Gender is just a small part of the diversity puzzle which agriculture and food businesses must piece together. And when they get it right, the end result can be extremely rewarding, says Sygenta’s Caroline Creven Fourrier

Caroline Creven Fourrier is Syngenta’s Global Head of Inclusion and Diversity with more than 13 years of international experiences across various geographies in Europe and Asia and functions such as diversity and inclusion (D&I) HR, production, logistics and procurement. Caroline holds a PhD in talent management and Masters degree in procurement. She is also certified by INSEAD in D&I and St Gallen University in research.

In her current role, she works closely with the company executives to drive the global D&I strategy, contributing to increasing the performance of the company through fostering an inclusive environment where people feel they belong and can be the best version of themselves. She is also part of the Women in Food and Agriculture Advisory Board and a speaker at the WFA Summit.

With the summit (https://www.wfasummit.com) only a few months away (December 3 – 4 at the NH Grand Hotel, Krasnapolsky, Amsterdam), we discussed some of the key WFA-related themes with Caroline.

 

 

[AgriBriefing] Do you think there are any challenges of being a woman in such a male dominated sector as agriculture?

[Caroline Creven Fourrier] I think there are lots of issues for women in farming – including not being considered a farmer in some places, despite working on the farm, etc.

More generally, the challenge is really whether biases preventing women in agriculture to grow in their career are being addressed (through systemic changes, communication…). This would be true in any industry however. I do think there are areas where woman in agriculture are represented, particularly across R&D, agronomy, corporate functions such as legal and finance.

[AgriBriefing] Why do you think there are not many women in the agricultural and food sectors?

[Caroline Creven Fourrier] It is a very good question. If, in the past, education was generating mainly male talents, this tends to be more balanced now. But still, the reputation of the industry seems to attract more men than women. Similarly as above there are probably some biases at play. At Syngenta, we try to pro-actively address these through  targeted engagement and campaigns as well as ensuring a more diverse slate when it comes to recruitment.

[AgriBriefing] How can we improve workplace culture for better employee retention?

[Caroline Creven Fourrier] People want to stay in a company where they feel respected and valued, whoever they are. So creating a safe environment where people can speak up is fundamental. In today’s economy, more and more employees want to work flexibly and we need to recognise that the days of 9am-5pm are long gone.

Employees want greater balance in their lives – be it to dedicate extra time to hobbies, personal development, religion, children, or whatever they choose. So companies need to listen and adjust to those new and emerging needs. Syngenta has implemented flexible working options – that also take account local legislation – to allow employees to work either flexible hours, flexible location, and/orjob share. While we are not unique in doing this, it is one of the ways we are working to improve our working environment for our employees.

[AgriBriefing] How can we inspire the future of women and diversity in our industry?

[Caroline Creven Fourrier] Having more women at the top, in leadership roles of those organisations helps. It creates role models for those younger or further down in the organisation. Gender diversity is only a small part of the overall diversity we should tap into an organisation. However, research does show that if you create a workplace that allows women to contribute to their full potential, it dramatically changes the overall culture for all – regardless of the diversity you bring.

[AgriBriefing] What do companies need to understand about diversity and inclusion and ensure that their policies are truly inclusive?

[Caroline Creven Fourrier] In my view, the first priority focus is inclusion. If you prioritise diversity over inclusion, the chances are that you bring in diverse talents who will be frustrated by a non-inclusive culture.

Also, I am always very careful to not shortcut diversity for a gender agenda only. What matters for business and customers alike is a diversity of thinking, this is facilitated by a more gender balanced organisation but this is not the only factor. Other elements of diversity are all equally relevant including diversity of background, culture, nationality or religion – they all shape our thinking and views.

[AgriBriefing]  Gender and racial diversity has been correlated with increased profitability. What types of strategies have worked to achieve gender equality in your sector from your perspective?

[Caroline Creven Fourrier] Our approach encompasses various elements:

  • Create flexible working options (part-time, job share, flexible time, flexible place…)
  • Reverse mentoring
  • Speaking up culture /personal story telling by employees and leaders
  • Review of our benefit offer to make those more inclusive (paternity leave, same sex couples, disability…)
  • Review of our recruitment process to bring in more diverse slates of candidates
  • Tailored D&I training
  • Collaboration with customers and external communities
  • Collaboration with NGOs

It is a journey that never ends, but a very exciting one!

Finally, gender and racial diversity are not the only elements correlated with increased profitability. It is about creating greater diversity in teams and particularly important in a company that has a heavy research and development focus where we welcome diversity of thought. At Syngenta, we also recognise that some D&I challenges are very different from one geography to another. If the racial diversity you indicate is predominant in one region, it is less so in other geographies where, for example, religion is more a critical inclusion element.

[AgriBriefing]  Would you say Syngenta is a diverse workplace?

[Caroline Creven Fourrier] Relative to the industry, Syngenta is well positioned. There is another question I like to ask: with a customer base that is very diverse, how much of this diversity do we have represented internally? Are we able to offer dedicated solutions to dedicated customer groups or are we over-standardised due to a lack of diversity of thinking?

[AgriBriefing]  Our recent 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?

[Caroline Creven Fourrier]  With women and the younger generation increasingly being the key buying decision makers, of course companies should ensure they understand their needs and offer solutions tailored to their challenges.

The risk – in agriculture – is to stereotype the customer base. If a company were to consider all customers alike, then odds are that a solution would not meet the needs of part of our customer. And that is where D&I is actually a business enabler – if properly leveraged in an organisation.

[AgriBriefing]  Can you give any tips on how to become a successful woman in the agricultural sector?

[Caroline Creven Fourrier]  Make your contribution visible! Be yourself and don’t be apologetic about it.  Build relationships and find yourself sponsors who can talk of you in your absence – these include both men and women.

[AgriBriefing]  How can women achieve their full potential in agriculture and food – roadblocks to career success?   Personally, have you found any stumbling blocks in your own career?

 

[Caroline Creven Fourrier]  What is super important to me is to have senior leaders who I trust and appreciate my contribution to the organisation.

In my career, I faced several challenges:

  • Having several periods of maternity leave in my career. If some colleagues commented on it negatively (career stopper, mums should stay home….), I did not let those define who I was.

Instead, I had very open discussions with my management: what do I want / not want? Where do I wish to develop when I come back? All those discussions allowed the company to retain me and to not have wasted years of development on me.

  • Being young for some of the roles I took. Again, do not be apologetic. You did not get a role out of charity, you got it for the value you bring to the organisation. It remains true though that a major challenge for women is to be promoted based on past achievement while a male colleagues are often promoted based on potential. In that sense, women are indeed at risk, and often have to demonstrate their value more.

At the end of the day, your level of responsibility should not be impacted by your age but by your ability to do the role.

  • Looking younger than my age. This one continues to irritate me and adds to the above challenge. So it can feel as though you need to speak up and show your value even more.