Building A Better Workplace For Women In The Food And Beverage Industry

Jan. 28, 2022
We're kicking off our Women in the Workplace series with Angela Dodd, Founder of Females in Food.

With us today is Angela Dodd, founder of Females in Food. Angela created the Females in Food Community to help women in the food and beverage industry advance their careers.

Consider this: 80% of food buying decisions globally are made by women, yet, across every segment of the food and beverage industry, fewer than 20% of senior leadership positions are held by women. We talk about that statistic and much more in today’s episode. We address issues about why women are under-represented, what companies and male allies can do to help reach gender parity, and whether Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion programs are actually working. You won’t want to miss this episode.


Erin: Angela, welcome to the Food For Thought podcast. I'm excited to be talking to you today. And I really wanna roll up my sleeves and dig right in. Can you start off by talking about your background in the food industry?

Angela: Hi Erin. It is such an honor to be on the podcast; thank you so much for the invitation. My background in the food and beverage industry really started as a child. My parents were both in the food and beverage industry. I grew up around a community of watching leaders and individuals shape our food industry and create products and solutions to feed the world. That’s really is what inspired me to start my own path in the food industry. I went to Kansas State University and pursued undergraduate in food science and then had tremendous opportunities for some internships with some large CPG companies, which inspired my path down more product development and I ended up doing a master's in food science, and then started my first role in the industry as a food scientist focusing in baking science actually.

I like to say I started my career as a baker and then moved into being in commercial leadership after I completed my Master's in Business. I started my food science journey with the thought that I wanted to be a liaison between technical and commercial. It was really important to me in those early years to gain that technical experience and those skills, and then be able to move into a more commercial leadership role and truly be that liaison between science and business.

And that's what I'm doing today. And I've worked the past 15 years on the B2B side, the business-to-business side of the food industry, either representing food ingredients or developing food products with those food ingredients, and more recently, working in the equipment and membrane filtration side of the industry, supporting those food ingredient companies. It was about three years ago that I started thinking how else can I start making an impact in the food and beverage industry and in an industry that I've grown to love so much and has been a part of who I am for so long. And so that's really where Females in Food or the idea of Females in Food started to form for me.

Erin: That’s a great segue because that's what I'm really excited to talk to you about today, is about Females in Food. I think it's a great thing that you're doing. And I really want our listeners to learn more about it. So, first off, can you explain what Females in Food is?

Angela: Females in Food started as a membership-based cause serving community, but where it's at today, we've become such a movement in the food and beverage industry and have expanded into being a data-driven platform and talent marketplace.

From the beginning—and what we are always committed and will continue to be committed to—our mission is closing the gender gap that existed at the top in the food and beverage industry and really helping women advance their careers. I started this movement and this community with a singular stat: 80/20. 80% of food buying decisions globally are made by women, yet, across every segment of the food and beverage industry, we're represented by less than 20% of women in senior leadership and executive roles. And that's really the driving stats and where we want to make the biggest impact, is how do we get more women to the top within the food and beverage industry?

Erin: On Food Processing, we’ve definitely have covered the statistics around women in those leadership roles. Can you dive a little more into what led you to develop this community? And what does it mean to be a member of the Females in Food community?

Angela: Absolutely. What led me to develop this was a decade worth of callings of it's my own career. Over probably three years ago, I was sitting there thinking, "How do I make a bigger impact in this industry that I love so much? How do I do more? And how do I create solutions to some of the issues that I'm seeing?" And so that was one piece of what drove me to this. But organically, what had been happening in my life over 10 years was that women colleagues, complete strangers who were introduced to me were coming to me for help or help trying to understand how to navigate the politics within a big organization or how to position themselves, how to create a personal brand, how to write their resume, you know, how to negotiate for that next big role.

And I started to realize this was a gap for a lot of women and that I had something more to offer. And if I could just get that to a broader community or train more people that could allow more individuals to gain access to these resources and tools, how much more powerful that would be. I also started thinking that we have a lot of different niches within the food and beverage industry. We have the food service side, the retail side, the consumer products, goods, and manufacturing, and suppliers and ingredient suppliers. And as I went through the industry, one of the things that was always a struggle was, you get so niched into your own individual segment that if you want to make a change or try something else or try to get networked into a different segment, maybe I want to take that next big role from an ingredient company over to a CPG company, that those leaps were much harder than I felt like they should have been given that we were all one food industry.

And so I thought, how do we bring together a more powerful network of women across every single industry segment so that we can help each other? Right? And success means something different to each and every one of us, and sometimes it's just having somebody with that connection across that industry segment to open a door or make an introduction. That's how the community was formed. It started as an organic way of wanting to help more people. And where it has led is this powerhouse community of women across every segment of food and beverage who are showing up to help each other but help themselves and empower advancement within the industry. And so our members, hey all have access to career opportunities.

We have educational and industry events, in-person networking events. They're all networking and growing their individual networks within the community on their own. They get free resume reviews. They can connect with some of our certified career coaches. And then we also have an exclusive Females in Food job search accelerator that all of our members have access to to help with some of those big jumps that they wanna take in their career. And they also have the ability to anonymously review their current or past employers on female friendliness factors, and, hopefully, we can chat more about that as it builds into how Females in Food has expanded into more of a data-driven platform here a bit later in our conversation. But the community as it originally started and where it's at today, I've been so incredibly proud to see, you know, how it's grown and the impact it's had in so many people's lives.

Erin: That is a most fantastic segue because I am very interested and curious. I know on the website, you talk about Females in Food is data-driven. What does that mean? How does it work? Could you elaborate on that?

Angela: Absolutely. And this is one of the areas that as we listen to more women, we realized how much we needed to incorporate this into the platform.
In the very early days, we started as a data-driven community by being a centralized place where our members or companies could come to us for consumer insights. We have a large group of women with incredible insights to what their experiences are like either as consumers or employees and being able to get some of that insight and data and to be able to use it to build better products. And we've taken that one step further and incorporated these anonymous employer reviews on female friendliness factors as a way to drive more transparency in the industry on where are some of the best places to work? We know that women look for jobs traditionally different than men. They lean heavily on their networks. They want to know, "Am I gonna like this place that I'm going to work for? What is it like inside that company?"

And those are some of the most critical questions that women want to feel they want an answer to and to feel good about before making big career jumps. Being able to add this part to the website was such a big undertaking but such an important piece to the community into our mission and to really what we are hearing from women as far as what they needed.

Today, individuals, not just our members, but any woman in the food and beverage industry can go in and review their current or past employers on female friendliness factors. And in this data we have a set of questions around advancement opportunities, family support, flexibility, development, culture, aspects that we've been able to identify are quite important to women as we think about what attracts them to a company, but ultimately, what's gonna help them develop and advance within that organization.

This data is driving transparency in the industry to help build a better workplace for women, but it's also data that organizations can use to really understand what are they doing that's really resonating with women? And being able to partner with organizations on the backend to help them dive deeper within some of the data insights and really partner with them to help build better workplaces is another way we're able to champion our mission within the industry. It's really a three-fold of how do we use data; t will continue to evolve. A data is such a powerful tool that any way that we can help our members, organizations to champion advancement and more transparency within every industry segments, that's where we wanna be.

Erin: I feel like a lot of programs that you hear about that are geared toward women, you will inevitably have men come in and say, "Well, why not men? Why aren't you focused about the men in the food industry?" Are you ever approached by men in the food and beverage industry who want to get involved in Females in Food?

Angela: Thank you so much for bringing up this point. And absolutely. I definitely have been approached from countless men that want to get involved. I get so encouraged and excited every time I'm approached because from Day 1, I'd say, and how I always want Females in Food to be perceived is, it's not anti-men, right? There's no anti-anything. It's what can we do to help empower women and their careers. But men have to be allies. They have to help champion our efforts, right? We want them to be the other 50%, that parity. Any time a man comes forward and wants to be a part of the solution or wants to help, my answer is always yes. Yes. How can we work together to create more allies, to create a better workplace, to create more inclusive environments? And it's something that brings me a lot of encouragement and excitement because we have a lot to learn from each other.

While Females in Food is a community of women, I also want bring up the point that we also strive to provide an inclusive environment and we define women and female as including all individuals who identify or have been identified as women or female. But that being said, if men want be involved, we invite them as allies, and we invite them to champion our efforts to be involved in the industry. And we all have something to learn from one another. And it's very, very important that men are at the table and being a part of this solution.

Erin: Something that we talked about earlier, especially when you're referring to the 80/20 aspect and positions of leadership, women in leadership positions, really makes me think about gender diversity in the food and beverage industry. That's a big component of what we've talked about in this episode. Why do you feel the industry lacks diversity, especially in leadership positions?

Angela: It's a great question, and I think it's the million-dollar question. Right? If I had an absolute answer, I wish we could have parity tomorrow. I can share a bit more about what I have personally seen and what I've heard, and what we've done as a community to address some of the gaps and where we're trying to make an impact.

I think the reason we have a gap at the top and in these leadership positions is not for one reason, I think it's for multiple different reasons. And from an individual perspective, I think that's where the community initially was founded to help empower women. Number one, let's make sure that women are being given the tools and resources, the network, and the confidence to empower their own careers, to empower and to use their voices, but encourage others to listen as well. That’s where this community organically was founded and where a lot of our educational content pillars are focused is.

Not every company has the budget to ensure that there's professional development or career development happening year-round. So, how do women get access to that outside of their organizations so that they can continue to develop themselves and empower their own careers? That's one piece that's near and dear to the community and how we're trying to drive impact. I think the other pieces to this also come around from an industry as a whole, from corporate initiatives and what is being done holistically to support women through their career journeys. And I'll say, every organization, every industry segment, you know, there's been so much conversation over the past couple of years. And I think great strides have been made. As I've spoken to a lot of organizations, you know, some who just five years ago didn't have anyone responsible for DE& I initiatives now have individuals in those seats, right, who are paying particular attention to how to roll out these initiatives and hit key goals and milestones within their organization.

I've been so happy to see progress over the past several years within this conversation, and the areas that we've identified as a community that continue to be important to women and in helping them through their career progression is really in that middle. Starting at the beginning is very important, ensuring a diverse candidate slate through that interview process, making sure biases aren't present through the interview process. But then, as you get women through the door, what's being done inside an organization to ensure that you're retaining that talent, that you don't have a leaky bucket? I think that's the term that's been coined, a leaky bucket in the middle, where we've been seeing, at unprecedented numbers, women leaving the workforce quicker than ever before because of COVID. How are we gonna, one, replace and bring women back in and not lose momentum on all the work that's been done in the prior years?

And to me, that comes back to some of those key aspects that we've identified that are important to women in the workplace, from flexibility, development opportunities, overall culture, family support for both men and women, and advancement opportunities within the workplace. I share the perspective from there's definitely not one answer, one solution. It most certainly needs to be a holistic approach. And as a community, you know, that's where we continue to try and roll out as we receive the feedback from companies and from members. What more can we do as an organization to help be a part of the solution?

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Erin: You're bringing up a really great point. I want to hone back in the hiring aspect. How can food and beverage companies better position themselves to hire more women, especially in leadership positions?

Angela: This is something that we specifically rolled out our corporate partnership programs for specifically this reason. How do companies better position themselves to hire more women? There's been a lot of initiatives and things that companies have done over the past couple of years to really make the workplace better for women, to be more inclusive for all. And a lot of individuals aren't even aware of these initiatives. A big way of how to position your company to hire more women is to make sure that women know about your company and also what incredible initiatives you've been rolling out.

Within Females in Food, as we listen to members say, "Who are these companies? What are some of the best companies to work for?" we rolled out our corporate partnership programs specifically for this reason—to help companies tell their story, tell women what makes them a great place to work. Really position their organization as the top place in food and beverage to work for women and being able to showcase everything from their DE&I initiatives to women and leadership, to development opportunities.

I think you need to be talking about the things that are important to women in order to best attract them into the workplace and being very intentional about having that diverse candidate slate across all your job applications and being able to showcase what are you doing to help support families and having a flexible work schedule, or what is your culture like inside your company, whether you're speaking to your candidates on a website or at a career fair or even if it's your employer brand and how your employees are talking about your company. Those are all really important...all very important channels of communication to attracting women.

We know that women really rely on their networks or word of mouth or that referral more so than men, from what the research is showing, to take on that next position. Ensuring that your employees within your organization are also reaching out and sharing the word or referring people in or talking about what a great place your organization is to work for. Those are all really great initiatives companies can undertake to position themselves to hire more female talent.

And then specifically into leadership positions, I think being very intentional about parity at the top and where you're seeking your executive leaders from, but then how are you developing your talent from within, ensuring you have a pipeline, ideally, you can promote talent internally and develop your next generations of CEOs and executives at the top from internal would be a great goal as well. All of those initiatives are ideas and ways Females in Food is championing and advocating for companies to better position themselves to hire more women.

Erin: I'm interested in your opinion on this. Do you think food companies are doing enough to advance the DE& I efforts?

Angela: My personal stance on this for the industry as a whole: I've seen a lot of progress and initiatives over the past few years that have been very encouraging. But until we see parity at the top, I will say you can never do enough, right? Even as an organization and as a platform, the team and I are always thinking, "What more can we do? What more..." As we listen to feedback from both members or corporations and saying, "What else can be done? How can we continue to challenge the status quo? How can we put more initiatives or try different things?" Until we see parity, I'd say, there can never be enough.

And I hope that just like food product innovation, we're always saying, "How do we push sustainability to the next level? How do we innovate better? How do we do bigger and better things?" I think we have to take that same approach with DE& I initiatives and gender diversity and all diversity, and saying, "How do we do more?" Because until we see parity across the table, I don't think there can be too much.

Erin: If any of our listeners wanted to learn more or become a member of Females in Food, how can they go about it?

Angela: Yeah, absolutely. If they want to visit femalesinfood.community, they will be able to learn all about our platform, our community. They can leave employer review, become a member. We have a few different memberships, from a free one to our community membership, and really encourage everybody to reach out on the website, send us a note direct. They can also follow us on LinkedIn at femalesinfood.community or on Instagram as well and keep up with everything that we're doing and featuring our members and spotlights and seeing current events and where the next networking event is being held. And so I really encourage, whether it's on a social channel or on a website, that you get in touch and follow us.

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