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Meet Francis Amoako-Poku, R&D Director

"Mondelēz is on its way to help foster and support an environment of diversity equity inclusion. We are an international company so that comes naturally when you look at MDLZ on a global scale."

Meet Francis Amoako-Poku, R&D Director, NA Central Productivity

Thursday, February 15, 2024

Francis talks about his passion for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.

Francis Amoako-Poku, currently an R&D Director at Mondelēz International, had had a remarkable 15-year journey within the company, predominantly shaping the confections category in Research & Development. His trajectory, evolving from an individual contributor to a team leader and manager, mirrors a commitment to personal growth and fostering the career aspirations of others, a deeply rewarding facet of his tenure.

Francis's nomination for Leader of the Year at the 2023 DE&I Impact Awards reflects his substantial contributions to Mondelēz International's Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion initiatives. Serving on the R&D DE&I Committee, he actively shapes an agenda aligned with diversity ambitions.

Could you share about your journey at Mondelēz International and how you arrived at your current role in R&D?

I’ve worked with the company for 15 years now, predominantly within the confections category (Stride, Trident, SPK, SF etc.) in R&D. As I advanced from an individual contributor to a team leader, and eventually to a manager, I have had the opportunity to grow personally, help deliver our business objectives as well as help others achieve their career aspirations. This has been the most rewarding part of the journey.

Currently, I’m the R&D Director for NA Central Productivity. It highlighted the importance of the ingredients that we source, but also the impact of designing with flexible ingredients to help unlock drive bottom- and top-line growth. I was intrigued with my current role because of the opportunity to learn about our end-to-end business from a cross category perspective. It's an honor and a privilege to lead my department in this regard while learning about how research and development can help build flexibility to achieve our business goals.

Your nomination for Leader of the Year at the DE&I Impact Awards was very well deserved. How has your role in the R&D DE&I Committee allowed you to influence and contribute to Mondelēz International's DE&I initiatives, particularly within the R&D space?

The DEI is a very rewarding initiative to be a part of, but also a challenging space to navigate. I’ve learned something new every year as a member of the R&D DEI committee. The DEI Committee role has given me a platform to create, with others, an agenda that’s fitting of our diversity ambition. Essentially, how we continue to build Diversity and Inclusion internally, in areas where there’s underrepresentation. With this platform my team and I’ve been able to advocate for recruitment, speak to retention strategies and build external partnerships with new Universities. This has been accomplished by pulling the right people together to address the topic of Diversity in R&D.

DE&I has become increasingly important in corporate settings. How do you envision the role of DE&I within R&D, and how has your leadership impacted this space?

The role of DE&I within R&D isn't different from any of the other Mondelēz International departments perse. We need to strive for representation and diversity in thought leadership to crack innovation, bring in creativity and novel problem-solving techniques. Our starting points across the various departments may be different but the end goal is the same. My strength as an active listener and as an inclusive leadership has helped me lead/navigate this space. This has resulted working with a sub team that explores opportunities to build technical partnerships/ support with the Universities but also review opportunities to develop underrepresented populations within R&D. It is a long journey and it's not one that can be accomplished in a short term. To be successful we’ll need consistency, persistence and a diversity in thought leadership.

Could you share any notable successes or milestones achieved through your leadership in promoting DE&I within the R&D team at Mondelēz International?

The first key milestone for me was assembling a small R&D team that was truly passionate about enhancing our internship program. Their support helped us build a relationship with a top HBCU school, North Carolina A&T. Our first engagement was in 2021 and each year we’ve learned and modified our approach to connect with the students and faculty from the Food Science Department but also our university relations team. This has resulted in attracting students to participate in our internship program- 6% within the 2021 intern class to 20% for the ‘23 internship campaign. The most rewarding bit has been 1) seeing the DEI team members recognized as nominees within the R&D awards and 2) seeing the interns from NCA&T personally engaged and promoting our internship to their peers.

Francis Amoako-Poku is standing with four of his colleagues in front of a Recognition sign

In what ways do you encourage a diverse and inclusive environment within your team? Are there specific strategies or practices you've found particularly effective?

My team and I make it a point to spend time to discuss DE&I topics during our staff meetings. We often take turns to bring topics to our huddles. We've reflected on the topic on the table and have open dialogues. This leads to insightful discussions on about our personal stories and journey. There have been differences in our journeys as one can imagine, but most importantly the time spent contributes to building an inclusive and collaborative team.

As a black leader in the corporate world, what advice would you give to aspiring individuals from underrepresented backgrounds who aim for leadership roles within the STEM or R&D fields?

Be yourself. Leadership starts with knowing yourself and then leading others so the first and most important thing, is to know yourself- what drives you, what motivates you etc. After that comes confidence- having the confidence that your capable of learning, adapting, and developing your capabilities. From there, it’s about helping others realize their full potential while working towards a common goal/ objective. Regarding a STEM/ R&D Fields, the great thing about research and development is that there's more than one way to solve a problem. To develop within the STEM fields, I would encourage individuals to be relentlessly curious. Clearly define the problem and then be open to finding creative ways to put the building blocks together to solve the problem.

How does Mondelez International support and foster an environment where diversity, equity, and inclusion are not only acknowledged but actively promoted across all departments, including R&D?

I think Mondelēz is on its way to help foster and support an environment of diversity equity inclusion. We are an international company so that comes naturally when you look at MDLZ on a global scale. The most challenging part for me is within our microenvironments, inside our regions and BU how do we ensure to continue advocating for diverse teams. I’ve seen refinement in our approach to attract talent and space to have an open dialogue to ensure we create a culture that attracts and retains top talent when they arrive in R&D. We must continue to move with purpose but also acknowledge that we’ll need to be patient to help enable a change. Overall, I’ve seen how both internally and externally campaigns make it a point to celebrate diversity. We’ll need to continue to do more of that.

Looking ahead, what are your aspirations or goals for further advancing DE&I initiatives within R&D?

My aspirations and goals for advancing DEI initiatives within R&D would be to create an ongoing commitment to have a rotating sub-team that continuously develop and supports underrepresented groups. As we evolve within the space of DEI in R&D, I would love to see more external, community engagement in the form of partnership with educational institutions to develop upcoming, talented scientists. This could be in the form of scholarships or collaborations to creatively solve some of our anticipated future technical innovation gaps.