Hershey’s Alicia Petross on Real Conversations Driving Real Change

Originally published at thehersheycompany.com. The Hershey Company ranked No. 10 on The Fair360, formerly DiversityInc Top 50 Companies for Diversity list in 2021.


As the Chief Diversity Officer of The Hershey Company, I have a lot to be proud of — the work of my dedicated colleagues, the change we’re making and the real, vulnerable conversations we’re having. Our long-term investment in the Black community inside and outside of our walls is making a difference and Hershey employees are coming together in new ways to create change. In the past few years, company leadership has paused to listen to the experience of Hershey employees and led with vulnerability to create a more inclusive workplace. This journey, though, is never-ending. It will take continuous intentional change and investment to be the best we can be. Here’s what our journey has looked like over these past several years:

  • October 2016: We signed the White House Fair Chance Business Pledge to support second-chance hiring, which is particularly important to Black and Latinx communities who are overrepresented in the U.S. penal system.
  • October 2016: I was honored to be featured as a speaker at the first White House Diversity and Inclusion Council.
  • 2017: We focused on working with more diverse-owned suppliers through a partnership with Diversity Information Resources.
  • 2019: Developed a new Supplier Diversity Strategy.
  • Spring and Summer 2020: Hundreds of employees engaged in Listen and Learn sessions with our leaders to discuss emotions, opportunities for improvement and how we come together to create real change.
  • June 2020: Held our first all-employee Juneteenth Townhall for an unscripted conversation on race and racism with two of our leaders.
  • Fall 2020: Along with employees, we co-created the Pathways Project, our 5-year plan to create more pathways to join, grow and reach out, resulting in a more inclusive workplace.
  • Winter 2020: Working with a long-time partner, the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, we created a $3 million scholarship endowment to support students studying food science as part of our commitment to increasing access to education.
  • Early 2021: Achieved aggregate people of color pay equity for salaried employees in the U.S. (aggregate gender pay equity was achieved in 2020).
  • June 2021: Held our second annual Juneteenth Townhall with From Privilege to Progress to educate employees on how to have vulnerable conversations about race, and we heard from Hershey leaders on what changes they’ve made in their personal and professional lives since the murder of George Floyd.
  • July 2021: We joined other companies in urging congress to pass the Voting Rights Act legislation in honor of Rep. John Lewis.
  • January 2022: Employees from around the company shared how they celebrated Martin Luther King Jr. Day.


Black History Month at Hershey

At Hershey, we celebrate heritage months like Black History Month by educating employees, sharing the perspectives of team members around cherished traditions and by amplifying diverse voices. Our eight business resource groups (BRGs) play a large role in driving heritage month programming. This year, the Black Heritage BRG has planned a number of incredible events for employees featuring guest speakers from inside and outside our company, including Victor L. Crawford, CEO of the Pharmaceutical Segment of Cardinal Health and member of The Hershey Company’s Board of Directors, as well as David Culley, former Houston Texans Head Coach.


Black History Month at Hershey An Unwavering Commitment for Long-Lasting Impact

Our co-creation process during the Fall of 2020 led to measurable goals and new commitments, like representation goals, to make Hershey even more diverse and inclusive. We have many things to be proud of, but like all of us, we have room to grow for employees and our diverse consumers around the world.

  • Unconscious bias training (held twice per year) is now a requirement for employees. This training is intentionally timed so employees can effectively incorporate the learnings into behavior and make real change.
  • We’re committed not only to more diverse candidate slates but also to more diverse interview panels. We require that 50% of the candidate slate must qualify as diverse before proceeding with any interviews. The interview teams must also be 50% diverse.
  • We know that a diverse talent pipeline is a key to inclusive representation at each level of the company. We’re expanding existing work with minority-owned talent-search firms and achieved our goal of 50% of the total search volume done by diverse-owned firms.
  • We aim to have a college recruitment portfolio that is at least 50% diverse. To achieve this, we’ve opened new talent pools at 23 Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Historically Hispanic-Serving Institutions.
  • This journey doesn’t stop once the candidate is hired. We want a workplace where employees feel confident that they have room to grow. We’re investing in early-in-career and mid-career development training that focuses on commercial skills and career-building for people of color and for women.
  • To impact our communities beyond our four walls, we’re increasing Hershey’s diverse-suppliers spend to 400 million by 2030.
  • The compensation of the CEO’s direct reports is linked to DEI goals. This is a key differentiator for our industry.
  • DEI is now a regular agenda item at all leadership meetings and in conversations at the highest levels of our company.

While all the above milestones and focuses make me extremely proud to be at Hershey, it’s what’s next and the workplace we’re creating for employees and the impact we have on our communities that make me most proud of this company and my colleagues. Stay tuned for exciting news this summer including new ways we’re showing up for the Black community and progress against our key goals and commitments.