Attracting the skills and talent of the future will require agribusinesses to change tact, according to Christos Dimopoulos (CD), President, Global Supply Chains, Bunge. Here he tells WFA why businesses have to be more vocal about what they have got to offer potential employees and why individual and collective efforts to make the industry more diverse and inclusive will make businesses thrive.
[WFA] Mr. Dimopoulos, what drew you to the agriculture industry and to the grains and oilseeds sector in particular?
[CD] I studied Economics and Management at the University of Lausanne and I was genuinely interested by markets and commerce. I was given the opportunity to do an internship at Tradigrain, an International Grain Trading company, subsidiary of the US based cooperative Farmland. I literally fell in love with this environment combining trading of agricultural commodities on exchanged based markets; participation in global scale physical flows; and the purpose of serving producers and consumers. It’s been 25 years now…
[WFA] What would you say are the key opportunities and challenges in agriculture and food at the moment?
Overall, this is a very exciting time for our industry. We are experiencing increasing demand, which is creating a very positive cycle as well as new growth opportunities in the sector, such as plant-based food, sustainable feedstocks, or more sustainable feed products among others. As we meet this growing demand, sustainability is of course an important factor; consumer trends are impacting every step of the food and agriculture supply chain. This is opening up new business areas to invest in and pushing us to improve our practices to find better solutions and innovative formulas to respond to these changing customer demands.
[CD] How do you think the pandemic has impacted the sector, both positively and negatively?
The pandemic has been an accelerator in different areas.
As an industry player, we have emerged stronger from it. We had to keep the food chain running and we proved how quickly we can react and adapt to operate safely to fulfil our essential role to feed and fuel the world.
It has also accelerated digitization and technology at all levels. This is something the industry has not excelled at in the past, which means that now we must speed up our digitization journey to be able to stay competitive.
On the human side, during the pandemic, we all have learned new ways of working and it has allowed many people to rethink their priorities. Already, there are signs of change. Organizations will need to continue to adjust to the new normal and redefine who they want to be as a company, be affirmative of the culture they want to build and create a quality working environment that retains and attracts talent.
[WFA] What changes you have seen over the course of your career in terms of diversity and inclusion? How do you see diversity and what do you think organizations should be able to offer to attract a diverse workforce?
[CD] Society has changed and evolved tremendously since the early days of my career. I believe that companies that embrace change and demonstrate ability to adapt will be more competitive. Diversity and inclusion enable that edge.
One of the important changes is the active stance management boards are taking to drive diversity across the organization and the fact that it is on the agenda of almost each large corporation.
The global workforce’s composition and aspirations have also shifted. The time when companies could easily choose and hire talent who would spend their entire career with them no longer exists. Today, talent is more selective, and they are the ones deciding where they want to work and where not. Therefore, if we want the best talent to choose us ahead of our competitors, are we offering an employee value proposition matching their needs and aspirations? Are we mirroring societal demands and new workforce habits? It is imperative to have a solid approach to diversity and inclusion if we want to attract a diverse workforce, not only because it is the right thing to do but also because only a diverse workforce can respond to the current and future demands of a diverse society.
[WFA] Have you seen a lot of change for women in the industry since joining? In your view, to what extent do you think the agri food sector remains a “boys’ club” or is this a stereotype that just isn’t representative anymore?
[CD] The change is happening, maybe not as quickly as we would like to see it in our industry, maybe not evenly in all functions or levels yet. We see more women joining, but for instance, the percentages on the trading floors are still low. However, anyone with an appetite for commerce and a well-rounded education would qualify for that type of position in the sector. We need to do more to promote among women where a career in Agribusiness could take them. And again, we must ensure our employee value proposition matches their aspirations and makes those talented women choose us as an employer. Once those talents are with us we must ensure we grow them!
[WFA] Do you have any particular examples of good practices on an individual or organisational level at Bunge to help support women in the agribusiness industry? What can agribusinesses do better to become more diverse?
[CD] As an industry, we need to build the awareness of the important work we do, and the great purpose we serve, as well as the exciting jobs that exist in the industry so we can collectively get more diverse talent interested in the sector. As a company, Bunge is working on different fronts for which we have set up aspirations and targets. One of our goals is improving gender balance in senior levels. We also have been increasing and monitoring our metrics to ensure progress is happening, adjusting talent processes, and joining initiatives externally and internally to strengthen our commitment to DEI.
However, I am a firm believer that the bigger change happens at the individual level. It’s on each one of us to be the champions in our organizations, lead by example and drive change around us.
At Bunge, our DNA is diverse by definition. We collaborate and connect across multiple cultures, languages, races, and social backgrounds, and that defines who we are. But we need to get better at building more balance and fight the existing gaps everywhere we operate. Depending on where you are the approach to diversity and inclusion has its nuances, so the strategies to tackle them must be targeted.
[WFA] As a leader how do you assess and promote talent within your organisation?
[CD] In my view, talent is about having the right combination of skill sets. An important tool to assess that is performance, because it is non-biased. It is all about the technical skills someone brings, as well as the soft skills like curiosity, ability to collaborate and integrate with a team, and to empathize and listen to the opinions of others.
It is our responsibility to look for and promote the best talent, regardless of gender, background, age, ethnicity, culture… I always reinforce with my team that they are the ones driving the talent within the company and they must be accountable for their growth. They must challenge each decision they make in their teams. Have they explored all the options, are they taking the advantage to integrate differences in their teams?
[WFA] What are the challenges the industry is facing to attract and retain a good talent in today’s environment?
[CD] We are facing a highly competitive market, constantly changing consumer trends, and a lot of innovation and technological developments to ensure sustainable agriculture. Change happens fast, and having the talent with the right skills at the right time is key. As mentioned, to attract good talent what we offer must be matching what talent looks for in an employer within a clear culture proposition and purpose of who we are.
In such an environment, to retain our talent we need to invest in developing them, enabling their growth, giving them exposure to different parts of the business, training them on new trends and technologies, and providing them with the opportunities to lead the change that is needed.
[WFA] Do we need to grow diversity with the bottom-up approach? Do we need to invest more in upskilling women?
[CD] Regardless of taking a top-down or bottom-up approach, and beyond any corporate policies or initiatives to foster diversity, I reiterate that it is within each one of us, each leader, each employee at the individual level, in our companies, to take ownership and be the champions to change the environment.
The highest impact will come from the relationships we establish with our teams, and the diversity in our teams will depend on us. Each team leader needs to ensure that they are growing their team with balance.
In my perspective, it should not be about investing more in upskilling women. Women are evenly skilled as men. What we need to ensure is that we are growing talent within our organization and that women are part of that talent.
Failure to that, to provide opportunities to all, to grow women to management positions, to foster inclusion isn’t an option in my opinion, because we know that the businesses that thrive will be those with the most talented and diverse workforce.