A factory for candy… and smart management of worker diversity

The Strauss candy factory in the north of Israel employs 750 employees representing all of Israel’s rich diversity. Meetings in the Merchavim program for Diversity & Inclusion Management in Organization showed that even organizations with high awareness to diversity and inclusion have space to grow.


“One of the statements that stuck in my head from the journey we went on with the management of the Strauss candy factory was said by one of the managers: ‘Work is the only place where I meet people who are different from me,’ says Sharon Galperin, Director of the Merchavim program for Diversity & Inclusion Management in Organizations.

This statement sums up the importance of diversity in organizations: in Israel today the division between different groups leads to a situation in which many citizens don’t meet, never mind get to know more deeply, people from different groups – Jews and Arabs, secular and religious people, etc. Working together is key to increase interaction between citizens of different backgrounds. But just working together is not enough.  The secret to leverage diversity for success lies in managing diversity effectively in the organization. Sharon and the team of Merchavim instructors in the program help managers in diverse organizations.

The Merchavim team built a unique program for the leadership forum of the factory, which included workshops for top management and middle management. According to Galperin, the Merchavim team found in Strauss a management team that’s committed, open, that looks at reality in the eyes and is willing to confront the hard questions. In the discussions questions arose like ‘Do I tend to promote people like me?’ or ‘Is it possible that language barriers prevent me from promoting strong employees?’ These are the challenges that diversity presents and the discussion focused on ways to increase equality at the candy factory.

Lilach Vilensky, Head of Human Resources at the Strauss candy factory, led the activity on the part of the organization. As a graduate of the Social Cohesion Leadership Program that Merchavim runs together with the Ted Arison Family Foundation and Ruach Tova, Vilensky was already familiar with Merchavim and its unique language.

Lilach Vilensky

“Strauss believes that a diverse organization is a stronger organization, both in the sense of values and in the business sense,” says Vilensky. “Even before the workshop, the factory was one of the most advanced in Israel in this arena and invested a lot in diversity management, but was more focused on specific identities like Arabs and women. The work with Merchavim expanded the discussion of diversity to include all the identities represented in the factory, and in Israeli society in general. I believe that the more we invest in building awareness to diversity and to its advantages and challenges, the more we talk about the difficulties, and listen to one another, we improve and get stronger.”

Following the workshop, the factory’s management team built a plan that included a leadership forum that meets once a month and ongoing management meetings on diversity.

“We started from a good place, a place of awareness to diversity in the factory,” says Vilensky. “The process with Merchavim enabled us to deepen and improve. We are in effect dealing with creating a cultural foundation, and a culture is built from the small things that we do all the time. When we open dedicated channels for listening we discover new ways to provide for the needs of different groups. For example, finding ways to integrate women better in our production floor, where there’s lots of physical work, making sure there’s a place for worship for our Muslim employees, and solutions for women employees to feel safer walking to their cars in the parking lot after a night shift, and more.”

“We at Merchavim had the privilege to work hand in hand with the management at the Strauss candy factory in this significant process to advance diversity and inclusion,” summarizes Galperin.

Interested in assessing the diversity management in your organization?  Check out our questionnaire (in Hebrew).

For more information on the program for Diversity & Inclusion Management in Organizations visit the program page.