Erica Barbagalo, head of law, patent and compliance Brazil and LatAm BP for Crop Science, Bayer

Barbagalo looks back on her motivation for sponsoring D&I initiatives throughout her career, and at the culture of inclusion within Bayer

When I was younger, I used to work in companies that were majority male or participate in groups where I was the only woman. At the time, I didn’t realize the difficulty I had in expressing my ideas or my thoughts. I didn’t feel I could talk, because I would be the different one, and I wanted to fit in, so I used to try to talk and act and think the same as the rest of the group.

Now, looking backwards and with experience, I can see how many opportunities I lost because of that. And how many opportunities the companies lost to have a different perspective, an approach that could be more effective, or a better discussion – if I had just mentioned ‘that idea’, if I had just opposed ‘that concept’, it would have been much, much richer, I would have been happier.

Nowadays I feel much more empowered, and I perceive the women around me to be much more empowered and engaged. They are open to voice their problems and thoughts, domestic or professional. It’s ok to be yourself, and not spend energy trying to be something else.

One experience that struck me in the past was coming back from maternity leave. That was a real tipping point for me – I think coming back from maternity leave is always very impactful for women, and for me it was not different. But when I got back, they didn’t have a place for me to take my milk to the baby, I had very difficult arrangements for getting to take the baby out of nursery. I was confused and insecure, and I didn’t have any support specifically for that. But at the same time, I didn’t feel secure to talk about it, because it could be understood as though I was not able to fully contribute.

I remember at that time there was an important project going on and it was a project that should have been assigned to me, because it fit under my responsibility. But the group that was negotiating the contract asked my manager to put someone else on it, because I had a small baby. Nobody asked me if I could do it; they just assigned it to another person. And I didn’t oppose. It was very frustrating. But my leader did oppose it, and assigned it to me, after checking with me, and she also offered her support.

I remember the first day we met with the client of this project. We were discussing the agenda, and I was vocal in saying, ‘I have to leave at this time because I have to collect my baby from nursery.’ My colleagues looked at me angrily, because I was supposed to be 24/7 with the customer.

But the customer looked at me and said, ‘Great, I also have a kid and I want to be home early to meet with him, so the meeting will be finished by that time.’

And that happened every day – he was the one calling off the meeting. I thought, ‘Oh my god, I just had to say it.’ Needless to say, the project finished in a timely manner, and was a success.

There had been no impact resulting from our agreed agenda – on the contrary, we ended up being very effective during the meetings, as we had a daily deadline.

Learning to use your voice

That was one example that made me realize that most women don’t talk, and that we have a lack of women in leadership teams. So, I wanted to try to create these groups. At Monsanto, I supported the creation of a group called ‘Women Network’, a project resulting from a leadership training that aimed at fostering women’s careers. It evolved, it changed, got engagement at a global level and is the Business Resource Group (BRG) for gender equality, which I’m the ambassador for in Brazil.

At Bayer, there is great awareness and commitment to inclusion and diversity. In Brazil, we have a diversity and inclusion steering committee formed by senior leadership. HR broadly coordinates the agendas, budget, initiatives and trainings, and coordinates the five different business resource groups: the one I sponsor is for gender equality, race, people with disabilities, LGBTQIA+ and generations. Each group has a sponsor, two co-leaders, and is formed by volunteers who dedicate time for activities to promote awareness and engagement related to their specific group, as well as intersectionality. We have one or two members of the Brazil law department in each of these BRGs. Globally, the legal department created an I&D (inclusion and diversity) committee that will support the leadership team in the inclusion agenda, among other actions.

Over the past three years, my group has focused on different aspects of gender equality, such as initiatives to be supportive to make it less likely for women to leave when they have kids, foster women careers by empowering them, acting in specific actions for different business or functions, as demographics show the need. For instance, one of the biggest business areas
in Brazil is agriculture, and data showed we have few women in the sales team, so we thought about and promoted actions that can help identify opportunities for them to progress in their careers.

Last year, we launched a tool for contributors to denounce domestic violence, which also provided support to the victims of said violence. It started with the pandemic, when we realized that the number of cases had increased tremendously in Brazil, and across the world. We partnered with a specialized company to offer that tool, and professional support for the women. We have also just launched a project to fight harassment in the workplace, which consists of enhancing the awareness about what is not tolerated, and creating a network to listen and support colleagues who experience harassment.

Another current focus is on intersectionality. Our BRG focuses on gender equality, but we are working together with the other groups to promote inclusion in a broader sense, so that we don’t talk about ‘women’, but ‘all women’: black women, transgender, those with disabilities, and of all ages.

We also have programs for mentoring suppliers to implement efficient inclusion and diversity policies. In the legal department, for instance, it is a requirement for the law firms to provide data to confirm diversity in the teams. Having effective I&D policies is a differential for hiring law firms in Brazil.

Tone at the top – and the bottom

At Bayer overall, and in Brazil in particular, I think that we have done a tremendous job in improving I&D culture; it’s a company value, and is part of our DNA. Although there’s a lot to be accomplished, we live our awareness and values, and people are really engaged and intentionally more open and inclusive.

It’s a global movement, as Bayer’s headquarters announced last year our global commitment to I&D, which, among other things, is to have half of the leadership occupied by women by 2030. Maybe that sounds like just a number, but it’s an implicit message for all that shows we are on the right path for fostering I&D.

Now that the awareness has been created, there is more consciousness, and also demands from the bottom up. As an example, we have a recurring program for trainees where we welcome and accelerate talent that will be in the pipeline for leadership. At the beginning of last year, we launched a program dedicated exclusively to black people. We received a lot of applause, criticism and threats from the media, but internally it was so well received. The employees were very supportive of the need for creating these opportunities, and were proud of this initiative. Another important aspect of this case is that it shows how the leadership have embraced and supported this concept, as the original idea came from a group of employees, and, at the end, the support came from employees all over the company.

The legal team

In Brazil, we have a legal team that is majority women, and we have representatives of other minority groups, although we currently lack black employees. We recently had an open position and we required of the talent acquisition team that at least half of the candidates on the shortlist should be black, and preferably women. First, the notice was in English, which we have reviewed: we can be flexible on that and then provide English classes. If we want talent, we have to be intentional, as the best lawyer could be a person that hasn’t had the opportunity to attend English classes or study abroad.

Every quarter, we have a meeting with the whole legal team and, in all these meetings, we bring someone from the I&D community to talk to us. We started welcoming the HR I&D manager to walk us through the I&D strategy and to share demographics, then we brought in members of the other BRGs groups to enhance our awareness and to enlighten us about their initiatives and how we can support them.