Stop being complacent, be more transparent and boost women’s self-promotion skills: What we learnt through the 2020 WFA survey.

10 Feb 21 – The results of the 2020 Women in Food and Agriculture Survey have been released and members of the WFA community joined an online session discussing how the findings could be used to benefit the entire industry.

The session started on the WFA Community Platform with an interview featuring Lauren Dozier from Alltech, partner of the Women in Food and Agriculture Survey. The conversation gave an excellent overview of the most interesting findings and was followed by members of the community joining an interactive session to discuss how to use the results to improve gender equality in our sector.

Following the discussion, small groups came together to share ideas. The first area discussed focused on the obstacles women face in our industry. Some of the biggest barriers to emerge in the 2020 survey were the lack of female role models, lack of mentors and gender bias in the workplace, and the contributors debated on how we as an industry could address some of these. It was raised that although some areas of food and ag are more diverse that others, many companies have more male leaders. Women who had been supported by male mentors in the past, shared how much value they brought and how they benefited from a different perspective. However, it was raised that other people’s impressions might be a problem, as for instance, it wouldn’t necessarily be well perceived when a male senior manager takes a younger female out to lunch, compared to a male senior manager taking out a younger male. This behaviour can even sometimes go against company policies. The groups made the practical recommendation that using virtual meetings where senior men can mentor women in a safe space, would be a solution to this, especially since we are now well accustomed to this.

In a post-COVID world where we have had to get used to video calls, this approach would also mean the meeting could even be recorded to make it more comfortable for everyone involved. Another practical suggestion was that individual companies should put together mentoring lists, containing people from in and outside of the business who could offer support to more junior members of staff.

Throughout the survey WFA analysed the different views of men and women. We noticed that women had a more negative perception than men on aspects of our industry that impact gender equality. It was felt that one area we could address as an industry is the issue of pay, as we saw that 82 percent of men agreed that men and women are compensated equally for similar roles at their organisation, but only 54 percent of women agreed. The group felt the key here was transparency, as this is the only way to change perceptions and give an accurate picture of what is happening in our sector. The group discussed how we could encourage companies in food and ag to publish gender pay gap data to reassure members of their organisations that they are being paid fairly. This also would allow organisations to see if there were differences between male and female pay and give them the opportunity to implement changes to address any discrepancies.

One clear figure that emerged in the survey was the difference in the average number of promotions that men and women had in their current organisation, with men experiencing an average of 1.39 and women 0.97. In trying to understand what was behind the figures, the group discussed the differences we have all observed when the opportunities to promote oneself arises. It was felt that many women were just not as vocal or confident when talking about their own abilities as men. This brought in the theme of ‘Imposter Syndrome’ and how we as industry need to find a way to culture that feeling of self-belief amongst women in food and agriculture. It was suggested we could all play our part by making a commitment to support others by consciously giving out praise for excellent work. The group felt this behaviour could give individuals the belief to start going for promotions and help encourage colleagues who might not be as confident.

The final area we discussed was about inclusivity in the sector. In 2019 we saw that 77% of respondents thought the industry as a whole is becoming more inclusive, but this year that figure dropped to 62%. When thinking about what was responsible for this decrease our contributors felt there may be there is some complacency in the industry. Those who have been working in the industry for 10 or 20 years may be happier than younger employees, because improvements have been substantial since they entered the industry. However, as an increasing number of young people contribute to surveys like this and join our discussions, maybe it this decrease highlighting the work we still have to do in the perspective of younger generations. New joiners tend to join organisations with totally different perceptions of what working life should be and understanding this dissatisfaction will help us to improve gender equality across the industry.

So what can we take from this insightful session? We need to break down any barriers there may be for men mentoring women and virtual meetings may help that. The WFA campaign and members of its community should be actively encouraging companies to start calculating and sharing with employees their gender pay gap data, to give members of staff a full picture of how fair the industry truly is. We need to counteract feelings of imposter syndrome to get women promoted as readily as men, and that starts with individuals boosting confidence of others by praising excellent work more readily. Finally, those who have been in the industry for a few years must not get complacent. There is more to be done and we can act now to make the food and agriculture industry more inclusive.