Written by: Victoria Broehm | January 7, 2021
“What would you do if you weren’t afraid?”
Elizabeth Hernandez, of Corteva Agriscience, posed this question to a global audience of mostly women at the recent Women in Food and Agriculture Digital Festival. She shared a captivating story of how a sign bearing this question at Facebook, where she previously worked, changed the way she thought about risk in the workplace. Others believed in her more than she did herself, which pushed her to take chances, some of which failed, but ultimately, propelled her to become a leader in the field.
“Anytime you do something difficult, you are learning….stretching out of your comfort zone,” she said.
This point could not have come at a better time, after nine months of women juggling many responsibilities simultaneously – from working to homeschooling to caring for loved ones – amid the coronavirus pandemic. As a working mom, I think it is safe to say that we have all learned just how much we are capable of when crisis hits! The attendees hoped a positive outcome of this experience will be that it will lead to friendlier work environments in the future, where managers understand the importance of caring for employees professionally and personally and adapt to more flexible schedules and options for remote work.
One panel spoke about how crises such as the coronavirus pandemic can bring about necessary change – and looking to include diversity in the corporate culture is no exception. Rob Sheffer, of Zinpro Corporation, spoke about how people are looking to be part of companies that are “not only smart, but felt with the heart.” He said it pained him to admit but looking for a diverse workforce in the past used to be a “check-the-box” type of activity. Now, his company is on a “diversity journey” that is working to attract young, diverse adults to the agriculture field and challenging the notion of always promoting from within when there could be opportunities to attract new and diverse views to the leadership team.
Diversity and inclusion should be viewed as a strategic priority for the growth of the company, said fellow panelist Jennifer Weber, of ADM. “If you look at the companies who double-down on diversity…making investments that all are valued and heard…it makes a measurable difference in the performance of the company.”
Some of the issues raised on the panel included “watch outs” for the high proportion of women dropping out of the workforce to care for their children right now, particularly in the minority community. This has the potential to remove a generation of potential women leaders in the future, the panel said.
To continue hiring diverse talent, employers should ensure they are advertising in the right places, scrub job descriptions of gender bias (e.g., “manpower” vs. “workforce”) and create diversity panels to interview candidates, among other things. “A lot of activity can be mistaken for progress,” which is why it is important to also set measurable goals and hold leaders accountable to ensure meaningful change, said Weber.
Given the civil unrest we have seen in the United States this past year along with growing challenges of lost incomes and food insecurity, it is increasingly important that people from all walks of life are brought into the industry to solve challenges from farm to fork. Another panel discussed how the pandemic has changed consumers’ mindsets about food, from one where food has always been there to now where it is essential. Consumers understand there are people working behind their food products and strive to support companies that agree with their values more than ever before.
This presents opportunities for agricultural companies to make a difference, from partnering with smaller companies to bring innovation and technology to the marketplace more quickly to changing how we produce our foods to be more sustainable to looking for more production efficiencies to lower the costs of food.
“Everyone has to eat and everyone has to eat in 10 years as well,” said Laura Himes of Walmart Inc. “We’re going to be producing and selling food, so there are many opportunities to attract new people to the industry.”
I enjoyed the opportunity to participate in the conference virtually this year and to end the year on a high-note. Hopefully, it will inspire bold goals in all of our New Year’s resolutions!