After a 2011 full of stimuli and meetings with companies that we consider bighting best practices for their attention to employees, and women in particular (read the recent interviews with Pietro Scott Jovane AD of Microsoft Italia and Carolina Brodasca Collection Director at Stella Mc Cartney, plus our other best practices), we are proud to start this new year with another great company: Mars Italia*, through the words of Theano Lianidou, General Manager of the company since 2009, Greek, woman, mother of two.

*Mars Italia is the Italian associate of the US multinational company Mars Incorporated. The company currently employs over 230 people and operates in 3 business sectors: Chocolate, Pet care, Food. Since 1966 Mars Italia markets some of the most renowned brands in Italy, including M&M’S®, MARS®, TWIX®, UNCLE BEN’S®, PEDIGREE®, and WHISKAS®.

What makes Mars a “Great Place To Work”?
We are very proud that Mars Italia ranks first among consumer goods companies, and sixth overall in the Great Place to Work 2011. Mars is a unique company with a unique culture based on 5 principles that we apply to our everyday work: quality, efficiency, mutuality, responsibility and freedom. We believe it is essential to motivate every single associate and maximize his/her talent, thereby stimulating a true sense of belonging. I am also sure that focusing on diversity in terms of gender, ethnicity and experience as the main assets of a company strategy is always positive. Mars believes and promotes flexible work models aiming to balance the professional and personal needs of its associate. In fact one of our strength points, that played an important role in the achievement of the Great Place To Work award, is the attention and care toward work-life balance.

In terms of gender balance, what is the overall percentage of women in the workforce? And in management positions?
Women account for 60% of the overall company population, and in the management team the balance is exactly 50-50.

What do you see as women main barriers to career in your company?
At Mars Italia there are no barriers to career for women. We consider gender equality as a key element in our strategic vision. We don’t want that women are forced to give up. Sometimes women choose to give a greater priority to their family versus their career and this is something I have great respect of. But at Mars there is a great understanding that women, while progressing in their career, also need to take care of their family. This is one of the reasons why we have women at very senior positions both locally and on an international level.

Do you have specific initiatives or policies to facilitate work-life balance in your company, for both men and women?
At Mars we have great respect for the private life of our associates. We have work-life balance programs that promote and preserve the correct balance between work and private life, and ensure that the work environment is enjoyable for everyone. For example we have home working, we try not to organize meeting after a certain time, and we have special policies for breastfeeding hours. As one of our core values is mutuality, I personally believe very much in leading by example, so myself and the executive team promote and apply this working style every day. Last but not least, we have a very strong HR department that ensures an honest and open dialogue with each associate to solve individual issues.

Do you monitor the success, the appreciation of these initiatives?
Yes, every year we conduct an employee satisfaction survey to measure engagement and to be sure that we are on the right track, because we really aim at attracting and retaining the best people.

Can you tell us your professional experience and career path?
My professional career started at Procter&Gamble as assistant brand manager. I then worked in Frito Lay/PepsiCo, Zenith Media and Canon. In 2006 I joined Mars as General Manager of Mars Greece and since July 2009 I have been responsible for Mars Italia. In my career I had the opportunity to work in various European countries, I got in touch with a variety of mindsets and culture. That helped me understand the importance of diversity and the value of each individual talent.

Is there any suggestion you can give to a talented young women who want to pursue her career and at the same time build a family?
Have a good self awareness and determination. Accept that you can’t do everything at 100%, you need to compromise, and that’s fine.
Create the conditions around you, both on the family side and on the working side. On the family side it means finding a support person that you really trust, and ideally, also, a supportive partner.
On the work side it means being clear first to yourself and then to your company about what you are prepared to give, which sometimes could mean saying some NO.