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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

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.

magnifying glass

Women in Food Safety: Take the Survey Now

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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The organizers of the Women in Food Safety column on Food Safety Tech have put together a survey to understand the journey of food safety professionals throughout their career, along with sharing relevant work experiences. The results of this survey will be released and discussed during an episode of the 2020 Food Safety Consortium Virtual Conference Series on November 5 about Professional Development & Women in Food Safety.

Participate in the survey now.

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.

Melody Ge, Corvium
Women in Food Safety

Women in Food Safety: Meet the Members…and Join Us!

By Melody Ge
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Melody Ge, Corvium

“For Women, By Women in Food Safety” is a professional group that was formed in January 2019. Comprised of outstanding female leadership, food safety professionals and students who are passionate about this field, the goal is to provide a community and networking platform for the industry to share their stories and experiences, help young professionals, and grow together. Hopefully, the lessons and challenges that are shared will prove useful throughout one’s career journey.

“I see this group as means of connecting young, female food safety professionals to other females in food safety roles so they can share insights from their own experiences in their careers,” says Jill Hoffman, group committee member, and director of global quality systems and food safety at McCormick & Company.

Meet the Group Founder

Melody Ge, Corvium
Melody Ge is also a Food Safety Tech Editorial Advisory Board member

Melody Ge has 10+ years’ experience in food safety and is passionate about food safety on a global scale. She holds both bachelor’s and master’s degrees in food science and engineering, starting her career journey with Beyond Meat as the technical director for product development and food safety and quality control. Following this position Ge established the compliance and integrity program at SQFI, and then worked as the deputy QA director at Lidl US. Currently, Ge is the head of compliance at Corvium, Inc. where she continues to foster food safety culture using advanced technology within the industry. As a non-U.S. citizen, Ge is fortunate to work with different cultures and industries, including retailers and manufacturers, using her multi-language skills and expertise in food safety. Ge believes in women’s leadership and in using their strengths to be successful in their roles.

Meet Some of the Committee Members

Jacqueline Southee, Ph.D.
Jacqueline Southee, Ph.D., FSSC 22000

Jacqueline Southee, North American Representative, FSSC 22000
Jacqueline Southee is an agricultural scientist with a Ph.D. in animal science.She has an academic foundation with what one might call “earthy roots”. “I worked in the animal welfare arena for years before taking a career break to relocate from Europe to the USA and raise two boys. I was fortunate to have an opportunity to return to work with FSSC 22000 in 2013 and have enjoyed building the profile of the organization’s certification program in North America,” says Southee. “I also have experience in (and have encountered challenges) developing and evaluating standard operating procedures. This is becoming more relevant today in the food industry as regulations demand worldwide consistency in the use of standard approaches to minimizing risk and controlling hazards,” she says.

One of Southee’s greatest attributes is her “internationalism”, her experience working professionally with different cultures and fields, and her ability to communicate with all levels of an organization. She believes that there are huge opportunities in food safety for women of all ages and a need for a range of experiences. It remains important to communicate, encourage and to share in order to cultivate the next generation of food safety professionals.

Jill Hoffman, Director of Global Quality Systems and Food Safety, McCormick & Company

Jill Hoffman, McCormick & Company
Jill Hoffman, McCormick & Company

Jill Hoffman started her journey in food safety in college with a major in food science, when her exposure and desire to pursue a career in food came to her while taking a human nutrition course. Since then, Hoffman has had many roles in food manufacturing, both in food safety and quality as well as in operations management. In 2019, she completed her master’s degree in food safety at Michigan State University, which resolved her dilemma of pursuing an advanced degree without having to go back to school full-time (not an option for her!). Hoffman found the online master’s program was perfect for her to pursue an advanced degree in an area that truly interested her and was relevant to her career.

Currently, Hoffman works at McCormick & Co., Inc. as the director of global quality systems and food safety. At McCormick, she has been able to grow as a food safety professional as well as gain valuable experience working internationally and understanding the dynamics of working across cultures. She enjoys working to develop programs and solutions to address the ever-changing food safety and quality challenges that present themselves.

As Hoffman’s career continues to grow, she has learned and values the importance of work/life balance. She actively works to ensure balance between the two, as it is so important to take care of all aspects of yourself, not just your professional self. “The things we do outside of our ‘work self’ can help to grow and shape us as people just as much as the formal coaching and learning that we do in our day-to-day jobs,” Jill says.

What prompted the launch of a group that focuses on female professional development in the food safety sector?

Read the interview with Melody Ge, Technology Helps Your Food Safety Employees Work Smarter, Not HarderMelody Ge: I started this group because I received many questions from students about building their careers in food safety. I would love to help more, and I know my own experience is limited, so I wanted to leverage the knowledge of so many outstanding women out there. Hence, I formed this group with the hopes that it could be a resource to those who are seeking solutions in the industry.

Jacqueline Southee: I believe the food safety sector is growing exponentially with increasingly diverse requirements for a wider skill set, which needs to be communicated to young food scientists still making academic choices and building their proficiencies and talents. In addition, new opportunities are being created by this global industry that the next generation of food scientists need to be made aware of.

Jill Hoffman: I see this group as an opportunity to bring women together to share stories and challenges that have arisen throughout their careers. The group gives women an ability to learn how others have navigated both challenging and rewarding moments in their careers so that they can incorporate this awareness into their own journey. Additionally, this group will help with sharing the diverse opportunities in food safety. Everyone has a different road they’ve traveled to get to where they are today, and it’s important to share these stories as a testament to knowing that everyone doesn’t have to have traveled the same pathway in education or career experience to get into a role of ensuring food safety.

How do you see this group positioned in the future?

Ge: I would like to see this group sustain itself in the food safety industry and become a safe harbor for women to talk about their passions, experiences, challenges and learn from each other so ultimately, we all can be stronger in the industry together.

Southee: As the industry becomes more global, its success will depend on tech-savvy technologists and food scientists who have a wide range of skills, including in information science, regulations, quality management systems, economics, politics and climatology. The list is endless. We need to make sure the lines of communication are open, the opportunities are open to all and that we can help shepherd young women through.

Hoffman: I think there’s a flexible vision for the group to grow into a recognized forum for women to engage in at all points in their careers. The group will grow into an active space for sharing, learning and networking among food safety professionals and female students pursuing an interest in the field of food safety.

We can do this together!

Are you interested in helping the group? Although, it’s a female-focused group, we are open to all feedback, support, and partnership opportunities to grow this group together. We hope to hear from you. You can join the group, For Women, By Women in Food Safety or direct message Melody Ge on LinkedIn.

Currently, this is a LinkedIn group, and all committee members have joined voluntarily. However, with support from Food Safety Tech, we are planning on writing monthly columns for the publication, scheduling in-person meet ups at some of the industry conferences, and engaging in mentoring programs, webinars and more activities in the near future. We hope our visions can be achieved throughout the team efforts together.

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

The Changing Face of Leadership in the Food and Beverage Industry

By Jennifer van de Ligt, Ph.D.
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Jennifer van de Ligt, Food Protection and Defense Institute, University of Minnesota

Our food system is facing daunting challenges. We must adapt our food systems to sustainably feed almost 10 billion people by 2050 in a world with shifting climate and environmental pressures. In addition, we need to reduce the rising number of undernourished people (an estimated 821 million people in recent years) and confront the significant issue of more than 30% of food production being lost or wasted. Tackling these challenges will require collaboration across all aspects of the food system to assure that production processes, policies and regulations, food safety practices, and affordability align to assure we live in a food secure future. However, most of the current generation of leaders in the food industry has not approached leadership from the systems-thinking approach that will be required to succeed.

Thus, focusing on developing the right skills in the rising next generation of leaders in the food and beverage industry in order to solve these problems will be critical. We need people who can think broadly and are empowered to navigate the complexities of the global food system. Professionals in the food industry need to think beyond the specialties and silos where they currently work. Approaching food problems in an open-minded and cross-disciplinary way will achieve better results for business growth, population well-being, food production and planet sustainability.

In my decades of working in the food industry, I was acutely aware of the challenges that we would face in the future. Now, as part of the Integrated Food Systems Leadership program at the University of Minnesota, we are addressing these issues by helping to train the future leaders that will transform the food system. The following topics are just a few of the areas that we see as essential to develop the food leaders of tomorrow.

Next-Gen Leaders with a Holistic Approach

One of the key steps for new leaders in food and beverage industry is to adapt to food systems thinking. Most professionals were hired for their knowledge in a specific area. Now, to become next-gen leaders, they will need to think about the whole food production system and how all decisions made in this system, from sourcing and production to supply chain and retail sale, affect people and the environment.

Where we source our food and how we produce it is truly global and interconnected. The ingredient and material supply chains are vast and complex. We can no longer afford not to take into consideration where and how these items are being sourced and supplied. Additionally, we can no longer afford not to be responsible for the products produced and how they are affecting the health and well-being of consumers as well as the planet.

The next generation of leaders, no matter what part of the food system they are working in, will need to understand these relationships and think about how all these little pieces from production to marketing and sales work together. When one change is made to the system, whether the idea is from R&D or the marketing department or is caused by a new regulation, this will produce ripple effects across the food system.

True Leadership vs. Management in the Food System

Often times, the idea of leadership is thought of as just managing people—observing a team and making sure each person is doing their job. This is management and not a true definition of leadership. To be a leader means you have a vision and can paint a clear picture of what you see to others. Leaders build relationships with people who help turn a vision into reality. Leaders aren’t afraid to change the status quo and take risks if those risks will help the long-term plan. Leaders help their team achieve more than any individual on the team thought possible.

Leaders have many qualities. First, they have ideas that should be heard. However, in order for those ideas to see the light of day, professionals must know how to communicate so their opinions and thoughts are considered. Knowing how to package a vision and communicate it more effectively are critical to leadership development.

Second, leaders desire to have a meaningful impact in the world. To be able to effect change, seeing the bigger picture and understanding the interdependencies throughout the food system is paramount. As part of this, they want and need to help other people be heard to move the vision and plan forward. They will need the skills to foster collaboration and innovation within their teams and across disciplines to help everyone succeed in making the changes needed in the food system.

Third, although leaders want to grow their companies, they also want to grow personally. When a vision is created and steps taken to pave the way for that vision to come to fruition, a journey begins. Leaders know that any journey embarked upon is a life-changing experience, and they welcome that new stage.

Finally, it is important to note that leaders can be found in more places than the corner office. Leaders are not just CEOs, but come in varying roles and titles. Developing people’s leadership potential, style and goals for whatever capacity they work in is a critical part of leadership building. Leaders exist within every team, department and work group across a business. Finding them, to grow and foster their potential, is the challenge.

Fostering Professional Development in the Field

Food and beverage companies can do a great deal to address these pressing issues today by instilling a culture of learning in the organization. I have found, more often than not, people who enter this industry are passionate about it. However, when individuals enter a company, especially early in their career, they sometimes face a crisis of faith moment and question that their lifelong training has not prepared them for what they truly want to do.

Many times those in the industry feel like they have ideas or skills that aren’t being leveraged. They may feel like they aren’t being heard or that they’ve been pigeon-holed into one segment of or role in the business. These professionals could be the collateral damage of silo mentality and lack of a culture of learning and growth, especially when they are high-value and have specialized knowledge. Corporations have perfected efficiency by keeping certain departments, and individuals within them, separated in order to optimize their segment’s function. But slotting the business, and individuals, into distinct categories can hinder the ability of these organizations to see and understand the big picture.

By breaking down this silo mentality and promoting systems thinking, businesses can help their talented and dedicated people grow their career, become a better leader, and enable a move across the lattice structure within an organization. Many times these individuals feel a little lost in the mix and frustrated as a cog in the machine and are looking for growth opportunities. This doesn’t necessarily mean they want to move vertically within the organization, but rather learn and grow laterally or diagonally within an organization to both enhance their career and provide a broader benefit to the entire business.

When companies equip professionals with critical-thinking skills, they are developing their professionals who want to make a meaningful impact within their organizations as well as in the entire food system. This is true empowerment to improve the future of food and make companies viable and competitive for the future.

If a company doesn’t have this training ability internally, organizations can support programs that are helping to build these leaders. Programs like the new Integrated Food Systems Leadership are designed to help future leaders bridge the current skills gap in the food system. These future leaders will have the tools to drive the change critical for many companies to succeed while we feed the future.

Joy Dell'Aringa, bioMerieux
FST Soapbox

The Value of Industry Engagement in Professional Organizations

By Joy Dell’Aringa
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Joy Dell'Aringa, bioMerieux

We moved to Chicago five years ago. A massive city, and an epicenter of the food industry. I was at once excited and overwhelmed—afloat in a great lake of network overload. Removed from my comfort zone, I searched for ways to meet people and integrate into this new community. Upon suggestion of a trusted friend and experienced networker, I decided to try my hand at volunteering at an event hosted by the Chicago Section of the Institute of Food Technologists (IFT). That singular decision launched one of the most fulfilling journeys in both my professional and personal life. Now, five years later, I have made countless meaningful and personal connections, developed long-term relationships, and made an impact in my professional community. What started out as a way to navigate the complex circuitry of the Chicago food landscape has turned into a personal voyage for industry advocacy, leadership and contribution.

I am not alone. I have the pleasure to work and serve with colleagues around the globe that have experienced similar fulfillment by engaging with various professional organizations. Similarly, the companies that we work for reap the benefits of our involvement. Here, we will explore the value of industry engagement through the lens of the individual and the employer.

Employee Value: Top 5 Reasons to Engage

1. Professional Development – Safe Ways to Stretch Into New Roles & Skill Sets

When Pam Coleman, vice president of research services at Merieux Nutrisciences and incoming president-elect for IFT first started volunteering early in her career as a bench chemist, she found opportunities to lead groups and committees. “I developed new skills in a really safe way. As a volunteer, you can try new things, test the waters, and get relatively diverse experiences to see what you enjoy, what you don’t, and where you want to develop and explore.” The wide range of opportunities in industry organizations can offer a glimpse into future career development, or offer a learning experience that rounds out your professional repertoire. For example, joining a finance committee can stretch you outside of your comfort zone, but prepare you with skills and perspectives for future management roles. Participating on a fundraising committee can sharpen your influencing and organizational skills. Leading a technical group can offer opportunities to deep dive into a technology or discipline that can spark a passion to develop expertise in a new area. These cross-functional opportunities may not be readily available in your company, but industry organizations are always looking for professionals to volunteer.

2. Develop Your Network & Identify Mentors

Industry organizations are wrought with peers and potential mentors. Networking at events and symposiums will bring you in contact with people doing the same things as you are, facing the same challenges. You also have the opportunity to interact with the regulatory sector to learn from them. “Early in my career, my former manager built relationships with regulatory technical leaders at the USDA through industry organization involvement, and it was a great advantage for us when we ran into analytical challenges in the lab—she was able to personally call them and get suggestions and insights. They developed a rapport. This was a big lesson for me as a young volunteer. Your network can be an analytical asset.” Mentor opportunities abound as well. I have personally found that the more I engage with my organizations, the more trust I built within my network, the more mentorship opportunities naturally develop. I’ve honed valuable professional and life skills through these relationships: Conflict resolution, contract negotiations, and 501(c)3 organization creation to name just a few of the arduous tasks my organizational mentors have helped and supported me with. Building relationships across technical disciplines also holds advantage. As a microbiologist, it is fascinating to work with product developers and learn where our challenges and opportunities intersect. Not only can you network with technical peers, but also industry partners, vendors, suppliers and competitors to bring a well rounded perspective to see the industry through a truly holistic lens.

3. Gain Industry Insights

What’s new in your industry? What emerging trends are on the horizon? Engaging within industry organizations can bring keen insights well before they are published in our industry magazines and keynote presentations. Educational learning opportunities through technical committees, short courses, and symposiums can bring key advantages to giving you and your company a jump on implementing new technologies and trends. Understanding regulatory changes, implications, and perhaps most important, insights on how regulators will interpret and enact changes can also be gleaned from organization engagement. You can also gain exposure and experience with new business models such as zero-based budgeting and account-based marketing, which can lead to additional opportunities and advantage for you and your company.

4. Create Your Personal Brand

Who are you in the Industry? What do you want to be known for? Through industry engagement you can develop your personal brand and carry that image into your career. Do you strive to be a facilitator and connector? Run for a leadership position. Do you want to be known as a technical leader and subject matter expert? Lead a technical committee or task force. Do you want to be seen as a reliable contributor? Offer to develop content for a technical newsletter, or volunteer for a marketing committee. Not sure what you want your personal brand to look like? Try multiple roles and opportunities to see what inspires and fulfills you, and then pursue that with gusto. “When I look back and think, ‘How did I go from a bench chemist to this?'”, reflects Coleman, “I am certain I wouldn’t be where I am in my career today if it weren’t for my experiences and opportunities in organizations like IFT.”

5. Personal Fulfillment – Increased Health & Happiness

Industry advocacy and engagement can bring an immense sense of personal fulfillment, especially when you are able to make a contribution and an impact to the organization. Not only that, it can make you feel better, too: A 2010 United healthcare/VolunteerMatch (UHVM) study found that volunteering has a positive influence on physical and emotional health. One of the common objections to engaged volunteering is time, or lack of it. However, the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School recently found that those who volunteer not only feel more accomplished, but they also found they could do even more, as “giving your time to others can make you feel more ‘time affluent’ and less time-constrained”. In the words of my trusted networker friend that set me off on my volunteering journey five years ago: “The more you do, the more you can do.”

Quick TIPS:

  • Be Clear on Your Time: No matter how many or few hours you can devote, be upfront with the organization about how much time you can commit and what your goals are.
  • Think Local: Don’t forget your regional sections and chapters. Your organization(s) of choice also may have specialty groups and divisions that match your expertise or an area you may want to explore.
  • Get Out of the Booth: For those of us accustomed to working the trade show floor, challenge yourself to one meeting a year where you are there to learn. Get out of the booth. Absorb technical insights and trends. Bring back your learnings to your team and help connect the dots.

Employer Value: Top 5 Reasons to Support Engagement

1. Gain Company Influence & Visibility

Paid sponsorship opportunities are always available (and appreciated) but are often limited to financial contribution, and the benefit of company logo and online web banner opportunities. Real value is in visibility of your brand through your people. Supporting your employees to lead and engage puts your brands’ voice in a position of influence and contribution. Imagine if your company could influence industry guidance on topics that matter most to your brand? Encouraging your employees to lead in trade and technical organizations puts them in a position to do just that.

2. Customer & Industry Insights

Engagement in industry organizations also brings ‘boot- on-the-ground’ insights on the voice and needs of your customers. This is where you will find what the real emerging needs and challenges are in our B2B world. Dave Goins, COO of Q Laboratories and a leading proponent of employee contribution to technical organizations agrees. “A key benefit Q Laboratories enjoys [of our scientists involvement]I s they get to ‘complete the picture’ when it comes to the importance to our clients on the testing we do for them, and the reasons why we approach our analytical business the way we do.” Instead of only relying on analytics, market trend reports, and legacy industry assumptions—encouraging your people to get out from behind their desks, or off the bench, and engaging with the customers and market directly will not only provide insight on their present needs, but can also give a peek into the proverbial crystal ball of needs to come and give your company a competitive edge.

3. Leadership Creation & Development

“Our employees gain valuable confirmation at these meetings” reflects Goins, “and as a result of their engagement and contributions we see careers, development and advancement accelerate for these individuals within Q Laboratories.” Putting forth employees to engage in industry organizations in leadership roles can help them develop from good to great. Not only does this provide leadership cultivation, but also opportunities to develop technical competencies at a more rapid pace with shared resources. Employees can hone soft skills too, such as emotional intelligence, conflict resolution, negotiation and collaborative skills that they will bring back to work.

4. Learn from the Industry & Contribute to Problem Solving

Industry engagement, especially from a technical perspective, allows your company and your people to collaborate and learn from others successes and mistakes. “Our people have the added benefit of having the opportunity to share experience and ideas with other highly qualified individuals who often face the same challenges our teams face every day,” says Goins. Your team can build on those insights to ensure your company’s continued success. Engagement also provides opportunity for your company to present itself as a market leader in setting policy and launching innovative solutions. With the right idea, the right platform, and the right audience, your company could be poised to be the champion and realize the success of the next “blockchain-like” revolution.

5. Your Competitors are Doing It

It goes without saying that we are all looking for that competitive edge, the premium exposure, and the increased market share for our brand and solutions. As industry organizations are recruiting members, volunteers and leaders, they are seeking engaged individuals who want to contribute and champion the organizations mission and vision. If it isn’t your people filling those roles, it will be your competition’s people. Your competitors will learn and connect in deep, meaningful ways and build relationships with your current and prospective customers. Research also shows that companies that encourage volunteering enjoy increased employee loyalty and increased employee retention. Bottom line: Supporting Industry organizations through employee engagement is good for your people, and good for business.

Quick TIPS:

  • Invest & Incentivize Engagement: Pay for memberships and meetings, and reward employee leadership and participation on committees, working groups and elected positions.
  • Formalize a Program: Partner with key industry organizations to create an ambassador program within your company to share happenings and opportunities. In the end, you will have a powerful group of engaged employees in various organizations making an impact and championing your brand.
  • Think Outside of the Lab: While encouraging technical employees to engage, also consider the less obvious team members to get involved: Sales, marketing, human resources, finance and executive-level teams. Often, industry organizations suffer from monoculture challenges and can use expertise from other professional backgrounds to improve. As a result, your team will gain exponential insights, influence and opportunities.