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Laura Gutierrez Becerra
Women in Food Safety

We Asked, You Answered: The Voice of Women In Food Safety

By Laura Gutierrez Becerra
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Laura Gutierrez Becerra

In an effort to continue supporting female professionals contributing to the food safety industry and better understand their feelings and experiences while going through different stages in their career, we released our first survey in September 2020. The results will help us provide better resources to address the challenges and barriers reported from the survey.

Women in Food Safety
Figure 1. (click to enlarge)

The participation received from the leaders in food safety who completed the survey was significant. We were humbled and excited to notice that within a couple of weeks of launching the survey, 201 responses were received from 19 different countries. Although the survey was intended to assess the situations and experiences women are going through or have gone through, responses from their counterparts, male leaders, were also received. Ninety six percent of the responses are from females. (see Figure 1).

The key survey results were shared and discussed during the “We Asked, You Answered- The Voice of Women In Food Safety” panel session (view complimentary webinar recording) at the Food Safety Consortium Virtual Conference Series on November 5. The following are the insights we gained from the responses.

Position Levels Percentage (%)
Senior executive 14.9
Management 61.7
Administrative/Entry level 6.5
Other (Students) 1.5
Other (CEO) 0.5
Other (Research, consulting, auditor, trainer, regulatory) 14.9
Table 1. Responses by Position Levels

The survey participants hold positions at all professional levels and years within an organization. 61.7% of the total responses are linked to management levels, but only 14.9% are Senior Executive Level (see Table 1). Years of experience were broken down into five categories (see Table 2); 68.2% of the respondents had more than eight years of experience.

Years of Experience Percentage (%)
15+ 38.8
8–15 29.4
5–8 11.9
2–5 13.4
0–2 6.5
Table 2. Responses by Years of Experience

Well-rounded questions were provided in the survey, including situational inquiries, career advancement and the obstacles presented when entering the job market. In addition, opinion-based questions were formulated to understand how extensive networking is leveraged as a developmental and career advancement tool; it also addressed some of the expectations hiring managers have when hiring talent versus what the expectations professionals had when looking for their first jobs. Last but not least, a set of experience-based questions related to the encountered barriers found throughout the career journey, what is attributed to career success, the importance of diversity, and what are the career pivot points when life and career changes come up, were also presented.

With regards to preparedness after graduating from educational training and starting a first job, similar responses were provided between females and males. Women provided three different responses: 54.2% felt they were/are not adequately prepared; 40.6% feel were/are well-prepared; and 7.7% of women did not know their level of preparation; this can be attributed to no guidance received to better navigate the transition from school to the workforce and not being able to completion an educational degree (see Figure 2). Similar to women, 55.6% of men feel they were not adequately prepared; however, the remainder of male responses (44.4%) did not find any issues with the transition to their first job from school (See Figure 3).

Respondents weigh in on feeling adequate prepared when starting their first job after graduating from school. Respondents weigh in on feeling adequate prepared when starting their first job after graduating from school. Figure 4. Obstacles presented when entering the job market. Understanding the Importance of networking (female participants).
Figure 2 and 3. Respondents weigh in on feeling adequate prepared when starting their first job after graduating from school. (Click to enlarge all images) Figure 4. Obstacles presented when entering the job market. Figure 5. Understanding the Importance of networking (female participants).

The experience all participants shared regarding the obstacles presented when entering the job market revealed that, in general, 52.7% of the participants find a lack of connection with a company-experienced employee is the primary obstacle, 49.3% associate the obstacle to lack of connection to industry while attending school, and nearly 30% of participants indicate that they are lacking credentials to meet the job requirements (i.e., not having enough experience for required certifications). In this question, there two additional responses were reported: 15.4% of women did/do not know where to start and 4.5% did/do not know what qualifications the industry is looking for (See Figure 4).

The highlight between female and male responses for this question is the lack of credentials to meet the job requirements as an obstacle to a successful job initiation. In this case, a higher percentage of men (44%) reported this issue as an obstacle compared to the responses submitted by women (29%).

In terms of understanding the importance of networking, 76% of women confirm that they know how to master the skill of networking, but nearly 18% do not know how to start building their network. Additionally, there were a couple of responses from females confirming their understanding of the importance of networking; however, it is only to some extent and they have difficulty connecting with others due to the skill not coming naturally or having some limitations in terms of information sharing (see Figure 5). Only 1% of female responses reported not understanding exactly what a professional network is; whereas 100% of male respondents indicate no issues with understanding the important of networking.

When it comes to the topic of diversity and its importance within a company, 83.3% of female participants said diversity is important to them. Detailed responses are in Table 3.

Is Diversity within a Company Important to You?
11% Not important
9% Do not know
2% Do not know/Would not weigh diversity higher than finding the right candidate
Table 3. Percentages taken out of 192 female responses.

For females, significant career barriers did not fall under a single-specific category. The responses submitted identify 13 different barriers where work/life demands (41%), feeling of the glass ceiling (41%) and education/degree (5%) are found to have a greater concern among others, including students (see Figure 6.). Other barriers, such as soft skills, lack of support from management and lack of opportunity near family are categories that were mostly reported from women holding management level positions (see Figure 7.)

Figure 6. Most significant career barriers.
Figure 6. The most significant career barriers. Figure 7. The most significant career barrier among all level positions among female participants.

In the case of men, work/life demands are recognized as the career barrier of most concern among senior executives (56%). In addition , only other two reasons are reported as barriers: The feeling of a glass ceiling (reported by senior executive level and administrative/entry level) and diversity (reported by management level position) (see Figure 8).

Figure 8. Most significant career barriers among male participants. Figure 9. Career success attribution as defined by female participants. Figure 10. Career success attribution as defined by participants. Figure 11. Life and career changing concerns among female participants.
Figure 8. Most significant career barriers among male participants. Figure 9. Career success attribution as defined by female participants. Figure 10. Career success attribution as defined by participants. Figure 11. Life and career changing concerns among female participants.

Regarding the contributors to career success, self-learning/motivation is the leading category. This is followed by job experience and working with a mentor (see Figures 9 and 10). The main difference between women and men regarding their career success is educational degree, and being persistent and having patience. In this case, female responses outlined that being persistent and having patience is a success factor.

Life and career changes cause stress and disharmony in a person’s life, requiring a modification in job performance and handling of personal responsibility. The concern between men and women differs considerably. While men are more concerned about job reassignments/promotions, extensive traveling, and relocation; women reported they have 11 additional reasons to be concerned. Motherhood or taking care of dependents are the leading issues. (see Figure 11).

The survey also included inputs on what programs would better support the integration of work and life harmony within an organization. Flexible time/working location is found as the primary need from female responses in all position levels. Then, flexible/unlimited personal time off is the second identified need submitted in their responses. In addition, women in management level positions were the demographic responding to all four provided responses. This was contrary to senior executive women who found flexible time/working location as the only category to better support work integration and life harmony (see Figure 12). In the case of men, only two responses provide insight as to their need for support; 88.9% of them would like to have more flexible time/working location and 11.1% consider being part of the workload allocation process beneficial.

From all responses received, about 90% have felt stuck at least once in their position throughout their career or job. Females in management level positions with working experience of eight years or more lead the number of responses (see Figure 13). There is a higher percentage of males (22%) who have not felt stuck in their career compared to the response submitted by females (10%). Male senior executives with more than 15 years of experience have the higher number of responses (see Figure 14).

Figure 12. Better support for the integration of work and life harmony within an organization (female participants). Figure 13. Felt stuck at least once in their position throughout their career/job (female participants). Figure 14. Felt stuck at least once in their position throughout their career/job (male participants).
Figure 12. Better support for the integration of work and life harmony within an organization (female participants). Figure 13. Felt stuck at least once in their position throughout their career/job (female participants). Figure 14. Felt stuck at least once in their position throughout their career/job (male participants).

The survey also included ranking questions to understand what the expectations were/are among the participants related to their first job. Table 4 outlines the five expectations the participants chose from when answering this question, highlighting that 183 out of 201 participants place opportunities to grow at the highest level of importance. Social networking rated the lowest (81 out of 201) in importance among the total responses received.In term of gender-specific answers, both women and men identified opportunities to grow as the expectation with highest level of importance. For women, the expectation with lowest level of importance is social networking; for men, competitive salaries, and opportunities to use what you learned from school are the not-so important expectations (see Figures 15, 16, 17 and 18).

Figure 15. Importance of expectation on the first job (female participants). Figure 16. Opportunities to grow (female participants). Figure 17. Figure 18.
Figure 15. Importance of expectation on the first job (female participants). Figure 16. Opportunities to grow (female participants). Figure 17 and 18. Male participants

The expectation from participants regarding what is the level of importance when hiring new graduate employees highlights “complete the tasks as instructed” as the highest expectation among the 201 participants and experience through internships as the lowest level of importance (see Table 5).

In addition to the five options for answers, women also included three additional expectations:

  • Understanding of company culture and when is a good time to look for a new opportunity
  • Ability to solve problems, analytical thinking and get results independently
  • Learning mindset

Conclusions

Responses from 19 different countries were received from the survey with 96% being from females. Among all position levels provided their inputs, but the largest participation was from women holding management level positions (62%). With regards to the categories on years of experience, those with more than 15 years of experience had the higher percentage of participation (39%), but only 15% were senior executives.

Some key preliminary outcomes are reported as follows:

  • Self-learning and motivation are two leading drivers for career success.
  • Work/life demands and feeling of a glass ceiling are identified as the main career barrier among women and men. Educational degree is a reported concern specific to women and diversity is specific to men.
  • There are no significant differences between females and males regarding not feeling adequately prepared when starting the first job (52.4% – female; 55.6% – male).
  • 52.7% of all participants find a lack of connection with a company-experienced employee as the main obstacle when entering the job market. Lack of credentials is a significant obstacle for males (44.4%) vs. females (29.2%).
  • 100% of male responses said they mastered the skill of networking vs. 76% from female responses.
  • There are no significant differences between females and males regarding not having any issues when transitioning to their first job after graduating from school (41% – female; 44% – male). However, 7.7% of women do not know if they were/are prepared.
  • Flexible time/working location named as the primary need as people believe it would better to support integration of work and life harmony among all position levels.
  • 90% of participants felt stuck at least once in their position throughout their career or job. A higher percentage of men (22%) confirmed not feeling stuck in their career compared with the responses submitted by women (10%).
  • All responses identified opportunities to grow as the expectation with highest level of importance when first starting a career. For females, the expectation with lowest level of importance is social networking. For men, competitive salaries and opportunities to use what they learned in school are not important expectations.
  • The expectation among the 201 participants on what is important when hiring newly graduated employee report completing the tasks as instructed as the highest expectation and placed experience through internships as the lowest level of importance.
Melody Ge, Corvium
Women in Food Safety

Find Your Passion and Confidence Will Come

By Melody Ge
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Melody Ge, Corvium

Deborah Coviello, founder and CEO of Illumination Partners, LLC and host of The Drop in CEO Podcast, recently shared her journey with the Women in Food Safety Group. Deb believes in self-confidence and that everyone is a talented individual.

Two years ago, Deb decided to start her own business, which focuses on elevating people, after 10 years of working as a food safety professional for a top flavor company. When I spoke with Deb about her experiences, she admitted that at times she felt vulnerable, stressed and unsatisfied after working for corporations for more than 30 years. She was no longer happy with herself, and even her coworkers could see it. However, she got past it and has found the passion to share her experiences and stories to help anyone who is struggling in a similar situation.

When formulating the business plan for her new firm, Deb started testing her ideas with consulting professionals, discussing how to elevate their self-confidence. It wasn’t until her third client that she had built the confidence to say that she could provide a service that people needed. “I have to constantly tell myself that I can do this!” Deb said. “It is that food safety professional combined with elevating leadership—men and women—which is the purpose for my work, and I enjoy doing so much. ” Hearing Deb’s client feedback is what drives her mission and business forward. “I love helping people find their confidence, because that’s what I was once going through,” she explained.

Deb thinks it is more important to help food safety professionals sustain improvement after working with them, versus simply passing on pure technical knowledge. “I elevate people, while at the same time I elevate the business,” she said.

The topic of a glass ceiling is discussed in so many interviews, and Deb would like to challenge that idea. “Maybe in the past, there were challenges to female leadership and we claimed it as a glass ceiling that we had to break through.” Deb continued, “However, I would definitely challenge that! I do not think women need to own that narrative anymore! If you believe there’s a glass ceiling, then you will have a glass ceiling. If you do not believe it, it is not there.”

Deb Coviello
“I think women need to find the network for support and realize that the only glass ceiling may now be just themselves.” – Deborah Coviello, CEO of Illumination Partners, LLC and host of The Drop in CEO Podcast

Deb has one final piece of advice for women who are in an executive position or seeking a position at the table: “Advocate for yourself!” Females have not always been good at speaking up for themselves. However, there are many means to achieve your goals—seek advocates through your network and peers. “Do not ever think people can read your mind,” she added.

She ended the conversation with a personal story that still inspires her today. At one point in her career, she asked her boss at the time what could she change or do to move ahead. Her boss said, “Change nothing, just be yourself!” Deb started gaining the trust and confidence in herself from that point forward. She has become relaxed and more herself—and this is a disposition that gives her energy and helps sustain her passion.

Melody Ge: How did you get into the food safety industry and reach where you are today?

Deborah Coviello: I graduated from college as a biomedical engineer. I knew that I really loved manufacturing because I always loved the creation aspect, going from nothing to something. But along the way, I found out that I enjoyed the area of quality, so I pursued it for several years in multiple industries. One of the things I liked about quality assurance was taking a standard to meet customer expectations. I pursued the ASQ Six Sigma Black Belt to ensure continuous improvement, and I got to learn how to solve problems in business, become more effective and reduce customer complaints. After having my third child, my husband was also changing his business, so I had to return to work sooner than I had planned. I really enjoyed learning about the chemical industry and my skills in quality had evolved, so I landed in the flavors industry, where I started my food safety journey. This is where things started changing for me. I worked for an international flavors company that services the food industry. I became the head of quality for North America for Givaudan, which is the number one global flavors company. It was the dream job that I always wanted. However, it came with a price. Not only did I have to protect the brand by ensuring we delivered a consistent, quality product to our customers; I was also responsible for food safety. At Givaudan, I had a lot of “a-ha” moments realizing that I was in a high-profile, high-risk role. I started taking my job and my voice to the next level because it was such a serious position—I had consumers and professionals around me who depended on me. Food safety was a top priority of mine—not just the compliance aspect but also any area of quality. So that was what took up my time in my previous career before I started my own business in the area of quality, food safety and continuous improvement. Maintaining product safety and brand reputation is a mission that holds true today in my own business.

Ge: What’s your perspective on being a female CEO?

Coviello: Well, there still aren’t a lot of us, although there are more and more female business owners. From 2014–2019, female-owned businesses grew at a rate of about 21% versus all businesses, which grew at about 9%.

I am constantly in search of fellow female CEOs to network with, and share thoughts and challenges. You mentioned a glass ceiling and the need for more women at the table. I appreciate all the female professionals who preceded us, and those who faced adversity to gain the right, trust and respect for all the opportunities that we have now. To give an example of my mother, she was a microbiologist and probably did not have all the opportunities that she would have wanted to in her time. I now have infinite possibilities. I have never felt disadvantaged. I was always able to turn a situation that did not serve me well into a new opportunity. I could take the accountability and move to a different role. I never let people, or the environment, stand in my way. I never felt the fear of any challenges of being a female CEO. I do not feel like I have any extra advantages either. I am simply a person who has a belief in myself and I have established a service through which I can help others.

Ge: Looking back, would you make any decisions differently?

Coviello: Oh yeah, I am much smarter and more confident now. In the past I didn’t believe in my abilities as much as I do now. I used to ask someone’s opinion to validate who I was or how good my performance was. The time was not right for me to start my own business. But looking back, I should have believed more in my capabilities and myself. I probably could have started my business a long time ago. In a way, I was forced into doing it at the end of my last job, and now I realize I am doing the work I was meant to do. I had a great career, and I will continue to have a great career. However, I do feel like I am playing catch-up now. Don’t get me wrong—I have a beautiful life and a very supportive husband. But when I look at successful business people who have 15 years of business experience, I am trying to play catch up. I feel like I have to work a lot faster, which involves business development, marketing, the Podcast, and I am also getting ready to write a book. I am trying to accelerate everything, which maybe I should have been a little bit more methodical if I had enough time. So, I definitely would have started business sooner to achieve all that I want to have an impact on. I would also like to give one piece of advice: Never doubt what you have already accomplished. When you reflect back, you have achieved so much and you should celebrate those successes. There are no failures, [they are] simply steps towards achieving the success you were meant to achieve. When you project yourself forward, ask your self what “is” possible vs. “not” possible. Having a positive mindset and belief in yourself is your guiding light.

Melody Ge, Corvium
Women in Food Safety

We Belong Here

By Melody Ge
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Melody Ge, Corvium

It’s always a pleasure to speak with LeAnn Chuboff, vice president of technical affairs at SQFI. On a cozy sunny afternoon, I chatted with her for more than an hour, and a lot of memories from when we worked together came back. Once again, it was another inspiring conversation.

LeAnn considered her sister as the first mentor who inspired her to take the food industry as her career path. When they were kids, they always visited test kitchens such as Betty Crocker. LeAnn found it fascinating to see how foods were made and developed. So when she went to Iowa State University, she pursued a bachelor’s degree in food science. After graduation, LeAnn took her first job as a food microbiologist, where she found her career. She liked the science and the mission in the food safety industry. During her career, LeAnn has worked for multiple food manufacturers, foodservice operations, the National Restaurant Association, and now is with FMI.

“I find it so fascinating to see the progress we have made in food safety since I started in this industry. I find us all so passionate with our purpose.” she said, adding how she persevered through her career when there were difficulties and challenges. “There will always be difficult decisions, but if you stick with your vision, mission and purpose, then those decisions will be made for you.”

During the interview, we spent some time discussing communication, how to get your voice heard, and how to effectively communicate. LeAnn provided some of her insights, although she said she is still working and learning on it.

  1. Listen; not ‘pretend’ listening but actually hear from your audience to understand what they are saying and their needs.
  2. Understand the problem before coming up with the solution. We all have great ideas but it’s always important to identify the problem we are trying to solve.
  3. Prepare a recommendation on a path forward. When you speak up and address a problem, try and have a recommendation on how to proceed.

At the end of the interview, I asked LeAnn whether she would do anything differently if the clocks turned back to right after her graduation from Iowa State. LeAnn’s answer was a solid no. She likes her career path. When she looks back now with her 30+ years’ experience and how she got to where she is currently, she has enjoyed every step. All the ups and downs through all her experiences have made her who she is today. “I do not think I would change anything, but I would give one piece of advice to my younger self: Be more open minded.”

“I believe there are glass ceilings in some areas, but it is cracking—it’s progress. We are all talented individuals, and we belong at the executive table. ” – LeAnn Chuboff

Melody Ge: Why do you prefer the food safety industry?

LeAnn Chuboff: I like the people and the working environment. There are so many opportunities. Like for myself, first, I was a food microbiologist working in a plant, then I managed a QA department where I think training and lab management are needed. Then, I was exposed to auditing when I was managing suppliers. There are a lot of open doors and opportunities of what you can do in this industry.

Ge: Do you have any tips for females who are working towards an executive position?

Chuboff: Aren’t you feeling sad that we are still talking about this? We, as women, have provided our points, and we are all talented individuals. We belong in this place, the executive team. We also belong in the environment. I think we need to recognize our talents and embrace ourselves. We bring valuable input to business. Second, we have to surround ourselves with people who are going to challenge us, encourage us, and provide us with the criticism that will help us grow and develop. No matter where we are in our professional career, we have to keep moving and learning, and make sure we know we belong.

Ge: I completely agree. I always think female/male is a personality. Individuals shall be seen objectively, when we work, we all have two sides, sometimes the male personality is stronger, sometimes, the female personality is needed. Do you believe in a glass ceiling, by the way?

Chuboff: I do believe that there is a glass ceiling in some industries and regions, but it’s cracking, and that includes in the food safety industry. However, I am very fortunate to work at where there are many examples of strong women in executive positions. We’ve made progress, but it takes time. I do believe we are in a unique environment where men recognize the talents of women; women recognize the talents of men. Four or five years ago, there were more ceilings, with more discussions revealed—it’s definitely shattering now

“As a leader, always treat people, all people, as I would like to be treated or how I wish I was treated.” – Chuboff.

Ge: There are always discussions about work-life balance. What is your vision of achieving balance?

Chuboff: To be honest, I have to say I am not good at this one, but I am trying my best. My best advice is to commit time for your family and personal life. For professional women, it’s not easy as it sounds to flip that switch, but we need to have the switch so we can turn off work mode. Especially with working from home, it always feels like we’re working. My other piece of advice is, don’t be afraid to ask for help. I think a lot of times, we feel like we are showing our vulnerabilities when we ask for help. Actually, we’re not! Asking for help doesn’t mean you are weak; asking for help can actually help you or the employer to balance resources.

Ge: Besides what you have shared today, if you could give one last tip for young female professionals who are entering the career or during the transition of their career, what would that be?

Chuboff: One thing I believe is that as long as you always represent who you are, and remain genuine with the expertise you have, you will shine!

Melody Ge, Corvium
Women in Food Safety

The Career Journey: Networking, Mentorship and the Balance

By Melody Ge
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Melody Ge, Corvium

As part of a special offering, Episode 9 has been made available for viewing on demand for free. Register to view the on-demand recording.We were thrilled to have our first Women In Food Safety event with Food Safety Tech during the Food Safety Consortium Virtual Conference Series on November 5. Industry leaders and professionals gathered to discuss women in this field, advocate for our strengths and provide advice to young female professionals as well as those who are at mid- or late-career stages. During the sessions in the episode, we explored self-development, networking, mentorship and leadership. The following are some of the issues we tackled.

When you first start your career or a job, don’t be afraid to take opportunities that have the potential for growth, and remember that all your experiences play a part in helping you achieve your final goal. While soft skills are crucial when looking for a job, technical skills shouldn’t be omitted, emphasized Martin Wiedmann, Ph.D., professor at Cornell University. You need to know how to do the basics; then you can be able to lead and teach others.

Mentorship

Mentorship and reversed mentorship were discussed throughout the episode. Different perspectives were brought up, however, everyone agreed that mentorship is very helpful throughout a career journey. Whether you are a mentor or a mentee, you can learn from each other. Self-learning and continuous development are crucial regardless of which stage you are at in your career. Mentorship happens organically and naturally, but one thing you need to think about prior to seeking a mentor is, what do you need one for? What do you want to learn and achieve? Lisa Robinson, VP of global food safety and public health at Ecolab, raised the question and continued: “For example, I have a mentor in business, because I know that is where I need help and advice.. Don’t be afraid to reach out to find your own mentor. “The mentor should have interests in your growth, and there has to be chemistry between mentors and mentees,” said Cindy Jiang, senior director of global food and packaging safety at McDonald’s Corp.

Women in Food Safety have five focused mentorship areas of focus:

  • Diversity/culture
    • For women with a diverse cultural background, focusing on helping their needs in work culture
  • Adventure starts
    • For women in school, focusing on bridging the gap between academic and industry, focusing on helping the start of their career, and providing a pipeline for future food safety professionals
  • Leadership
    • For women at an early career stage, focusing on helping them step up to senior management, and providing a pipeline for future leadership
  • Boots on the ground
    o For women working on-site, focusing on helping their needs in work culture
  • Work and life
    • For women who just came back from maternity leave or a long break, focusing on helping their needs when going through life-changing times with minimal impact on work

Mentors can be one or more, but it all depends on your goal and what you want.

Climbing the Career Ladder

There are many barriers and challenges throughout a career, but what’s important to keep us going during this journey is ourselves—stay humble, keep learning, and keep yourself physically and mentally healthy. “If you don’t take care for yourself, the rest doesn’t matter,” said Lisa Robinson. She added, “If I am not well, I cannot do anything well.” In today’s environment, the competition is high. We are all looking to find balance, and we need to commit time to ourselves and our family. One way of doing so is to learn how to and be comfortable with saying “no”.

On the other hand, saying “yes” is just as important as saying “no”. Lisa shared a story: She learned that the company she was working at was interviewing for a VP position that she is interested in pursuing. She went to her boss and asked why she wasn’t considered. He responded, “I thought you were very happy with what you are doing.” By sharing this story, Lisa emphasized that speaking up to your boss and saying what you want is important. While you may be enjoying what you are doing, don’t forget to look ahead and make known what you ultimately want.

In addition, “sometimes barriers or rejection might not be a bad thing,” said Allison Jennings, global director of food safety, quality, compliance at Amazon. “Understand what your goal is and find what you love, [and] of course, finding out what you don’t love is also important. When one door closes, another one will be open.”

“Think about how you achieve your goal instead of what you have achieved. Don’t bring a problem without a potential solution; also, don’t bring a solution without understanding the problem thoroughly,” said Sara Mortimore, VP of global food safety and quality at Walmart. As a leader, we all need to develop our team and ourselves together, create a psychologically safe environment where team members can speak up and share their thoughts freely. As female leaders, we tend to be less confident when taking responsibilities or making decisions. “Yes, I can do it! Be confident with yourself when opportunities come to you, ” Sara said as she encouraged the group.

Conclusion

Last but not least, build your own network! All the speakers during this session mentioned the importance and benefits of networking. The food safety industry is a close-knit family. Don’t hesitate to reach out and ask for help.

Let’s be honest, there are challenges for females in the industry, and as far as we have come, there is still a lot of work that needs to be done. But what’s important is that we are all very clear of our goals and how to get there. We are working on this together.

Please check out our group on LinkedIn. Follow #womeninfoodsafety

This summary is written based on the opinions and presentations by the speakers.

Food Safety Consortium

2020 FSC Episode 9 Preview: Professional Development and Women in Food Safety

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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Food Safety Consortium

Episode 9 of the 2020 Food Safety Consortium Virtual Conference Series focuses on mentorship, career development, leadership and the challenges that young professionals, and specifically women face, within the career of food safety.

The following are highlights for the session:

  • A Diverse Panel for Women and Young Professionals in Food Safety, moderated by Darin Detwiler, Northeastern University; and panelists: Martin Wiedmann, Cornell University; Bob Pudlock, Gulf Stream Search; Mitzi Baum and Jaime Ragos, Stop Foodborne Illness; Jennifer Van de Ligt, Food Protection and Defense Institute; and Peter Begg, Glanbia Nutritionals
    Paths to Leadership, with Sara Mortimore, Walmart
  • We Asked, You Answered—The Voice from Women in Food Safety, with Allison Jennings, Amazon; Melanie Neumann, Matrix Sciences International; Lisa Robinson, Ecolab; and Cindy Jiang, McDonald’s Corp.
  • TechTalks from ImEpik and Glanbia Nutritionals

As part of a special offering, Episode 9 has been made available for viewing on demand for free. Register to view the on-demand recording.

Laura Gutierrez Becerra
Women in Food Safety

Always Seek Opportunities for Improvement

By Laura Gutierrez Becerra
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Laura Gutierrez Becerra

This month I had the pleasure of interviewing Neshat Soofi, president of JIT Experts Hive, for the Women in Food Safety Column. She shared some of her inspirational experiences working with multicultural teams and companies, and how she eventually became an entrepreneur, launching her own business. “As food safety experts, our primary job is to minimize the risk of contamination in food and protect consumer health and safety. Of course, there are other aspects of our job such as contributing to the profitable growth of companies we work for. Sometimes we get caught in conflict situations with a lot of pressure on us. Most of the time it comes down to assessing risk in uncertain situations and with limited information. Even food safety situations are not black and white. To make the right decision we need to assess the risk-taking multiple factors into consideration. One thing that always helped me was to remember why I was hired and that my reason for being in a company was to minimize risk to the consumers,” says Soofi. “Being a food safety professional also helped me understand business holistically, since as a food safety lead you have to work with many functions in a company, from sourcing to customer service, marketing and sales. As part of my career path, I even worked in different functions that provided me with different perspectives of business. This knowledge helped me be a better product safety and quality leader, and later helped me set up my own business, which provides consultation and expert knowledge in many areas of business.”

Join Women in Food Safety for a special episode on November 5 about career development and mentorship during the 2020 Food Safety Virtual Conference SeriesSoofi was born and raised in Iran and has lived in Canada and the United States for the past 30 years. She has more than 25 years of experience in product safety, quality and development working for small to large companies like Target, Cargill and Multifoods (Pillsbury). After working with some of the largest corporations, she decided to join start-up company “Brandless” to build their product safety, quality and integrity programs from scratch. After three years working in a fast-paced, autonomous environment, she started her own business called JIT Experts Hive. She leveraged her broad and diverse background to fill a gap in the market, connecting like-minded and purpose-driven hands-on experts to companies in need of those expertise in a just in time fashion. Connecting knowledge to innovation. The mission of JIT Experts Hive is to help accelerate the growth of CPG companies in food, supplement, CBD, cosmetic/beauty and household industries by providing just-in-time expertise.

Working in consumer-packaged goods (CPG) industries including food for more than 25 years, Soofi felt fortunate with what she has learned over the years. “I learned that in order to grow and succeed, I needed to step outside my comfort zone. Every job I took was very different from the previous one. Even going so far as stepping completely out of food safety and working in other areas of business like leading data governance and business intelligence, or getting into new product categories such as personal care, cosmetics and even household cleaners. What I found was that these learnings and experiences made me a better product safety and quality expert and leader. Product safety jobs are quite unique; one is responsible for results of work of many functions with no direct control over them. The ability to understand other functions, their priorities and pressures and look at situations through different lenses helps one assess the risks better and come up with better solutions. One can also articulate the risks and benefits in a way that would be more compelling and effective,” Soofi explained.

Neshat Soofi, JIT Experts Hive
Neshat Soofi, president of JIT Experts Hive

With a unique multicultural background and experience working in large corporations leading teams in different countries, Soofi advises that when working with multicultural teams one should: Learn about each country’s work ethics, how to address someone (i.e., first name or with titles), what is the appropriate way of greeting and interacting during and after work hours, and the level and importance of hierarchy.

Tactical details are also important: Be cognizant of time zone differences and schedule meetings on a rotating time zone basis; in virtual meetings/calls and in the absence of getting the non-verbal cues and body language, pay more attention to pauses, silence and the importance of clear communication so things are not lost in translation or misinterpreted.

Last but not least, remember: Never assume, and never stereotype. Each person is unique and may be very different from the stereotype in their countries, so don’t go with assumptions. And if in doubt, ask, because it not only helps you understand their preference, but also helps break the ice.

As a female leader, Soofi has also learned a lot from her multicultural female team members. “As Cheryl Sandberg has mentioned in her book ‘Lean In’, women generally have a harder time taking a seat at the table! In some cultures this feeling is even stronger due to cultural factors. What I found for myself and many great talents in my teams was that gradually pushing ourselves out of comfort zones by taking challenging assignments, leading projects and teams and being the voice and face of the team was a great way to build confidence in yourself and take your rightful seat at the table. Don’t be afraid of failure and do not internalize it if it happens. Having a mentor to help you in this journey by providing advice but also constructive criticism and course correction when needed is key to success,” Soofi says.

Another aspect is that as a woman, building strong negotiation skills is a must. “Whether negotiating for a new position, salary, etc., do your homework, know where the bottom line and the absolute non-negotiable variable are for you, but also understand where you can compromise. At the same time, do not be afraid of hearing “no” and do not take things personally.”

Laura Gutierrez Becerra: What would be your number one piece of advice to young women professionals who are planning to be leaders in food safety?

Neshat Soofi: Don’t be shy! Reach out to experienced professionals in the industry; there are plenty of higher-level peers who will be willing to help you. A good mentor is priceless. I have a personal story to share: About four years ago, I got a message through LinkedIn from someone who has just moved to the US. I had not met her before, and she asked me if we could meet and talk about the food industry and jobs in the US. We met and I happily shared my experience and advice in seeking jobs, helped her with a mock interview and resume, and anything else I could. Four years later, she is a quality assurance manager in one of the largest food companies here in the United States. We have stayed great friends, and I am so proud of her resilience and success.

Gutierrez Becerra: Is there an unforgettable story during your career journey that still has an impact?

Soofi: When I was working in Canada in food manufacturing, I was called to the processing line one day regarding a potential foreign object issue. I stopped the line to find out the root cause. At the same time there was a lot of pressure to resume production since this was an order for a major account. Under pressure, I agreed to start the line with adding inspection and controls that I knew in my guts were not sufficient. The products were shipped, and we started to get a series of complaints about foreign objects in the product. Thank god there was no injury, but as you can imagine, that major account was not happy with the situation and we lost the business with them. It was a major loss and my boss from the head office came for a visit to our plant. I tried to explain why I had allowed the production to resume and release the product because we couldn’t have a late shipment. In response he asked me one question, “What’s your job title?” I responded, “I am the food safety and quality assurance manager.” His comment was, “I am glad you remember. Your first priority is minimizing risk to consumers and company reputation. I am sure you took that into consideration when you okayed the release, [but] if not, please remember in future”. I expected him to be angry and was even prepared to be fired, but his quiet answer was more impactful. This is a lesson I remember to this day—there are rarely black and white situations in life, even in food safety. The key is to assess the risk and not let outside pressures impact your assessment and decisions.

Gutierrez Becerra: What do you hope to see in the next three to five years in terms of development and mentoring women in the industry?

Soofi: I see a need for networks like yours to connect new industry professionals regardless of gender to the more veteran experts on an as-needed basis—almost like a hotline, where food safety professionals can ask for advice and mentoring in a confidential and safe environment. This is becoming easier in a post-COVID era where virtual connections are becoming more of a norm than exception, and people from all over the world are learning to connect in ways that were not easy and personally comfortable in the past.

I also want to see a better appreciation of the importance of food safety programs in organizations, especially at leadership levels. We need to better articulate what additional values (efficiencies, better cultures, productivity, etc.) a great food safety program brings to the organization. I want food safety functions to be at the leadership tables and part of developing company strategies and directions. We can’t be only remembered when bad things happen and in the middle of a crisis. Food safety and quality leaders should be at the forefront of organizational leadership, all the way to the C-suite.

Jennifer van de Ligt, Food Protection and Defense Institute, University of Minnesota

Q&A: Pandemic Puts Worker Health & Safety, Leadership Skills and Business Adaptability at Forefront

By Maria Fontanazza
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Jennifer van de Ligt, Food Protection and Defense Institute, University of Minnesota

Issues with the health of frontline workers, supply chain disruptions, and changes in consumer behavior are just a few vulnerabilities that the food industry is experiencing as a result of COVID-19. Food Safety Tech recently had a conversation with Jennifer van de Ligt, Ph.D., director of the University of Minnesota Integrated Food Systems Leadership Program and Food Protection and Defense Institute about the hurdles that the industry is experiencing and where we go from here.

Food Safety Tech: What challenges is the food system facing in light of the COVID-19 pandemic? Where are the vulnerabilities?

Jennifer van de Ligt, Ph.D.: The food system is facing primary, secondary and tertiary challenges right now. I see two main drivers as disruptors as a result of COVID-19. The health and safety of employees is the first primary driver. As COVID-19 has more broadly spread through the U.S., ensuring the health and safety of employees in the food system has become essential; however, the pandemic has shown us the food system has struggled with that.

The other big primary challenge facing the food system has been the swift change in consumer behavior. Pre-COVID-19, nearly half of food was consumed away from home. When restaurants closed, and stay-at-home orders were in place, it put extreme amounts of pressure on our food retail segment, causing supply and demand issues.

Regarding the health and safety of employees: We’ve seen meat processing struggle with production demands because the health of their employees has been impacted by the virus. In mid-April, the beef and pork capacity in this country went down by over 40%. They are making great improvements and are approaching normal harvest capacity range for both [beef and pork production]. Meat cuts being produced are slightly different than normal, as this part of the meat plants are very labor intensive. This has really highlighted the need to make sure that we keep the health and safety of our food system employees front and center.

During the 2020 Food Safety Consortium Virtual Conference Series, Jennifer Van de Ligt will participate in a panel discussion on November 5 about Professional Development and Women in Food Safety | Register Now Now that the meat supply chain is beginning to recover, we’re also beginning to see increasing effects on non-meat supply manufacturing. This isn’t isolated to food manufacturing; as we experience broader community spread, COVID-19 will impact all aspects of our food system.

On consumer behavior: As consumers shifted to food retail, immense pressure was quickly put on our food supply chain logistics, manufacturing timing and processes, the speed to warehouses and delivery, etc.

One example that demonstrates a challenge in manufacturing and consumer demand is the difference in volumes for food services versus retail. I like to use the example of shredded cheese. At a grocery store, you’ll find a one-pound pack, but shredded cheese in food service might be in a 10-pound bag. There are not a lot of consumers who want to buy a 10-pound bag of shredded cheese. Well, why can’t cheese manufacturers just package bulk product into one-pound packs? There are several reasons that don’t allow producers to pivot quickly: They may not have the machinery or packaging to do that. Also, changing packaging from food service to retail requires different labels and regulatory approvals. Examples like this led to many of the spot outages consumers found in grocery stores. In the produce sector, it led to produce being plowed under in fields because they didn’t have the distribution channels to go into retail instead of into food service.

In the Integrated Food System Leadership (IFSL) program, we’ve recently discussed food equity and food injustice as a result of COVID-19. As food retail became stressed and unemployment increased, we saw a huge demand for our food assistance networks. Because food retail is one of the primary contributors to the food assistance networks, there wasn’t enough volume being donated. In addition, food service foods are not appropriately packaged to go into the food assistance networks and food banks, similar to the issue in moving to food retail. This led to tremendous pressure and innovative solutions to source and distribute food to a newly vulnerable population.

As we look ahead into the coming months, many of the vulnerabilities in the food system will be the same. We have to continuously monitor the health and safety of our employees to keep our food system as a whole functional. There’s a growing recognition that our primary agriculture workers are also at risk—the people in fields harvesting and planting. There are many groups providing recommendations on how to protect agriculture employees and communities where they work and reside.

We’ll see continued adaptation in the food system to the new reality of how restaurants and food service engage with their consumers with the shift in behavior to limited restaurant dining and increases in online ordering.

FST: In what areas do food manufacturers, processors or growers need to adapt moving forward in order to thrive?

Van de Ligt: There are several. First, I think this crisis has really brought worker health and welfare to the forefront, and there will be more emphasis on the essentiality of food system workers. They were previously a behind-the-scenes workforce. The issue of worker health and welfare is going to accelerate in many industries, but I also see a push to more automation. The human workforce is necessary, and people do a really wonderful job, but are there areas that might benefit from automation? I think those go hand in hand.

I also think the global food system needs to rethink how it remains resilient. In the past, there’s been a focus on resilience and efficiency through economy of scale. That still exists and may look different moving forward. Using the meat industry as an example, that economy of scale was also its biggest weakness that had gone unrecognized. Going forward, I think there are many companies that are going to consider alternative supply chains. Should multiple, smaller plants be utilized instead of one large plant to provide a more resilient framework for production? Other companies are going to think about installing equipment or processing lines that could more quickly pivot between food service and food retail. There’s also a huge opportunity now for local and smaller markets to really make an impact as people look for alternative supply chains and sources. We found that many of the local food markets and co-ops, especially those that provided into food service, pivoted pretty quickly to pop-up online marketplaces to provide food direct to consumer. I think we’ll see that trend increase as well.

In order to feed billions of people worldwide, it’s essential that the food industry take a broader systems approach versus the siloed approach path we’ve been using. The pandemic has highlighted how the food system is an intricately functioning balance and requires collaboration. Our food system will only be able to move forward faster with less disruption when we have food system leaders who understand the intricacies and the ripple effects of the challenges we face. Leaders who understand the impacts of decisions outside of their sphere will be essential to plan for impacts from natural disasters, another pandemic, etc.—and to create a more responsive and resilient food system in the future.

FST: Where does this leave folks who are either beginning or rising in their careers in food safety? Do you think the pandemic has changed food safety careers as they’ve historically functioned?

Van de Ligt: I like to say that ‘what got us here is not going to get us there.’ In general, if you think about where food safety careers have been in the past, the roles have been all about consistency, understanding regulations, making sure we do everything precisely right all of the time so we don’t have a food safety outbreak.

The focus on doing things precisely right all of the time will absolutely continue. What I think will shift is the need for food safety professionals to think more broadly than just the regulations that are required for compliance. Food safety professionals need to understand more about the system that is happening outside their facility; the impact of their work going backwards and forwards in the supply chain.

How things have worked historically in a food safety role has been having a consistent supplier network that provides the same type of product every time; you know what to expect, how to produce and distribute safe food for the customers you serve. In a situation like COVID-19, because of the disruptions from farm to fork, the suppliers you need to work with may be different and you need to quickly make decisions spontaneously as supply shifts. Having the knowledge and skills to navigate changes is essential to ensure the quality and safety of your product.

A highly technical focus that many professionals have when they start their career is often too narrow and won’t be enough for emerging food system leaders. Leadership skills are vital as well. In the IFSL program we teach food system professionals how to explore proactive viewpoints, not just managing people or responsibilities. Managers make sure things are done things correctly; leaders make sure we do the right thing. In order to learn how to do the right thing, we teach skills and tools on how to navigate uncertainty; practicing active listening, constructive feedback; and understanding the concerns of a supplier or customer are examples.

We emphasize and teach in the IFSL program that food system professionals and leaders need to be much more proactive. This means equipping them with the food system knowledge and leadership skills so they can predict and prepare for how decisions affect upstream and downstream. Having a broader viewpoint is critical to adaptivity, which will build resilience and help limit disruption.

Food Safety Consortium

2020 Food Safety Consortium Virtual Conference Series Agenda Announced

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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Food Safety Consortium

The agenda for the 2020 Food Safety Consortium Virtual Conference Series has been released. The announcement about the annual Food Safety Consortium being converted to a virtual series due to the COVID-19 pandemic was made last month. Due to a demand to provide attendees with even more content, the event has been extended a full month and is running into December. Food Safety Tech is the media sponsor.

The event will begin every Thursday at 12 pm ET, beginning on September 3 and continue through December 17. Each week will feature three educational presentations, two Tech Talks, and a panel discussion. Weekly episodes include food defense, food labs, pest management, sanitation, food fraud, listeria detection, mitigation & control, professional development, women in food safety, supply chain management, COVID-19’s impact and food safety culture.

Frank Yiannas, FDA deputy commissioner for food policy and response, will serve as the keynote speaker on Thursday, October 1 at 12 pm ET.

“Human connection is so important for events, and we know we’re not the only game in town. That’s why we’ve invested in a Conference Virtual Platform that can facilitate discussions, discovery, and connection that can continue whether our event is offline or online—and not end with the live streaming,” says Rick Biros, president of Innovative Publishing and director of the Food Safety Consortium. “Simply, the experience other food safety conferences are offering is not conducive to learning, staying engaged or take into consideration that you have a job to do during that week. This is why we have designed the Consortium’s program with short, manageable episodes that are highly educational.”

Registration for the 2020 Food Safety Consortium Virtual Conference Series is open. Keeping in mind that registrants may not be able to attend every week due to scheduling conflicts, there is an option to watch the each session on demand.

Tech Talk Sponsorship

Companies that are interested in sponsoring a 10-minute technical presentation during the series can also submit their abstract through the portal. For pricing information, contact IPC Sales Director RJ Palermo.

Innovative Publishing has also converted the Cannabis Quality Conference to a virtual event. More information is available at Cannabis Industry Journal.

About Food Safety Tech

Food Safety Tech publishes news, technology, trends, regulations, and expert opinions on food safety, food quality, food business and food sustainability. We also offer educational, career advancement and networking opportunities to the global food industry. This information exchange is facilitated through ePublishing, digital and live events.

About the Food Safety Consortium Conference and Expo (The live event)

Food companies are concerned about protecting their customers, their brands and their own company’s financial bottom line. The term “Food Protection” requires a company-wide culture that incorporates food safety, food integrity and food defense into the company’s Food Protection strategy.

The Food Safety Consortium is an educational and networking event for Food Protection that has food safety, food integrity and food defense as the foundation of the educational content of the program. With a unique focus on science, technology and compliance, the “Consortium” enables attendees to engage in conversations that are critical for advancing careers and organizations alike. Delegates visit with exhibitors to learn about cutting-edge solutions, explore three high-level educational tracks for learning valuable industry trends, and network with industry executives to find solutions to improve quality, efficiency and cost effectiveness in the evolving food industry.

Maria Fontanazza, Food Safety Tech
Women in Food Safety

Help Us Shape Our Future Vision

By Maria Fontanazza, Melody Ge
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Maria Fontanazza, Food Safety Tech

Women in food safety are increasingly playing more critical roles in their organizations because of our objective decision-making, compassion, communication prowess and ability to collaborate. During this year’s Food Safety Consortium Virtual Series, we are pleased to join Food Safety Tech with a Women in Food Safety Day. It’s our day: We will discuss the challenges and opportunities that we encounter as a gender, especially during this uncertain era in the world. We will also address issues surrounding students who are devoting their research to improving food safety and quality. We welcome your contribution, support and ideas.

The 2020 Food Safety Consortium Virtual Series will take place every Thursday during the fall, beginning on September 10. If you are interested in presenting during the Women in Food Safety Day, we invite you to submit an abstract. Please note that the day in which the Women in Food Safety session will be held will be announced after we receive the abstracts.

When the Women in Food Safety group was first founded, the mission was to provide a community and networking platform for women in the industry to share their experiences and to seek advice from peers; more importantly, to help young female professionals and students to grow into future outstanding women leaders in the food safety industry.

To carry this mission, the group founder and committee are pleased to announce a mentorship program with below five focused areas:

  1. Diversity/culture: For women with a diverse background, focusing on their needs in different work culture
  2. Adventure Starts: For women in school, focusing on bridging the gap of moving from academia to industry; focus on starting their career, and create a pipeline for future food safety professionals
  3. The Future Leadership: For women at early career stage, focusing on step up to senior management, pipeline for future women leadership
  4. Working in Manufacturing: For women working in manufacturing sites, focusing on their needs in this specific work environment
  5. Work/Life balance: For women who are facing decision-makings, balancing work and life. The focus is on helping their needs when going through life’s exciting times and long leave from professional areas with minimal impact on work.

We welcome all industry professionals and fellows who are interested. We look forward to seeing you during the 2020 Food Safety Consortium Virtual Series, beginning on September 10. Together, we can make it. Join us to empower women and the food safety industry to leverage our unique leadership strength and skills.

Jorge Hernandez, The Wendy's Company
Women in Food Safety

Be Proud, Be Patient: Thoughts from Jorge Hernandez

By Melody Ge
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Jorge Hernandez, The Wendy's Company

It was a great pleasure for me to speak with Jorge Hernandez, VP of quality assurance at The Wendy’s Company, on behalf of the “Women in Food Safety” group and hear his perspective and tips for young female professionals in the industry. Jorge came to the United States for his college degree (majoring in microbiology), and he stayed ever since. He started his career in the food service industry and found himself passionate about food safety. It was this passion that allowed him to go so far in his career. I totally agree with him: You can do things well when you have passion. “That’s absolutely right. I don’t look at the time I put into it. Food safety is not an easy career, but it has been worth it, and I am very proud of that,” he said. Jorge emphasized how important it is to work hard in every position throughout the career path, as nothing will be wasted. “Every success encourages me, and every non-success taught me a lesson,” he added. One piece of advice Jorge offers to our young female generation: “If you want to build a career, learn from lessons at every stage and in every opportunity. You will use them later to build something very exciting and meaningful to you that you might not realize at the moment. Be patient. [The younger generation] seems to fall in and out of love with their careers very fast. I don’t think long-term careers are built that way. With my own experience, it has built one brick at a time. There’s a win and a lesson from every step throughout the path.”

Jorge encourages all young female professionals to walk through the doors that have been opened for them, work/study hard and push themselves. Study your trade: Maybe the ceiling is not shattered just yet, but you (young female professionals) are the generation that is going to shatter it, so go for it and be proud of yourselves!

Having food safety as a career has not only brought achievements to Jorge’s professional life, but it has also impacted his personal life. He has learned so much from working in the field. One thing has kept him going is that he is never satisfied, and he is always focused on finding better solutions and seeking continuous improvement. Jorge also uses this mindset to guide his kids—and although they sometimes may find it annoying, Jorge laughed and added that it’s true that it’s hard to maintain, but it’s so important.

I asked Jorge if he would choose another path or do anything differently if he could turn the clock back to 10 years ago (e.g., being a doctor was one of his initial plans). The answer is a confident and solid “no”. Jorge found the journey, and truly believed in it. If he could go back to 10 years ago, he would still tell himself: Trust yourself, trust your path, and don’t fret over the challenges. What Jorge would say about himself now is that he is in a wonderful stage where he is able to seperate work and life emotions and brings the joy from work home. “That is something I have learned, and it has enhanced my personal life,” he said.

Jorge Hernandez, The Wendy's Company
Jorge Hernandez of The Wendy’s Company during panel discussion at the 2019 Food Safety Consortium.

Melody Ge: Tell us how you started your career and the journey to where you are today.

Jorge Hernandez: My school education and training was in microbiology and in the medical field. My goal was to become a doctor at some point. Finances fell through and I found myself in a situation where I needed to find a job. I found myself in the area of environmental health. We did all kinds of environmental health work: Water, air safety, noise pollution and food safety. The more I worked in food safety, the more I liked it, and it became more interesting to me. Eventually this turned into my career. In a way, it was one of those things that ended up being the best thing that happened to me. I discovered the passion of my life. You always have to keep your mind open to the possibilities.

Ge: Besides the passion, what makes you persevere through the obstacles in food safety industry?

Hernandez: One of the reasons that I fell in love with food safety was the fact that I could connect with people and make changes possible—whether it was in a person, process, or somewhere in the business. I’ve always been able to see the results of my effort. To me, that has been the biggest satisfaction—you can’t put a price on it, and that is what drives me.

Ge: What have you learned from working with women and bringing them through their career journey?

Hernandez: Diversity of thoughts—[whether it’s] women, men, different nationalities—they all bring a different perspective. I know I am generalizing here, but when they become leaders, they tend to be very caring for their projects and their people, and women are very good at problem solving. It makes the team stronger.

Food Safety Professionals: Earn Respect and Be True to Yourself | A panel discussion featuring Jorge Hernandez at the 2019 Food Safety ConsortiumGe: Could you please share an unforgettable story from your professional experience that had a big impact?

Hernandez: I was in a situation where I hired a young woman right out of college. She was smart, and she knew her role was going to be like. In the interview she told me that she wanted to have my job in X number of years. I brought her on board, was able to mentor her and saw her grow within her career. Like many do throughout their careers, she eventually moved on to an elevated position at a different organization. Fast forward to years later… I ran into her at a conference and she said, ‘thank you for what you did’. She is currently at a major organization as a vice president. The sparkle in her eyes and just saying ‘thank you’—it filled and rewarded me. That’s why I love what I am doing. This is a story of success. The point is: Go through the tough times—she worked through it. My job was to keep her motivated, provide guidance, and she got very far based on her skills and passion to always take her career to the next level. Being able to help people and see that growth is amazing, and it will carry with me forever.

Ge: If you could look into a crystal ball, what does the future hold for women in the food safety profession?

Hernandez: I think it’s a great time to be in food safety and quality assurance. I’d like to see more mentors stepping up—those women who have been in the industry and are being looked up to by women who are just entering the workforce. Each level takes their responsibility seriously—take that and show the way for the new folks, because we need them. We need those women and all young food safety and quality assurance professionals to be successful. They are the ones who are going to make foods safer for our families. That’s what I am excited to see. The barriers are not down, but I am very hopeful. And even with the challenges of the new generation, there are a lot of great people who will make a positive different in this industry. Those challenges will only be overcome if all of us, including the women, already in the industry, continue to mentor and grow the careers of young food safety professionals.