined plans to invest $100 million in women-led startups by 2028, and $100 million, separately, in Black, Latinx, and minority-owned businesses by 2030. Already, Constellation has acquired stakes in La Fête du Rosé, Archer Roose, and Sapere Aude Sparking Wine; and fully acquired female-founded Austin Cocktails earlier this year.

“We are actively investing in high potential founders and big disruptive ideas,” says Mallika Monteiro, chief growth, strategy, and digital officer at Constellation. “That’s good for our business, good for them, and certainly good for the industry.” 

Making leadership at major alcohol brands is likely to be a long, ongoing process. Take a look at the various family-run businesses across major categories like Scotch whisky, American bourbon, or the champagne houses in France. All overwhelmingly white. And when many of these brands are sold to major alcohol conglomerates, there’s a strong preference to maintain the family-run feel of these brands—meaning that many leaders, master distillers, and the marketing faces behind those brands remain exclusionary to one racial group. 

Constellation Brands believes that for recruitment, it wants to look outside the industry and reach out to audiences that haven’t always been included in the past. A fairly new, entry level sales recruitment program in Texas and other states in the South are courting talent from historically Black colleges and universities. 

“We coach and train people managers and hiring managers to think about what skill sets they need, rather than just look at the historical company experience,” says Kris Carey, chief human resources officer at Constellation.

DEI and creating a more inclusive culture is also a priority at Molson Coors, the parent company of Coors Light and Miller Lite. The company hosts a monthly DEI town hall and each October celebrates an annual “Month of Inclusion,” which includes keynote speakers and interactive sessions to inspire candid conversations related to inclusion. The company’s pubs—at corporate offices located in Chicago, Milwaukee, and Denver—are tapped to host various events held by employee resource groups that support Black employees, women, LGBTQ+, veterans, and more. 

“We are on a journey here and there’s been a lot of really good work that’s been done around DEI over the last couple years,” says Harmony Lussier, senior manager of talent acquisition at Molson Coors. 

Molson Coors has committed to invest $100 million by 2025 in initiatives that “aspire to improve livelihoods, champion diversity, foster empowerment and build resilient communities.” 

More broadly in addressing the workplace for all, Molson Coors has implemented a hybrid schedule in which all employees come to the office three days a week, on Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday. The dress code at Molson Coors has evolved from “business casual” to merely “casual.” 

“We think the schedule here at Molson Coors works, as we try to rebuild a real sense of community,” says Lussier. “People value being with their teams, it increases energy levels, the pace in which you can get work done is much quicker, and it lends itself to a more productive environment.” 

Even the office bar has evolved. Molson Coors’ pubs have reopened after closure during the height of the pandemic. Brands like Keystone Light or Topo Chico Hard Seltzer are back to hosting events to celebrate campaigns. Executives take turns behind the bar to pour drinks for their colleagues. And working parents have asked to get more involved in the festivities. The pubs now open one hour early, one day a week, to allow parents an opportunity to socialize before going home to their families. 

As a result, Molson Coors’ pubs are always packed on Thursdays.

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