Talita Ramos Erickson is the new Chief Legal & Compliance Officer and Chief D&I Officer at BARILLA GROUP. Let’s meet her today!
Tell us about your background – how did you start your personal journey on D&I?
I was born and raised in Brazil, right at the border with Argentina and Paraguay, in a very beautiful place called Iguazu Falls.
The place is not only beautiful because of the nature, but also because of the vibrant and diverse culture that you find there. Tourism is key in that area, so there are people from all over the world and a very welcoming approach to all from the local community.
I was raised around diversity: non-traditional gender roles, sexual orientations, ethnic groups, races, religions, etc. After high school, I went to another city to pursue a law degree and later started working in-house at a multinational American food company. I was sent to the United States on assignment, and that was the first time that I felt what it is like not to be in “the majority group”.
In Brazil I was white, middle class, and at that point I could not see a lot of the sexism/misogyny that I had already internalized. In the US I got the “Latina” label, and that was the start of my personal journey of self-awareness around my identity and where it places me in the structures of power in society. Fast forward to today, and after living /working/ studying in many countries (as well as frequent leisure travel), all these experiences have allowed me to have a much better idea of who I am, how others are different from me, and I am constantly learning how to respectfully navigate this gap.
How did you become Chief D&I Officer for Barilla?
I am a lawyer by training. I joined Barilla in 2012 as the in-house counsel for the Americas, which included key markets such as the U.S., Canada, and Brazil. Barilla is a global Company, but not a large one (only around 8,500 employees), so this environment allows our people to stretch their skills and try new things. When our D&I Board was created in 2013, I was known as being very passionate about D&I. Passion was the reason I was asked if I would like to lead our D&I Board, which was a challenging question for me since I was over 7 months pregnant with my first child! The opportunity was presented to me by a very skilled and empathetic HR person, who told me I should say yes or no based on what I would like – not the uncertainty I was feeling about my future as a new mom – and that the company would support me through anything I decided to do, including if things did not work for me and I wanted to change things later. I said yes and with an immense amount of support from some wonderful Barilla people, I was the first Chief D&I Officer for the Company from 2013 to 2016.
That was our “Season 1” of D&I at Barilla, which was all about laying (or building) the foundations and basics and engaging top leaders. From 2016, another member of the D&I Board took over the role, Kristen Anderson.
Kristen led our D&I Board during our “Season 2” (2016-2021) and under her leadership our program went wide, engaging over 1.300 employees in numerous D&I areas and culminating with Barilla being awarded the prestigious Catalyst Award in 2021. At that point I was wrapping up another non-legal assignment as head of Barilla’s restaurant division, and I was asked to move to Italy as Kristen and our Global Chief Legal & Compliance Officer were transitioning out of the company. I feel very lucky to now be responsible for both roles – Chief Legal & Compliance Officer and Chief D&I Officer (leading our “Season 3”), which gives me the opportunity to keep making a positive difference in our organization.
You recently relocated to Italy with your family. Any personal observations on D&I challenges that are somewhat unique to Italian culture?
First, I have to say that I really enjoy how Italian culture feels “like home” to me. Similarly, to Brazilians, Italians are generally warm, caring, and personable. I also appreciate how people here seem to prioritize enjoying life – spending time with family and friends, good food, culture/arts, and of course all the beautiful natural and historical sights.
As it often happens, challenges come as the other side to something positive.
I observed and heard from many Italian colleagues/friends that while Italian culture generally values what is aesthetically pleasing, la dolce vita and the notion of beauty, there can be an implication of pressure to conform that can come with that – whether it be place, person or thing (fare bella figura).
When referring to people, I have heard stories of people having fear of being judged which has driven them to hide when they struggle with depression, anxiety, alcoholism or domestic abuse, as they feel afraid to share with others something that is not “beautiful” or positive. As a business leader, that is particularly challenging as it goes beyond the individual wellbeing of people in the workplace, but also into organizational behaviors where people are not comfortable having difficult conversations (including about performance/potential), or acknowledging and learning from mistakes.
Any other key challenges that you see when it comes to D&I and beauty?
Yes, one that comes first to mind is the definition of what is considered beautiful by media and advertising standards. We are seeing brands doing wonderful work on inclusive beauty, developing targeted products and showing greater diverse representation in ads (beyond people who are white, able bodied, young, binary, uncommonly thin, etc). I see this from everyday brands to luxury products. I think brands are moving in this direction because customers and consumers are caring more and more about beauty being subjective, diverse, real and authentic. Seeing this inclusive change makes me optimistic about the future.