Bridging the Gender Gap, The Success Story of Cargill’s Pilar Cruz
Pilar Cruz was born in Bogotá, Colombia, during one of the most violent times in the history of the country. Growing up in Colombia she was witness to a lot of poverty and saw the ever so crucial need to nourish the world in a fair way. It was that desire which drew her to agriculture.
In 2002, she graduated from the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business with a master’s degree in Business. And today, she is proud to work for a business whose purpose is to feed the world in a safe, sustainable and responsible way. Pilar currently occupies the position of President of Cargill’s compound animal feed and nutrition business (Cargill Feed & Nutrition) – which represents approximately 11,000 employees worldwide and 165 feed plants in 21 different countries that produce 12 million tons of feed per year for 50,000 customers.
On the road to the inaugural Women in Food & Agriculture Summit (https://www.wfasummit.com) to be held on December 3 – 4 at the NH Grand Hotel, Krasnapolsky, Amsterdam, we were able to talk to Pilar about her career experiences as a woman in a global agribusiness firm which led her to where she is today, and also where opportunities lie in further promoting gender diversity in the workforce.
[AgriBriefing] Pilar, what drew you to the agriculture industry, or to the animal nutrition sector in particular?
[Pilar Cruz] Over 17 years ago, I selected Cargill because agriculture is so universal and fundamental to people’s lives – whether you’re in the poorest country or the richest. One can impact so many lives in a positive way. Furthermore, once I learned that Cargill’s purpose is nourishing the world in a safe, responsible and sustainable way, I really felt that this was the place for me. Over the years, I’ve only grown to appreciate the people who grow our food more as I’ve got closer to our customers and suppliers. I’ve worked in many areas of Cargill – in numerous locations around the world – but it’s animal nutrition that I feel allows me to get closest to the farm and make the biggest contribution to helping farmers improve the performance, well-being and sustainability of their animals, operations and communities.
[AgriBriefing] In your view, what are the challenges of being a woman in a male-dominated industry? Have you seen a lot of change for women in the industry since joining? To what extent do you think the feed sector remains a “boys’ club”?
[Pilar Cruz] I have had the pleasure of representing Cargill around the world. And I have to say that whether I’m in the Americas, Europe or Asia, there’s still some unconscious gender bias. At an important industry event a few years ago in London, a fellow guest was utterly stunned when I told him I was the Managing Director (in Europe this title is usually for the senior most position) from the company serving as an executive sponsor. “How can that be? You’re just a girl!” he said. If you’re a woman in a male-dominated industry, things like this will happen. But you can’t let misguided reactions affect you. You have to be resilient. In this case, I politely replied: “Luckily I work for a company that respects performance and potential over gender.”
Rather than being discouraged, I find gender bias to be another challenge that needs to be overcome. And people typically want to hear my views. It may be because I’m a leader from Cargill. It may be because I look and sound different. Either way, when people say, “the lady from Cargill, what’s your opinion?” I take it as a great opportunity to step up – because I know people’s intentions are good.
[AgriBriefing] How seriously is the gender equality issue taken at Cargill today?
[Pilar Cruz] One of the things that makes me most proud of Cargill is that our CEO, David MacLennan, is leading from the top on gender equality. Under his leadership, Cargill became one of the first companies to take the Paradigm for Parity pledge, with the goal of achieving full gender parity across corporate leadership by 2030. Cargill also expanded its maternity, paternity and care leave policies recently, providing 10-12 weeks of paid leave for birth moms and four weeks for new dads and parents following an adoption. Also, on a more daily level, if you need to work from home because you have a sick child or adjust your hours to attend a school play – we accommodate that.
We also push ourselves to reach higher during the recruiting process. We always ask for a selection of candidates that include women and other diverse individuals. You can see the results of this in the makeup of the team I lead: complete feed and nutrition. Fifty percent of the leaders on my team are female. We have six different nationalities on our leadership team – with people sitting on three different continents. But the key point is that these leaders weren’t chosen based on diversity. They are the best leaders – who also happen to reflect the diversity of our markets.
Flexibility and welcoming workplaces help companies retain and attract the best talent, and gender diversity is just one component that is good for business. Are we satisfied with our progress? No. But we’re walking the walk in our commitment to getting where we need to be.
[AgriBriefing] Recent AgriBriefing market research highlights that investing in women is becoming more important for businesses in the food and agricultural sector and the importance of promoting the sector to younger generation: Where do you think there are opportunities for women in the sector?
[Pilar Cruz] It is true that attracting, developing and retaining women and younger people is an absolute must for the food and agriculture sectors. In both cases, the answer is showing the full spectrum of opportunities available within the sector. After all, there are no “women’s jobs” or “men’s jobs.” Rather there is an incredible array of jobs, each of which requires specific skills, personalities and work styles that could be filled by any gender – or for that matter – nationality, religion or ethnicity.
When people think of working in agriculture, they may picture someone on a farm with a notebook and pencil. But today, at a company like Cargill, they could just as well be developing a digital platform to give farmers real-time insights and predictive analytics about their operations. Or they could be liaising with Alibaba about our partnership selling feed online to remote Chinese farmers. Or they could be building robotics for our automated plant in South Korea – where robots allow employees to avoid some of the more physical and dangerous tasks. Or they could even be conceiving sustainability programs, like Hatching Hope, an initiative in partnership with Heifer International that aims to improve the livelihoods of 100 million people by 2030 through training, nutrition education and market access for subsistence poultry farmers. We need to show young people and women that when you join a company like Cargill, you can explore endless different businesses – all linked by the same culture and adherence to our values.
So my advice would be: don’t limit your view of agriculture with outdated perceptions. Innovation and technology are paramount as we work to feed the world – nutritiously and sustainably. There’s a huge amount you can learn and contribute!
[AgriBriefing] How can we inspire the future of women and diversity in the feed industry?
[Pilar Cruz] First of all, I’d like to thank AgriBriefing for showcasing female leaders – for giving us this opportunity to share our insights and hopefully to inspire a new generation of female contributors. We should also continue to set the example we want others to follow. We should lead with courage as companies and as individuals: hiring and nurturing people who look, sound and think differently so we can offer vibrant, inclusive, attractive workplaces that give everyone a chance to participate. And we should support our female team members and colleagues. There will always be times when gender bias puts us to the test. But we can meet these situations with resiliency – seeing such encounters as opportunities to enlighten and educate.