Tag Archives: mentorship

Melody Ge, Corvium
Women in Food Safety

The Breadcrumbs that Lead to Success

By Melody Ge
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Melody Ge, Corvium

It was a great pleasure to sit down with Jennifer Crandall, CEO, founder and owner of the Safe Food En Route, LLC. She has more than 20 years’ experience in food safety, and tremendous experience as a business entrepreneur.

Jennifer Crandall
Jennifer Crandall, CEO, founder and owner of the Safe Food En Route, LLC, has more than 20 years’ experience in food safety, and tremendous experience as a business entrepreneur.

Jennifer started her career in production for a variety of products after she graduated from Purdue University as a Food Science major. When she looks back at her career path, Jennifer says all the dots are connected together in getting her to where she is now—as though she was leaving her own “breadcrumbs” in each stage, and now everything has come back together. For example, after she spent eight years on the production line, she took a position at Kroger Manufacturing for the next 12 years, where she had opportunities to work at positions in corporate food technology, regulatory compliance and global sourcing roles. Jennifer said, “it was a detour at the time when I took the sourcing position, however, it was these last two positions that set the foundation and knowledge when starting Safe Food En Route“…“I went the path of least resistance, what felt right at that time, and that natural interest just linked to the next opportunity. Each time I moved around, I either learned something new or developed another skill—that’s what motivated me. I left myself breadcrumbs along the way, so when I looked back, I knew where I had been,” she said. “I don’t regret any of the decisions that I made in getting me into the position where I am today.” Jennifer shared one quote she learned from Kathy Beechem, a retired EVP of US Bank: “When you are facing two choices, always take the path with the most opportunities!” “Her words still have an impact on me. Every time I make a choice, I choose the one that gave me more opportunities to grow,” Jennifer said.

We ended our conversation with some tips Jennifer would have given to her younger self, back 20 years ago. First: Use your network more, and do not be afraid to ask more questions. Second: Do not be afraid. You have unlimited potential and are destined for great things. Decide what you want with all your heart and focus on it.

“All in all, it is crucial to understand what you want, and understand who you are!” Jennifer said.

Melody Ge: Every time I speak with you, you are very confident and comfortable in the conversation. What tips can you share on being confident?

Jennifer Crandall: Thank you, and I think it still comes with practice. There are three things I think I would like to share.

  1. Be prepared. The more prepared you are, the more confident you will be.
  2. Be on time and enforce your own boundaries. Be realistic with the time you need for preparation; you can’t prepare for everything, especially if it’s a discussion. But give yourself the space and grace to have that preparation time within the boundaries.
  3. Recognize and understand your own needs, simply as knowing yourself. It’s probably a good tip to reemphasize and work in a lot of other situations. It’s surprising how many people that do not self-reflect. I see many people living their life like a pinball machine, not knowing where they are going. That will show that they lack confidence, because they are waiting for someone to tell them where to go. Women especially will wait on other people to tell them what they are good at. If you are waiting on someone to tell you your strengths, then you are going to be waiting your whole life, because you are never going to believe what other people tell you. So know yourself, your strengths and your weaknesses.

Ge: Why and what persuaded you to start your own business? Do you have any advice for females out there who are interested in starting their own business?

Crandall: I wrote down several version of answers for this [question] and they all kind of fall into four buckets: Professional, Inspiration, Timing, and Trusting myself.

To start from personal experience in my professional life, I was feeling really burned out at one stage with corporate, and I knew I needed to change my career. I also recognized a pattern in corporate life; and in reality, people need to live their life beyond their career. At the same time, my family member was having a heart problem, and a colleague passed away from an illness soon after he retired. In addition, I had a friend’s husband pass away from cancer. All these combined circumstances caused me to reflect, as I already had some thoughts about the meaning of life. Life isn’t about just moving up in the corporate ladder.

Moving on to Inspiration: An inspiring moment happened around that time, as one of my female colleagues who was a counterpart left the company. She left a couple years before I did, and had no plan—she just wanted to take a pause in her career. I was like, “How is that even happening, what are you talking about?” She told me she did this after reading the book, The Escape Manifesto Book: Quit Your Corporate Job. Do Something Different! The book is about how people use the skills they learned from corporate careers and implement them outside the corporate environment. That day, I downloaded the audio book, and started listening to it. I listened to it 13 times during the year of 2017 (it’s a short book), and it really gave me some things to think about. I was inspired, and I am still using some of the tools the book recommended today to run my own business.

Timing: FSMA was perfectly timed with the opportunity for me to launch a business around FSVP consultation because implementation of the regulation was beginning, and Kroger had just trained me on it; I was having so many conversations with suppliers in my final Kroger position as a supplier verification program manager. In addition, I picked up about 2500 connections from my global sourcing role, and everything was really coming together. Again, like the breadcrumbs, the dots are finally connected.

On Trusting Myself: I was inspired by an interview between Oprah and Maya Angelou to write down all the people that influenced me to the point I was at in my career. I ended up with a list of hundreds of people that supported me to the point I was in life. I realized I did not fully believe in myself, but all these people on the list did. And I thought, “If they believe in me, why can’t I believe in myself?” So trusting myself is like the last kick to give me the courage to take the leap. Once I knew what I was going to do, those four factors kicked in at the same time to push me forward with my own business with confidence.

Ge: Based on what you have learned from your own career, what advice would you give to female professionals?

Crandall: Three things come to mind:

  1. Believe in yourself that you are worthy and deserving of anything you want in your personal and professional life. It is allowed, you are allowed, and as long as they do not negatively impact people, you are allowed to have them. As women, I think we always put ourselves last and never believe we are allowed to have those things. We are.
  2. Nothing beats a good friend, mentor or a coach. They will take you far. We need friends that can help give us unbiased judgment and coaching to help lead our lives. I was an athlete growing up; 25 years after being on the diving board, I still learn things from diving and from my coach. I am fascinated how the physics side of sports and the coaching can continue to help me in my real life. Coaching has guided me to where I am today. Right now, I hired a coach to guide me on how to be a better CEO and entrepreneur; how to streamline my business. And in thinking about mentors, they can be anyone, for example, listening to audio books, watching an interview, who is influencing you… those all can be mentors.
  3. Don’t limit yourself. It happens either through allowing others to limit you, or you may do it through limiting your own beliefs around other people. There are no limits on you or what you can do except how you allow other people to put them on you; or you may allow systems or structures to limit yourself. I learned that I am limitless—and there was a time when I didn’t know I was. It can still be scary now to say that I am limitless. But I do believe it. I went through a lot of what coaches call “limiting beliefs” before I got to this point.

Ge: Do you have any final tips for female students and those professionals who are working towards being on an executive team?

Crandall: For students I would say, be patient and spend time in the field. For example, spend five to 10 years to master your skills on the production floor, take time learning quality assurance and food safety systems. Learn the basics and master it. I know it is hard, but it is worth it.

For those who are working towards being in an executive position, I would say think in a business manner. In some form or fashion, add business to your knowledge and thoughts. It doesn’t have to be earning an MBA degree, but at least learn some skills to know what it is involved in being a business person—i.e., things like sales, networks, marketing, finances, and accounting. You don’t want to start an executive position without having some basic knowledge of how a business runs. Make risky choices as often as possible and make the uncomfortable comfortable. My coaches often repeat this, and I want to share it with the group. Take those risks and learn to speak the language that professionals at the executive table often speak.

Jill Hoffman, McCormick & Company
Women in Food Safety

Non-Profit Food Safety Careers: An Interview with Mitzi Baum at Stop Foodborne Illness

By Jill Hoffman
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Jill Hoffman, McCormick & Company

This month’s interview focuses on an area of food safety leadership we haven’t yet covered in our Women in Food Safety column: The non-profit sector. There are career paths in food safety in the non-profit sector and this month we’ve asked Mitzi Baum, CEO of Stop Foodborne Illness, to share her story of how she began her career and what wisdom she can offer those seeking roles in leadership or the non-profit sector.

When I met with Mitzi, I realized immediately she was a very down-to-earth leader who had a contagious energy to anyone that might cross paths with her. We started our conversation learning a bit about each other; she talked about her path from majoring in hospitality and restaurant management to working at Feeding America and to now heading up Stop Foodborne Illness. We chatted about some of the challenges we see for women in the food safety sector, and exchanged some stories and thoughts on why women face these challenges.

One story in particular that Mitzi shared was when she first realized the lack of female leadership in food safety. This story went back early in her career, more than 20 years ago, when she was asked to start engaging at industry conferences. When she arrived in the room at her first conference, she thought she stuck out like a sore thumb. There she was, dressed in a brightly colored outfit, entering a room that could best be described as “a sea of middle-aged men in gray suits”. Although this could have been intimidating for a young female at the time, Mitzi made the best of it and forced herself to introduce herself, talk to strangers, and sign up for every session and networking dinner possible. By the end of the conference, she had made lasting contacts, and her initial feels of intimidation were washed away.

Mitzi Baum, Stop Foodborne Illness
Mitzi Baum, CEO, Stop Foodborne Illness

Mitzi and I talked a bit about how the non-profit sector works, and how far some have come, especially food banks. She has watched food banks evolve from small- and less-organized operations into major operations that are being run more efficiently and offering more food options because they’ve been able to raise substantial amounts of money to improve the operational capabilities and infrastructure. food banks went from dealing with dented cans and shelf-stable products to now offering fresh produce and frozen items simply because funding allowed improvements such as freezers and refrigerators to be added to food bank locations. She credits female leadership in making this change in the food bank system.

There is an emotional component to Mitzi’s job at Stop Foodborne Illness. She frequently engages with the families of victims of foodborne illness. Each of the stories that are shared is personal, and an element of empathy is critical as she works with them to share their story.

I really enjoyed getting to know Mitzi and I’m sure you will too as the following Q&A features some of her insights and experiences as being a female leader in the food safety world.

Jill Hoffman: Could you please tell us how you started your career and how you made it to where you are today?

Mitzi Baum: My career began in restaurants. My first job was at 15 years of age in a chili parlor in Cincinnati, OH. I went to college and earned a degree in restaurant/hospitality management and liked learning about food science and the micro aspects of food. I graduated and became a kitchen manager for the Peasant Restaurant Group in Atlanta, front-of-the-house manager for the Funky’s Restaurant Group in Cincinnati; and manager for Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises in Chicago. I did not find the lifestyle rewarding and looked to other opportunities to apply my degree and developed skills. I was fortunate to find Feeding America (then called Second Harvest) to apply my knowledge of inventory management, food safety, operational standards and other aspects of management to the distribution of food to those in need of food assistance.

I conducted compliance audits for the food bank network for more than 13 years—traveling across the country assisting and learning from those working on the front lines. I moved into program management and then into the role of director of food safety to institute a compulsory third-party food safety audit for the network of food banks. There was a big learning curve at the food bank level to overcome, so we began to socialize the food safety audit, provided food safety improvement grants, walked individual food bank staff through the process, and we were able to successfully achieve our goal.

During my 23 years of experience at Feeding America, I developed many management and leadership skills that I wanted to flex and make a transition. The opportunity to step beyond food safety presented itself in the form of the CEO of Stop Foodborne Illness (STOP). I have been at STOP for a little more than two years and I have learned so much about leadership, management and myself.

Mitzi Baum will lead a panel discussion, “Get with the Program: Modernization of Poultry Inspections in the United States”, during the Salmonella: Detection, Mitigation, Control & Regulation virtual event on July 15 | Register nowHoffman: You have a background in the non-profit sector. What are some of the differences in working in the non-profit vs. the for-profit sector?

Baum: Non-profit work is focused on a mission or what an organization is trying to achieve. All work and work activities are focused on accomplishing the stated mission. Fundraising is also an integral part of the non-profit sector. While for-profits earn income by selling a tangible asset, the non-profit sector must work to identify individuals, foundations and other grant-making institutions that have an interest in their mission, engage and court them, and ask them for funding to support their stated activities to attain the mission. It takes time to increase awareness of a mission/organization and build a strong fundraising foundation to grow the organization.

Hoffman: You’ve also been teaching a course in the food safety master’s program at Michigan State University (MSU). How did you get into the role, what are you teaching, and what do you enjoy the most about the opportunity?

Baum: The current course I created for the Online Food Safety Program at MSU is called The Role of Food Safety in Food Waste Reduction. During my time at Feeding America, I worked in the area of food waste reduction and focused on the application of the same food safety standards that apply to retailers to donated foods. Realizing that food donation and food banks are part of our society and need was growing, it occurred to me to capitalize on the opportunity to expand the knowledge of students in the food safety program about food waste reduction. I enjoy knowing that the students taking the course have a better understanding of what happens to foods that are unsold and donated. It is an essential part of our societal infrastructure to focus on providing food to those in need and reducing food waste. My hope is for food safety professionals who take the course to be exposed to more information about the “last mile” that donated food travels.

Jaime Ragos, STOP’s 2020 Dave Theno Fellow, and I have been creating a new course for the Online Food Safety Program called Food Safety Failures. Jaime identified an opportunity to utilize case studies of outbreaks to provide a different perspective to the epidemiological investigation. The course will go live in the fall of 2021.

Hoffman: What would be your number one piece of advice to young women, students and professionals who are planning to have lead roles in food safety?

Baum: My motto is “you can’t get what you want unless you ask for it”. You must be your own advocate and ask for what you want. Communicating what you want or see as your career path as a professional is essential to achieving your goal.

Hoffman: What are the significant advantages and/or disadvantages of being a female CEO?

Baum: I never look at being a woman as a disadvantage. Women are resilient and consistently persevere. If we can’t get over an obstacle, we find a way to go around it and continue on the path or create a new one. I consider that grit and determination to be the ultimate advantage.

Hoffman: What are the significant strengths of being a female executive?

Baum: Be decisive, be direct, be transparent, be inclusive and most of all, be you.

Hoffman: What do you hope to see in the next three to five years in terms of development and mentoring women in the industry? Do you see any gaps that need to be filled?

Baum: I would like to see more women in roles of authority in the industry. Women have many lived experiences that uniquely qualify them for executive-level positions.

There have been many groups created to support women in food safety which builds community. Individually, it is imperative that each of us is proactive and mentor each other. Mentoring works in both directions; those of us that have been in the work force for a longer period of time can learn a lot from those who just landed their first job. Conversely, we can share our experiences with the younger work force to provide guidance to navigate the current work environment and manage the challenges of being a younger person beginning their career path.

Hoffman: What would you advise females who are working towards a position on an executive or leadership team?

Baum: Don’t be afraid to take a risk. Admittedly, it was very scary to leave a career I cultivated over 23 years – it was comfortable, and I knew what to expect; I did not know what I was capable of until I took a leap of faith. I have many motivational quotes on my desk but my favorite, and the one that consistently urges me to embrace change and take risk, is from Pablo Picasso, “Action is the foundational key to all success.”

Deborah Coviello, Illumination Partners
Food Safety Culture Club

3 Tips to Managing Hard Conversations with Your Team

By Deborah A. Coviello
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Deborah Coviello, Illumination Partners

My heart sank when I had to call an emergency meeting with my team and had to basically say, “stop everything”, because we had multiple crises to manage. I had fallen victim to what so many organizations do: Ditch the strategic work in favor of firefighting. And here I was in that position, having to lead others and feeling so off track.

I pulled out my “Compass” to figure out how to stay grounded amidst the chaos and still move the organization with the strategic work in addition to the task at hand. The “Compass” I am referring to became my guide to stay calm amidst chaos and navigate my team through rough waters. But before I explain what I did, let me give you some context.

Crisis 1: We were having a food safety problem in one plant for which we’d not found the root cause and it was putting us in a position of constant mitigation. While it was fully contained, it would continue to show up, leaving us feeling helpless that we still hadn’t resolved it. On top of that, there was external pressure to resolve the issue, because there was also a major infrastructure enhancement due to start in the same area. To make matters worse, I was challenged to gain the support from some local leadership in order to bring in external resources to fill our capability gap given the multiple issues to manage.

Crisis 2: We had found a food safety issue with a supplier for which they were pushing back on us that it was not them. Despite collaboration to try to find the root cause of the quality issue, it soon escalated into our inability to ship products to a customer. When we brought all the interested parties together on a call we reached a conclusion that allowed us to continue shipping, but I felt defeated that I could not get to the root cause. What I did realize was that I got people’s attention and we collaborated on a solution—though not optimal. In the face of darkness, a leader’s leadership is truly challenged and doubt in your capabilities soon takes over.

Crisis 3: We had a food safety leader who was not performing and impacting the morale of the employees. We worked extensively to give them guidance and an opportunity to improve performance, but in the end we had to let them go. The energy we took to try to improve the situation for the manager and the employees ultimately was exhausting; we let them go and moved forward with interim leadership to help rebuild the organization.

I had to quickly manage resources, set expectations and provide a calm environment for my team to perform at their highest potential as we gathered in our “War Room” to manage the crisis. While The CEO’s Compass was not even an idea at that point, it was a story in the making and here’s why.1

To get back to True North or “Peace of Mind”, I needed to focus on three things.

  • Purpose. We needed to get back on track as being a trusted brand, and deliver safe and quality products that our customers expected. Diverting resources for this greater purpose gives us the freedom to focus and know we would get back to the strategic work once capacity allowed us. The team poured their collective wisdom into the situation and they naturally started to collaborate on the best approach.
  • Performance. I needed the framework to assess the needs of the organization, individual teams and the individuals themselves and provide the leadership, coaching and feedback needed during this time. I was no longer the subject matter expert and had to rely on really smart people on the best approach. My job was to remove barriers and provide tactical and emotional support so they could do their job.
  • Pride. The intersection of the humanity on my team with their intellectual property was my single most important tool to get through this challenge. The team had expertise in areas I had not needed to leverage, and since I knew their past and what they’ve done before, I was able to deploy resources based on acknowledging their gifts and put them in the right places for the multiple crises.

I cleared the table for my team to address these multiple crises and had to say, “stop everything”, and with these compass points in my pocket, they rose to the occasion and we addressed the crisis. Lessons unfolded into the strategic work we were meant to do. We had a few scars from these events, but we came out stronger than before.

As I assessed the Compass points of “Purpose, Performance and Pride” to set the strategy to navigate these crises, I found myself back on track and could continue forward with the strategic work and lessons learned from these events.

  • How do you manage through transformation or a crisis?
  • What hard conversations do you have with your team?
  • Do you have a Compass that with a few course corrections can get you back on track?
  • If you don’t have a Compass, do you know how to find one?

As food safety professionals, we need to support each other to grow our network and our collective capability via community.

Reference

  1. Coviello, D. (Publish Date August 2021). The CEO’s Compass – Your Guide to Get Back on Track is an approach to assess your organizational gaps and a deliver a strategy to get back on track to true north or “Peace of Mind”.
Melody Ge, Corvium
Women in Food Safety

Trust Your Intuition, Embrace Empathy

By Melody Ge
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Melody Ge, Corvium

Early this year, Jill Stuber, who currently owns her own business called The Food Safety Coach, which focuses on coaching and consulting in the industry, accepted Women in Food Safety’s invitation to be interviewed. The hour went by fast, and Jill shared many insights on how her mindset changed from a microbiologist, to food safety professional to now as a business owner. Jill grew up on a farm in Wisconsin where she was first exposed to “food science 101”. It was not until her junior year of college that Jill officially took the course and confirmed that she really liked it. “It was the time I spent on the farm which formed my career foundation. It was the knowledge of agriculture and the intuition about product safety,” she said.

Jill Stuber, The Food Safety Coach
Jill Stuber, The Food Safety Coach

Jill still remembers how she got her first job out of college—a lot of which involved being persistent. She called Land O’Lakes every month to check whether there was an opening because it was her dream company, and she always wanted to be part of it. “Every time I drove past the building, I thought to myself, ‘I could work for them’”. Finally, the company responded that they were looking for someone to make the media in the lab, and Jill took the position without hesitation.

That first job started Jill’s career. She learned so much about lab management during her time at Land O’Lakes. Throughout her career, she tried many different roles related to food safety before she landed squarely in food safety. Jill suggested that those who are facing choices should trust their intuition. “It’s what drives you to the direction that there is something there for you,” she added.

It certainly was a shift when Jill started her own business during the pandemic. “I have always wanted to do it, but I hesitated for years, and COVID-19 helped me make the decision. It was my first full year owning my own business.” When asked what prompted her to start a business in coaching, Jill shared the following personal story.

Jill talked about an early career struggle when she first served as a corporate food safety & quality manager across three production facilities and the corporate lab. There was an instance in which the entire team was facing a challenging situation and her boss told her she had to let go one of her team members. She felt really bad—even until today. “In that moment, and for me, it was a personal thing. I just had to step back and say, ‘this is not right’. I still remembered the feeling, which was awful,” Jill said. This is certainly not the value Jill believed in and grew up with. She believed in working hard as a team and helping and trusting each other. “I asked the company to work with a coach so I could process the event, and that’s when it opened up my eyes to how coaches can navigate and support a person. I love helping people, and that’s how my interest in coaching started and it was the seed for establishing my business.”

Jill Stuber and other food safety experts discussed “The New Normal: COVID-19’s Lasting Impact on the Food Industry” during an Episode of the Food Safety Consortium Virtual Conference Series on May 20, 2021The one thing that Jill believes today and throughout all her obstacles is to never give up. “Never say ‘no’ and never take ‘no’ for an answer. Of course, there will be hard times, but I always find another pathway. You have to be persistent and know where you are going and why you are doing it, and keep on that,” Jill said.

We ended our conversation discussing how we see the future for talented female professionals in the industry. “I think women are on a fantastic path of providing support for each other and even for others, not just women. I think we are doing a great job of trying to connect and understand what that support looks like. We are going to see more and more women are in decision making roles—roles they are really engaged in and thriving,” she said. “Women are standing in their power and becoming more and more comfortable in these positions. It’s also about recognizing the gifts that you bring.”

Melody Ge: How does it feel of being a CEO? Do you feel any different versus other roles that you’ve had?

Jill Stuber: LOL! I do not feel differently. I enjoy the flexibility it offers me, especially this past year with COVID. My kids are home, distance studying, and so it really helped me balance my time with my family. My ultimate goal is to live life on my own terms by helping people. So, it is definitely getting me a step closer to be able to do that, which is really all about just trying to be more present and have richer experiences versus going through the motions.

Ge: Sometimes it’s very hard to achieve living on your own terms. How did you start? Any words of advice?

Stuber: I always recommend starting small. Sometimes it is overwhelming when you think of the entire plan, right? Like for me, for example, stepping away from a steady income with a company is really hard to do. It is scary. If I had done that first, I probably would have not made the leap. However, I started small by really doing something a little different or making different choices each day in the direction I wanted to go versus “all-in”. This applies even to how I spend my time. After work, I usually would do things for my family, make dinners and do laundry. But I passed that stuff all to my family, not that I neglected my family, but I get everyone involved so that way I can make choices to maybe work on my own business, spend time with my family or even focus on self-care. So, every day, it is evaluating every single small thing I can do to help move in the direction that I ultimately want to be at.

Ge: We often hear people say that women are too emotional. What’s your opinion on that? Does emotion have a big impact on your decision making as a CEO?

Stuber: I think the big factor really has a lot to do with trusting yourself and your intuition. I know one of the questions here is being emotional. However, I really think that as business owners and women in the industry, we should embrace being emotional, because it is what gives us the empathy and compassion. And for me, emotion really helps me better serve my clients. At the end of the day, if I cannot serve them to the best of my abilities, I have failed both of us. I really try to listen to what they need so that I am helping them get the results they want. Sometimes, I think, what is wrong with being emotional? Why is there judgement around being emotional?

Ge: Yes! I thought about it too!

Stuber: It’s important (and good) to remember that women are wildly different than men. We process emotions and feelings differently. When we listen to the messages that women send us, it helps us really step into where we need to go to provide support. When we ignore those things and cut them off, I think it gives us a gap where our intuition is telling us to go versus where our mind is telling us to go. Our emotions keep us on, and I think it is kind of a check and balance on where we are going, and what is true to us. Our emotions bring us to alignment to what is going on. Also, I think it relates to how emotions play into the conversation. Even as we talk about bringing more women into leadership positions and organizations, I love that we still talk about what skills we need to get in there. However, sometimes, I wonder about how we can prepare the people already at the table for the leadership styles we, women, bring. Because it is not always about women having to adopt a new style or learn to make a decision differently, or to be less emotional, but how we prepare people who are already there to work with us and to understand how that emotion makes female valuable leaders in the space.

Ge: Do you have any advice, or some lesson learned, to share with the young professionals in the Women in Food Safety group?

Stuber: I would say there are two. First, it is following your intuition. I didn’t do this well when I was young; I followed technical data for quite a while. Now, with more experience, I think following and trusting your intuition is more valuable. I used to rely on technical data and thinking I had to have the answers; but really taking the time and engaging in human-to-human interaction is so much more powerful. The second piece of advice I would offer is that it’s okay that you don’t have all the answers. I think we are programmed as we go through the school that we are supposed to know the answers. It’s equally important to know how to find the resources and answers. I think that is important to share because in the end, the group of young professionals coming into the industry are the next generation that is going to make the difference in the industry. So, whatever we do to support them is important! I would like to let them know that we all want them to be successful and to love what they are doing. So, even though sometimes the industry can be intimidating, never be hesitant to reach out to others in the industry. Utilize and build your own network and be part of communities that can support you and allow you to support them in return.

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.

Melody Ge, Corvium
Women in Food Safety

Keep the Door Open to All Experiences

By Melody Ge
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Melody Ge, Corvium

I recently sat down with Peter Begg, vice president of quality and food safety at Glanbia Nutritionals where he shared his personal experiences and advice for how to build a career path and grow into a leader. There are a lot of opportunities, and it’s important to remember that a food safety career is not short term—you are in it for the long haul—so don’t be in a hurry, find your own balance, and enjoy life! Have fun! Life is too short to work 24/7.

Differing from many food safety professionals, Peter started his career within the food industry as a chemical engineer at Kraft after graduating from Penn State University; now 26 years in the industry, Peter leads a global food safety and quality team at Glanbia Nutritionals. He had a couple of major pivots in his career that led him to where he is today. At the beginning of his career, he joined the R&D department at Kraft Foods, and made the decision to move to Switzerland to take on the company’s European quality team. After three years abroad, he returned to the United States, where he participated in the split of Kraft into Kraft Foods and Mondelez International. Today, in addition to his current role at Glanbia, he also leads the company’s COVID response team. When taking a look back, he affirmed that he made all the right decisions and was glad he didn’t say no to any opportunities that arose.

During the interview, Peter advised young female professionals to be patient and to avoid being in a hurry. Also, find a career path you are passionate about: “When you are passionate, a lot of the challenges or difficulties will pass,” he said. “However, don’t be opposed to trying different roles, especially early in your career. Be open to those other experiences, because they will help you later on.” Additionally, don’t assume that the first experience is going to be the only career path that you will have. Even if you move from R&D to marketing or procurement, that experience will help you. It offers a different way of looking at things. “Nothing you do will be wasted.” I can’t agree more on this point.

Peter Begg
Peter Begg will participate in a panel discussion about Professional Development & Women in Food Safety during the November 5 episode of the 2020 Food Safety Consortium Virtual Conference Series

When we talked about food science career options for students, Peter had a unique point of explaining the two common options: R&D and Food Safety and Quality. Peter distinguished them by the sense of urgency and challenges of those roles. A project within R&D is normally six months to a year, with timelines to complete the project; whereas within safety and quality, a project could be one day or one week, and is often hard to predict, as every day brings something new. “If you are a person who loves challenges and changes then you might find more achievements in food safety and quality,” he said. “I enjoy the diversity of challenges every day, and this is the reason I didn’t go back to R&D.”

One thing that resonated with me long after the conversation was a tip that Peter would have given to his younger self: “Don’t sweat the small stuff. As you gain more experience, you learn to focus on the things that make the real difference. I know that sounds trite, but you have to get better at triaging and understanding what is important,” he explained.

At the end, Peter pointed out that we still need more diversity in the C-suite and at the SVP level. He learned a lot from his first boss who was a successful female leader. Female leaders are more empathetic and tend to lead without feeling the need to fill airtime. “I have known so many women leaders. They are comfortable in who they are as a leader, and I have a tremendous amount of respect for that,” Peter said.

At the same time, Peter continues to encourage female leaders to be more self-confident. He told us, “Don’t doubt yourself! If you keep getting told ‘no’, it affects your self-confidence, however, it has to be overcome; it takes all of us to remember that we all bring different things to the table.”

Peter shared a couple of personal stories that he found impactful as well. As a leader, Peter cannot emphasize enough about the beauty of diverse thoughts on a team. He learned one can never know everything. As a leader, it’s our responsibility to lead and encourage team members to speak up and grow together; also, always remain calm and solve problems based on facts.

Peter concluded our conversation by emphasizing that we all need to find our own balance to enjoy life. The work/life balance: We work to live, not the other way around. There will be ups and downs. There will be long days, but we can find other days to balance them, and it is important to have an outlet. Life is too short; it needs to be fun—not just work 24/7!

“The real leaders were the ones who spoke to the facts and remained calm and focused on what we needed to do to solve the issues.” – Peter Begg, Glanbia Nutritionals

Melody Ge: What have you learned by working with and mentoring female leaders?

Begg: From a leadership standpoint, my first boss at Kraft was a female and we still keep in touch. She was a great teacher and mentor. There’s an empathy that female leaders have that not all male leaders have. Also, when I made the move to Mondelez and I worked for the head of research & development and quality who is another phenomenal female leader, she had a style about her that kept everyone at ease. She would ask very poignant questions, but she didn’t overuse airtime. I’ve seen men hog all the airtime, because they want everyone to know they are the smartest one in the room. I haven’t seen that with some of the female leaders; they are comfortable in who they are as a leader, and I have a tremendous amount of respect for that.

Right now, I have six directors and four of them are female. To be fair, I think in our function of Quality and Food Safety you do see at least 50% [balance]. For me, it’s the diversity of thought brought to the team. There are different ways of looking at things from men versus women. I think that ability to communicate and be empathetic is something I see out of female leaders. I’ve learned 26 years in that I don’t know everything. Having that diversity of thought and background is absolutely critical to having a strong leadership team and also to make decisions that are well thought through.

To be honest, I think what we are lacking is the diversity at the VP and SVP level and above where it is still pretty male dominated, and that needs to change. I see a lot of strong up-and-coming females; there’s talent out there that I hope continues to grow in the future.

Ge: Why do you think there is a lack of females at the VP and SVP level? Is there any insight you can share?

Begg: One of the reasons is because that, with many leaders, they want people who they can trust. A lot of people look to those who act like themselves. It takes a lot of good thought to take yourself out of that and really look at who is the best leader for your team. I think part of the reason is that many of the CEOs and SVPs are male. We still need more diversity in the C-suite.

Ge: Can you share an unforgettable story that had an impact on you?

Begg: There are two that come to mind.

  1. I was a very new leader within R&D at the time and leading a cross functional team. One of my team members came up with what I thought was a pretty good idea. I shared it at a meeting, and everyone liked it. But what I failed to do was not recognize the team member whose idea that it was. The team member was really upset and felt like I presented it as my idea. That, of course, wasn’t my intent, but I learned that my job as a leader is to set my team up for success and not get in the way. You also have to give proper credit and acknowledgement. That is something to this day that I keep in the back of my mind—to make sure that I always recognize my team publicly, especially when they are the ones driving the effort. I am not on the frontlines, my team is. I have to make sure that I remember that you need to take the time to acknowledge people.
  2. When I was in Europe in the quality and food safety role, we had a situation where we were very close to a 27-country recall. It’s something I will never forget because of the intensity of the conversations that were had all the way up to the CEO of Kraft at the time. It ended up that we were able to narrow it and my team did a phenomenal job on tracing the recall down to two countries. What I remember most in that setting, where you’re with all these senior executives, is that the real leaders were the ones who spoke to the facts and remained calm and focused on what we needed to do. The people who I didn’t want to be like were the ones who were emotional and flying off the handle about things that had nothing to do with what we were trying to resolve in the situation. As a leader, you have to project a presence and a sense of calm in a food safety crisis. If you’re in a food safety and quality role, something will happen along the way that is challenging. That is just the nature of what we deal with.

Ge: What would you hope to see in next three to five years for women in the industry?

Begg: Definitely more female outstanding professionals. At Glanbia, we hire 15–20 grads in the U.S. every year through campus recruiting, and it’s at least 50% female. The talent pool is there—but how are we nurturing them, and giving them the support and career guidance? Everyone across the industry needs to have these conversations and talk about the key experiences, key skills and capabilities that they should be building throughout their career. There are certain things that are translatable regardless of the type of job that you have, such as communication skills. Secondly, helping women build the confidence that they can be successful and that there will be opportunities. As a leader, I am part of creating those opportunities and will continue doing so.

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.