Tag Archives: women in food

Melody Ge, Corvium
Women in Food Safety

When We Work Harder Together, the Sky’s the Limit

By Melody Ge
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Melody Ge, Corvium

John Carter, area Europe quality director at Ferrero, has been devoted to diversity for more than 20 years. This time, it’s our pleasure to speak with him to hear his perspective on female professionals in the industry and how his male peers can help encourage a diverse environment and break unconscious bias.

His background in engineering, along with an MBA, has given him a scientific mindset when making decisions. After his first job with Campden BRI in the UK, John had positions at Kraft/Mondelez, Metro, Danone, and is now at Ferrero; in that time, he has gained tremendous food safety and quality experience. As is the case with many food safety professionals, John is proud to be part of an industry where he can use his technical knowledge to protect public health. “Food safety is not competitive; it’s a global collaboration, and a rewarding field,” he said.

John Carter, Ferrero
John Carter, area Europe quality director at Ferrero

John advises young professionals to avoid limiting themselves to one function. Explore different functions within a business; if you have been working within food safety for more than 20 years, you might not focus on the full scope of the food industry or food operations. To move forward into an advanced position, especially toward a senior management position, John explained that one should have a helicopter view of the business and vision. For example, moving from food safety to the quality management system, to operations is one option, allowing you to see the big picture. “Don’t hesitate to explore other functions. At Kraft, we used to say that to be a senior executive, you need to do 2, 2, and 2, meaning you need to do two countries, two categories, and two functions. Afterward, you can say you know the company,” he said.

In the future, John hopes to see at least a 50-50 ratio of male-to-female professionals, or an even higher ratio of females.

Melody Ge: What is your most important piece of advice to aspiring—as well as current—food safety professionals?

John Carter: Walk the line and find the balance. To illustrate my point, I’ll tell a story about my experience at one company involving a recall of raw milk cheese due to positive E. coli 0157. It was quite a significant issue, but no one got sick, and we had the products withdrawn from the market. One of the questions we had at that time was why we were selling raw milk cheese. Why don’t we just use pasteurized milk and cheeses? However, the reality is that, in Europe, raw milk cheese is in the DNA of some countries. It would be hard to even think about their diet without raw milk cheese. So there must be another way to manage food safety apart from just pasteurizing the milk. How do you do it? What else can you do? Where are the risks? We, as food safety professionals, must answer these questions. So walking the line between the commercial impact and the risk is crucial. Hence, the skill of the job is to know how to make the decision properly. It’s very easy to say ‘no’ to everything, but it might not be business friendly.

What’s more important is to say ‘yes’ after a thorough risk assessment—for example, ‘yes but…’ or ‘yes with a condition of …’ Every day, we are confronting this issue. The skill in food safety and quality is to give these conditional yesses. It’s based on a logical, scientific and rational assessment of risks. The partnership with the business is that they see us as an enabling function rather than a blocking function.

Ge: Let’s focus on female professionals—any particular pieces of advice for them?

Carter: Be confident! Between men and women, there is this confidence vs. competency conundrum. Typically, men behave more confidently. ‘Can you do this? Yeah, sure!’; in contrast, for women, ‘Can you do this? Oh, well let me check, I am not sure.’ They may have the same level of competence, and maybe even the women are more competent (it’s the reality). I read a book recently called Why Men Win at Work by Gill Whitty-Collins. Gill also mentioned this in her book: We shouldn’t expect men to be less confident; we should encourage women to be more confident. (On the other hand, if I look at the women in my team, typically their competency is very high!)
The other thing is to be who you are, and keep up the competency. I will use emotional behavior as an example. A female quality manager who reported to me once was criticized by a senior colleague (a male) for being too emotional. I am more critical of the colleague, not the quality manager, because I think we as male managers need to understand emotional behavior instead of removing that behavior. She is emotional for a reason. A man’s way of dealing with that emotion might be to get angry, while a woman’s way might be to shed some tears. But the root cause is the same issue and has the same action plan. Thus, it’s important to get over the differences and manage her talent—and not label it, showing this kind of emotion as a weakness. For example, I would like to believe that crying is not the point; it’s a different way of dealing with stressful situations. You need to look for the root cause of the stress and address the stress, not judge the symptoms.

Ge: Do you believe in a glass ceiling for female professionals?

Carter: I was fortunate that I had an excellent female boss at Kraft. She believed that we needed 50/50 gender equality—that 50% of plant managers should be female, 50% of country managers should be female, etc. I had a good experience at Kraft in developing and seeing many female professionals thrive. In that specific environment, I wouldn’t agree that there was a glass ceiling for females; however, I see it elsewhere for sure. In other companies, I have been thinking about how we can get more females in director levels. It is not easy to just promote at the management level because it has to be a structural change. The system change must happen. Part of what I am trying to do right now throughout my career is address the structural problem. And senior men need to be part of the solution.

On the other hand, there are many aspects to a promotion. One needs to be good, really resilient and lucky. Luck is essential, and the right time and place are important. If you are good enough and you have been overlooked, then maybe you should go somewhere else (It is that simple). I think, in today’s world, the opportunities are there, and the recognition is there. It is the right timing now to break the ceiling. Every company I have ever worked in has started to change, so now is a good time to be in that situation.

Ge: Can you share a story that has impacted you and still inspires you today?

Carter: I remember meeting someone at Kraft, and she was doing something related to IT at that time. She was managing something related to complaints and was in a position where she got to know the quality function in the company. When we had an open role internally for a quality auditor, she applied for it. I was quite surprised when she came to me, because she was not qualified from a technical perspective. But when she told me she was interested, it inspired me. I assigned her to the factory in South Africa for training, and suddenly, she moved from a desk in Munich to a factory floor to deal with the operations and team in South Africa. Of course, the factory environment is challenging, and there is no easy factory. However, she was very talented and really loved it. (It could have gone the other way, but she nailed it). Then, she returned from this assignment and became a QA manager, eventually overseeing the whole SAP QA system. Of course, this is because of her background in the IT department before the QA training. Suddenly, she had this kind of unique knowledge of something, and no one understood the computer system or QA better than her. If she hadn’t come to me in need of a change, and if I hadn’t been inspired to provide a chance to an enthusiastic person, her path may have been different. So, go for it! Once the tough times pass, you will enjoy it, and then the sky is the limit.

Ge: What’s your opinion on unconscious bias?

Carter: I am pretty excited about this topic—I think it addresses the root cause of many issues. I have been working on diversity for the last 20 years; but only over the past couple of years have I started thinking about unconscious bias. The unconscious bias part is relatively new, but I think it may help us address the root cause of many of the behavior issues that we see in today’s world. Gill also mentioned this in her book. She was a senior vice president at P&G, and until she noticed unconscious bias, she was quite happy. So, this happens to females as well as to men. You suddenly see it, and then you see it everywhere.

I can give you another example of my own. Not so long ago, in one of the companies where I have worked, there was an internal announcement about senior leadership changes. When it was announced, I saw a list of 20 names on the screen and didn’t notice that they were all men until our diversity council had a meeting to discuss this issue. The council leader pointed out that we have zero female representatives among the twenty. Wow, I was shocked! I am a man and I genuinely care about diversity, yet my unconscious bias is that I didn’t even notice that there wasn’t a female name on the list. I had to reflect. With this unconscious bias, which we can all have, we need to work harder together.

I think there is a food safety parallel: perhaps the situation is a lot like when we first addressed food fraud at the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI). Food fraud is a crime, and it’s possibly the oldest crime in the food industry—centuries old. Although legislation has been in place for years, it seemed that little concrete had been done about it; but after the melamine crisis in China, and various similar issues, we finally got a political imperative to address it in a systematic way. We now have GFSI guidance documents and CPOs, and we have the technology with DNA testing to guarantee authenticity. Finally, we have the tools and political will to ‘do something’ and really address the issue.

So, coming back to this topic of diversity and unconscious bias – in my opinion, this is the “food fraud” of society; it has been ongoing for a long time, and now is the time for us to make a change. We have to ‘do something’. Every company and culture has its own issues and characteristics and all cultures are different (diverse, right?) but when you have the willingness and tools to change an environment, you can take a series of steps to make that change. The time is right, but having awareness comes first.

Ge: Any last bits of advice for our WIFS group members?

Carter: I read a little book about 40 years ago, and the book’s thesis was that there are two things you need to do and have in life. One is that you need to have fun and enjoy life; the other is to learn as much as possible. In the course of mentoring many talented folks over the years, I have added two other things to this list; have patience and courage.

Patience, courage, learning, and fun! Try to live your life with those things in mind.

Jacqueline Southee, FSSC 22000
Women in Food Safety

You’re Not Alone: How a Support Network Is Critical for Work-Life Balance

By Jacqueline Southee, Melody Ge
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Jacqueline Southee, FSSC 22000

We all know it is important to maintain a healthy work-life balance, regardless of our current career stage. We also know that this can be a challenge. In March 2020 when coronavirus restrictions forced the various aspects of our lives—normally kept separate—to collide in our kitchens and spare rooms, we found ourselves sharing workspace with partners and children. This immediate change really brought our work-life balance into focus.

As part of our Women in Food Safety series, we interviewed three highly successful food safety professionals about how they keep their work-life balance in perspective despite the ever-increasing demands of work, and how they have tackled major life changes or career decisions along the way, while still keeping their career on track.

We were delighted to have the opportunity to talk to Shawna Wagner, food sector and technical manager, North America for DNV and SQF Auditor of the Year, 2019; Cornelie Glerum, director of operations for FSSC 22000 and Laura Gutierrez Becerra, food safety regulatory and operations manager at Amazon. These outstanding professional females work in different sectors of the industry and have different career backgrounds, but they all agreed on the importance of keeping a healthy work-life balance and shared surprisingly similar strategies for tackling it. They also agreed that it is all too easy to let work consume your life, so above all, it is very important to like your job and to do something that you enjoy.

It is clear that achieving highly aspiring career goals requires disciplined time management both at work and at home; and it is also important to build a support network of others that can help you. Similarly, although at the start of a career one might think it a sign of weakness to ask for help, this is not true. If there comes a time when it seems impossible to get everything done, be kind to yourself—some tasks can always wait.

Shawna Wagner is a senior auditor so traveling is a major element of her job. Before COVID -19 hit, she might be on the road 270 nights a year. ” This definitely eats into personal time and takes a toll on family life- it is important to switch off at times” she said.

As the director of operations, Cornelie Glerum is a founder, and leading force behind FSSC 22000. She believes that “Work life balance is very important—and that you should work to live—not live to work”.

Laura Gutierrez Becerra has had an interesting and varied career path, which has covered career moves, an international relocation, a family-focused career break as well as the raising of three children before reaching her current position with Amazon. “Work-life balance is important to keep in check. I think that as women, we can forget about ourselves, particularly as we tend to be fully dedicated to our job or career path, or we have family responsibilities or dependents to care and provide for. We tend to put considerations for ourselves last.

There are elements and approaches to maintaining a work-life balance that all of them agreed upon.

1. Keep a personal schedule as well as a work schedule

It is easy to let work overwhelm or occupy your all your time, so it is important to make personal appointments with yourself or your family.

Shawna Wagner, DNV
Shawna Wagner, DNV

Wagner: I certainly try to schedule something every weekend, such as golf, camping, and dinner events.  The scheduling is important as if it’s not in my phone calendar, it’s not happening.

Glerum: I have a family, a partner and two young children, and we do have some family commitments that are on a set schedule such as the Friday hockey practice, which is an important part of my week, as I enjoy being the coach. If they are written into the schedule, it is easy to keep the commitment.

Gutierrez: I am fairly good with this now compared to when I started my career. We had to create schedules for everyone in the family to have responsibilities in the home so that the chores got done, but we also factored in extra-curricular activities such as family game night, etc. We also enjoy exercising together, which is important for us all.

2. Taking time off

Wagner: I have come to learn that vacation time is your time to shut work off, and I was extremely poor at this practice. I would take vacation but still work all day on emails, so I didn’t fall behind for when I was back from vacation. My best advice is to know that it will still be there when you get back and to train others to cover for you for when you are not in the office.  Also return the favor for others, as we all deserve downtime.

Laura Gutierrez Becerra
Laura Gutierra Becerra, Amazon

Gutierrez: There was a point in my career when I was juggling job moves raising children with different ages (an infant, a toddler and a teenager) , and I felt burnt out. I took the great piece of advice from my mentors who advised me to do more of the hobbies that I enjoy, and to learn to delegate. Although this was difficult at first, it was helpful to consider delegation as a way of helping others to develop and advance their careers. Looking at it from this [perspective] allowed me to take some time off.

3. Keep your phone in check. While of course it is a life-changing invention, the cell phone is also the never-ending connection to work.

Wagner: I keep things in perspective by always having dedicated time to my family and friends. For example, if I am having dinner with my partner, it’s a hard rule that I will not answer the phone.

Glerum: I am aware that I have big responsibilities in my job, so I do tend to stay in touch and keep my phone on even during holidays and vacations, but I try to keep calls at the minimum.

4. Asking for help

Wagner: It is important to ask for help, and if you can find others who want to learn, then it helps them also. When I was new to the industry, I wouldn’t ask for help, as I wanted to show that I could achieve success by myself or seek the right answer for the solution, and I realized that this might not be the good way. We all need to learn to be comfortable to ask for help.

Cornelie Glerum, FSSC 22000
Cornelie Glerum, FSSC 22000

Glerum: Yes, I can ask for help, and I am fortunate to have my parents close by so I can ask to help with children if I am at work or traveling. I also have good neighbors that can step in, and this works both ways. This is truly a valuable support network, and we all help each other with reciprocal arrangements.

Gutierrez: I was not good at the delegating tasks at the beginning. As I had relocated from Mexico to the United States, I did not have any close family here to call on. Also, as is typical of my Mexican culture, I felt I had to do everything myself for my family at home as well as demonstrating at work that I was on top of my game. This was completely wrong and quite self-defeating. Today, I am better at prioritizing and delegating. Developing new networks has also helped me both on a personal as well as professional level. When I moved from Mexico, I didn’t even know how and where to start. However, I have worked specifically to build supportive circles such my “kindergarten mothers”, my “Mexican coffee chat” and of course, my great “Women In Food Safety” network”.

Other Advice We Want Share

Glerum: It is important to recognize that not all jobs need to be done all of the time, and if you are heavily committed at work, some chores just might not get done. While you might be a high achiever, you do not need to set the bar so high for everything. Maybe you do not get all the cleaning done on time in the house, give yourself a break. If the laundry is becoming an issue, and the children are running out of clean clothes—add to the wardrobe, buy more socks for the children!

Gutierrez: Going through life-changing events and overcoming challenging moments for sure gives you resiliency and provides realization that we women can overcame many things. I have had several major changes in my home life. However, I can fully relate to the expression: “A women is like a tea-bag, you don’t know how strong she is until you put her in hot water” by Eleanor Roosevelt.

Preparing to Start Your Career? Here’s Some Advice

Wagner: Women can do any job and can be developed to achieve their goals. Women also provide an important perspective to the mixture of different people with whom you work. The field of food safety also is open to many career aspirations. I recently did an audit at a facility where a young lady was the maintenance manager. She rocked that shop!

Glerum: As women, we have a range of different skills and strengths in the workplace. We are good with precise details, are conscientious and demonstrate accuracy, which is important in my business as a certification program owner. We should use these different attributes to our own advantage in the workplace without compromise. However, women often do not always have enough confidence in their abilities and are sometimes afraid to speak up, especially in a man’s world.

Women also add an “elegance” for want of a better world, which can add to the comfort and refinement to the workplace. For example, we are more likely to remember birthdays and see the importance of staff appreciation, sharing gifts etc. This makes a nicer workspace for everyone.

Gutierrez: Do not to be afraid of asking questions. I initially lacked confidence to ask questions. Also, ask for feedback. It is very important and always helpful, whether it is positive or negative, learn from it and actively apply this learning. Always be open to new opportunities, be inquisitive about other areas. If you do not see opportunities for learning and development, move on to somewhere else if you can. Constantly, assess your aspirations and determine what is your main drive.

Do what you like and like what you do!

Women are an important element in the workplace and the home. Balancing work, life and the demands of a family can take a heavy toll. However, supporting networks can help. Feel free to reach out to Women in Food Safety so we might offer some support and advice—you are never alone.