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At Mars, the Evolution of Female Leaders Started Early


In honor of Women's History Month, meet Ione Clark, one of the earliest pioneers of gender equality at Mars.

During World War II, women had flocked to the workforce, filling in for men fighting overseas. But when the war ended, employers pushed women back where they’d started: to the home front. Congress, one senator declared, should "force wives and mothers back to the kitchen.” Unions kept separate seniority lists for women, denying them benefits given to men. In one post-war ad, a daughter asks her working mom, dressed in overalls, "Mother, when will you stay home again?" "Some jubilant day, mother will stay home again,” the mother answers, “doing the job she likes best—making a home for you and Daddy."

But 27-year old Ione (pronounce EYE-on) Clark paid little attention to prevailing attitudes about women in the workforce. And neither did her employer, Mars.

"In many ways, Ione and Mars were blazing inclusion and diversity trails together, all the way back in the ‘40s. Today, we’re continuing that journey, with 41 percent women in our leadership pipeline globally, in an industry where less than 25 percent of Consumer Packaged Goods top senior leaders are female,” says Michelle Thomas, Global Diversity & Inclusion Director for Mars. “We have high ambitions and still have work to do. We’re pleased with the progress we’ve made to this point and are committed to continuing our journey to make Mars an inclusive, diverse and a great place to work.”

Opening Doors

By 1943, when Ione came to work for Mars, she’d earned a college degree, gone to graduate school and helped develop K-rations during World War II. She was eager to put her talent to work for a company that would value her, regardless of her gender. At Mars, she found a lasting professional home.

Ione’s first job was as a personnel & payroll manager for Uncle Ben's. Within 10 years, Ione was the department director. 15 years later, she was running the Uncle Ben’s business, leading them to become the nation’s top selling rice company. By 1970, Ione continued in her career to become the first woman on the Mars global management team, reporting directly to the company’s co-presidents, Forrest E. Mars, Jr. and John Mars. Then, she became vice president of Human Resources for Mars, Incorporated – the first female vice president in the company – until her retirement and 1973.

“It was such a good place to work because the Associates knew they were being treated just the same as anybody else,” she said in a 2004 interview. “It makes a difference in what they do and how loyal they are to the company. Mars has been good to me and good to everyone who’s worked there. They have always done the right thing by the people they employed.”

Creating the Future of Female Leadership

“During Ione’s time, nontraditional doors were open to her at Mars because treating people equally was just the way we did things,” says Michelle. “Fast forward to today and our major concentration is on ensuring that we are building an inclusive environment where all associates can thrive. And in areas where we have gaps in diversity– for example women in leadership roles at the top of the organization or in the functions of GMs, sales and supply, we are putting more intentional focus”

Bringing Inclusion & Diversity to life is not something new at Mars – the concepts of inclusion and diversity are deeply embedded in our Five Principles. It’s who we’ve committed to be. And evidence fully supports the Mars strategy. Studies show businesses with a greater proportion of female board members typically outperform rivals. They have higher returns on investments, higher returns on equity and higher sales. Further, those with the best record for promoting women outperform industry revenue averages.

“Research also tells us that when you create an environment of inclusion – regardless of gender, race, age, religion, sexual orientation or any dimension of diversity –increased productivity results,” says Michelle. “It’s something Ione Clark helped us prove more than 70 years ago.”