More than 125 industry executives attended a panel on the power of
women in food marketing at the FMI Midwinter Conference, January 24 in
Boca Raton, Fla.
The event opened with a presentation on women in the industry by Margaret Heffernan, author of Just Ask A Woman: Cracking the Code of What Women Want and How They Buy (see Network News review).
Heffernan said, “There is a long way to go before the talent [of] women is recognized. Contrary to popular belief, there is no ‘pipeline shortage’ or women in the food industry. Forty-four percent of managers are women,” the columnist said, “but just four percent of top earners, 14 percent of corporate officers and 8 percent of board members in the food business are women. Does the meritocracy really work when whole segments of the population are set aside?” she asked.
Benefits of diversity
Heffernan cited three primary reasons for gender diversity in food industry management: The first was “positive impact on the bottom line,” confirmed by a 2004 Catalyst study (see article in NetworkNews). The second was “getting closer to customer.” Heffernan said 85 percent of food buying decisions are made by women. The third benefit of gender diversity, the columnist said, was greater competition among talent.
“In a few years only 15 percent of the employment market will be white males,” she said. She urged retailers “to BE their market rather than learn about it – this gives you market data 24/7.” Heffernan singled out two major food retailers for appointing women to their corporate boards. Albertson’s board is 54.5 percent women; the board of directors of Royal Ahold is 33 percent female, she said.
Heffernan pointed to women’s proven achievements in small business to support to her contention that women are not to blame for their lack of advancement in the CPG industry. She said the problem was institutional, and that the industry must “stop doing the wrong things,” including pay discrimination, sexual harassment, stereotyping, promoting macho work cultures, and punishing women who choose to have children.
“We must develop a culture that reward achievements, not hours,” she said. She recommended that companies link executive pay and promotion to the advancement of women. “It’s the most controversial method,” she said, “but it is also the most effective.”
Other steps recommended by Heffernan: Mentoring programs; company and industry women’s networks; hiring and promoting mothers and part-timers; and the creation of more career paths. “Assume ambition among women,” she said. “Don’t stereotype.”
Panel weighs in
Heffernan’s comments were followed by a panel discussion led by Michael Sansolo, senior VP of FMI; Bill Grize, president and CEO of Ahold USA; Carla Cooper, senior VP, Quaker/Tropicana/Gatorade, at PepsiCo Beverages and Foods; and Kimberly Betts, director of communications for Ahold USA and president of the Network of Executive Women.
Grize said the industry had “missed an opportunity…we’ve ignored the numbers and excused ourselves.” He asked, “Do we really care about people? What manager in this room would cut off the talent pool?”
Cooper said, “Too often, in looking at a slate of candidates, we talk about ‘taking a risk on her.’ We worry that having a woman fail is a bad reflection on the manager. We’d never talk about male candidates that way.”
Heffernan added that “men are promoted on promise, women on achievement, so they are always behind the curve. Stereotyping is so dangerous because high achieving women are written off as strident. Data shows – when support is put into place for working mothers, the retention rate is nearly 100 percent. Yet there is tremendous bias against mothers – they are written off.”
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