Women's Fresh Perspectives Conference 2022 Inspires Leadership Power of Produce Women
ALBUQUERQUE, NM - Women forward. Spoken by Lisa Cork, industry coach and university lecturer on day two of the 2022 Women’s Fresh Perspectives, this sums up the inspiration simmering in attendees as we departed back to our businesses yesterday.
A total of 175 women from all walks of fresh produce, from buy, supply, tech, and everything in between, connected over the first half of this week, with a significant number attending for the first time—a mark of growth and trust in the event. Carrie Mack, Senior Sourcing Manager for Walmart, specifically connected with supply partners to encourage and inspire 28 women from the apple industry to be among those inaugural participants.
Now, she is ready to see similar moves across all categories to bolster female produce leadership.
“How do we get to a thousand?” she asked me. “I’m really proud of the apple industry and the amount of support and participation they got from leadership for this year’s conference. The amount of women they brought represents all components of the business and the ROI on that is unseen, so how can everyone partner in other parts of the industry, grow this even more, and tap into that potential?”
That potential, as well as women’s innate leadership capabilities and the barriers to realizing them, were deeply discussed in a panel and Q&A moderated by International Fresh Produce Association (IFPA) Co-Chief Executive Officer Cathy Burns, hosting Robin Fisher, Category Manager at P.F. Chang's China Bistro; Raina Nelson, President and Chief Executive Officer, Westfalia Fruit USA; and Rachel Molatore, Director of Communications for Taylor Farms.
Candid and honest conversations bloomed in this cone of silence as the association clearly established trust to encourage vulnerability. So, while I cannot report the details of this discussion, I will say very real issues were addressed with support in the room. My personal conclusion, inspired by those on the stage and in the audience: Women can and should lead as women, not as men, and many men can and have assisted in that journey.
“The things female industry members bring back will pay dividends for you in the long run in all areas, from direct sales to team and company dynamics and performance. Every member of IFPA should be sending a team member to this conference, especially those you want to grow within the company and industry,” Alex Jackson, Director of Sales for Frieda’s, observed. “To send top-performing team members out of the office for two, sometimes three days is a big investment in addition to typical travel expenses, however the takeaways each woman has personally and professionally far outweigh those costs. Invest in your future leaders now.”
Wendy McManus helped set the tone from the start with a session to “get on the same page,” to not only find clarity for collective goals for teams back home, but for the conference itself over the three days we were together.
And then the awakening began.
Risha Grant, Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Risha Grant LLC; Erica Dhawan, Internationally recognized leading authority, speaker, and advisor on 21st century teamwork, collaboration, and innovation; Sara Ross, Researcher and the Chief Vitality Officer at BrainAMPED; and Michelle Poler, creative and passionate social entrepreneur, fear-facer, branding strategist, and author made for a well-rounded docket of insights on topics we face individually as up-and-coming leaders, as well as an industry.
While there was a circulating theme that kept us focused on challenges we face as leaders, as women, and as people in an industry like ours, each speaker brought individual insights that left us craving more.
Thankfully, a couple of those speakers stuck around to host a workshop following their session, allowing for interaction and insight as we all pursued a deeper knowledge of the information presented to us.
Meanwhile, simultaneous workshops gave us insight into established women already leading in our industry to discuss challenges they faced, methods to do so, and advice for blossoming leaders. I walked away feeling as if I had sat down with numerous invaluable mentors who left me brimming with information I hoped would not spill over before I could bring it back home to analyze and execute on.
Enough cannot be said about the value these sessions and the following workshops brought to attendees, and not just because of the amazing leaders that spoke but those that participated with dynamic questions and comments. Peppered with fun events and gatherings like hilarious produce relays, a silent disco, and several networking opportunities in between, it was a whirlwind of action and development.
As our industry continues to embark on innovation and expansion, I cannot help but feel that many answers lie in this very concept of how women in produce can lead as women, complementing, uplifted, and empowered by male leadership so that we are not, as Lisa Cork observed, a male-dominated industry, but a female-forward one.