Women in Agriculture: Leaders, Newcomers & Inspirers
Updated: Jul 24, 2019
Welcome to the Global BioAg Linkages "Women in Agriculture" Series
We begin with a foreword from our GBAL CEO:
"Folks. At Global BioAg Linkages (GBAL), we launched a campaign at our BioAg World Congress event, in New Delhi, to highlight the achievements and various roles of women in agriculture, especially in the BioAgriculture segment. We all know agriculture is an industry which is dominated by men; however, if you look around and start identifying the great women achievers and leaders, you would be pleasantly surprised to see the immense presence and growing power that women have in this industry. It is imperative, for the success of this campaign, that all 'men in agriculture' step forward to support this 'women in agriculture' initiative. To bring our women colleagues and leaders, in agriculture, into the limelight, GBAL is launching a quarterly series of articles and interviews focused solely on women who are impacting the industry.
Read on for a glimpse of the diverse roles women in agriculture are performing, and gain inspiration from those who have achieved senior level positions, entrepreneurs who have founded their own companies, as well as those who have taken a leap for a career change and have entered the industry from a completely different background.
Please do feel welcome to share with us more and more such success stories for the next portion of our series. We will soon set-up a proper submission portal for YOUR stories and recommendations.
Special thanks to GBAL colleague, Naomi Brooker, for conducting these wonderful interviews. Thank you to Sabine Henning Helbig and Nadia Hamdan for also helping put this article together. These three women are powerful, great advocates for women in agriculture. Together, we are thrilled to highlight women in agriculture, to have these ladies serve as inspirations for the generations to come. We hope you enjoy this read."
Roger Tripathi, CEO of Global BioAg Linkages
CEO of Marrone Bio Innovations
What made you start your own business/career in Bio Agriculture?
"After working for two big companies, I realized that I would need to forge out on my own to be able to innovate with speed and have a bigger impact in the market for getting biologicals adopted."
What are some of the challenges you have faced as a female leader in BioAgriculture and how have you overcome these challenges?
"Having a PhD was a barrier to raising money, but obviously I overcame this and have raised more than $270 million for the companies I started. For Marrone Bio Innovations, I hired Julie Morris as our first CFO, who has a Harvard MBA. When I brought her with me to meet with venture capitalists, it helped. I have never had an issue with farmers because I know what I am talking about technically. Women leaders do have a narrower range of acceptable behaviors and I always have to be careful about being 'too strong'.”
What advice would you offer to other women in this industry?
"Become an expert in a field so that you are seen as an invaluable resource. Don’t apologize for being you. There will always be people who want you to back off from what you want to do and instead do what they want, so they will use your strength and style against you in negotiations. “You’re always so strong, you’re not listening….” (After you have already listened and listened, analyzed the data and weighed and discussed the options). This may compel you to back off and question yourself. But if you know you are right, you can avoid making bad decisions by not allowing someone to manipulate you into backing down from what you think is the best decision."
CEO of Land O' Lakes
Can you tell us about your career path- how did you start your career and what advice would you have for other women who aspire to achieve a C-level role within the Agri sector?
"Hello, I’m Beth Ford, President and CEO of Land O' Lakes, Inc.
My career path definitely didn’t follow a stereotypical linear trajectory. I actually began my career working as a night warehouse foreman for Mobil Oil. Altogether, I’ve had a number of roles at seven different companies in six different industries, with publishing, chemicals/fragrances and now agriculture being just a few.
For women who aspire to a C-level role in agriculture, first, I have to say, you’ve made a terrific choice. Agriculture is one of the most rewarding industries I have worked in. Second, I have a few pieces of advice:
1) Resiliency is key. Take risks and be willing to fail fast. That’s how you learn, adapt, adjust and make your next move. Agriculture is facing strong headwinds right now, and we need women willing to innovate, think differently and motivate others to do the same.
2) Ask for what you want. My mother used to tell me that if I wanted something, I needed to ask for it because she couldn’t read my mind. Women especially, I think, have a tendency to stay quiet and hope they’ll be recognized for the hard work they’ve done or the talents they bring to a certain role. That isn’t always the case. Advocate for yourself.
3) Encourage and support other women. Realize their success does not negate your success. This isn’t a zero-sum game. We’re all in this together.
In my experience, careers are more of a winding journey than a straight line. In each role I took along the way, I was deliberate in assessing whether this next step would offer the opportunities and responsibilities I needed to get where I wanted to be. In some instances, I made lateral moves, just to learn a new role or skill set. Proactively chart your own course and enjoy and learn from every stop along the way."
Founder of Kan Biosys (2005), Co-founder of Krishi Mitra Bioproducts (1993), Co-founder of Agreeta (2014)
If you had to explain to a younger woman, how you succeeded in your career, what would you tell this person?
"Dream big. Be fearless. Cherish your originality as that is your best strength. If you know what you want, go after it. The whole world conspires to help you."
What has been your main motivation to become a leader in Bio Agriculture?
"Some of my main motivations include wanting: to contribute towards health and safety and to work in the sector which affects the needs of the entire human population, animal and plants by using a tool in which is on the cusp of innovation and discovery."
Do you have any goals you still want to achieve? Which are those and how do you want to get there?
"My goal and aspiration is to have the largest microbial company with a turnover in excess of a billion dollars."
Global Communication Manager at Plant Impact
You moved from another sector into the agriculture industry and have played a significant role in the corporate communication and marketing activities within Plant Impact, what have been the highlights?
"Two clear highlights. When I joined the company, I was tasked with setting up an internal, external and investor communications function from scratch and helping to reposition the perception of the company externally. There was already a busy and professional marketing team at that point, but as with many small companies, the ambition and shared values had not yet been defined. I absolutely loved having the opportunity to work with the whole team to help create a narrative that everyone could engage with. I was also given free-reign to prioritize the use of plain English in our communications – a particular passion of mine that became firmly established during my time in financial services.
I cannot pretend that the path has been easy however, and my second highlight is actually the result of one of the most challenging periods of my career. This is a tough market, and our technology is still relatively new, so following an initial growth spurt, Plant Impact has had a challenging journey in more recent times. Last year, we were acquired by Croda International Plc. I cannot under-state just how much I learned during that acquisition period. The tasks required were enormously challenging both professionally and personally but after some of the most effective team-work I’ve ever had the pleasure to take part in, the acquisition completed, integration began and our new home with Croda has proved to be a perfect fit."
Any advice for other women looking to move into this sector from other areas?
"I would advise any woman considering moving sectors to take that leap into agriculture to expect challenges that will drive you to raise your game, a clear purpose that will make sense of your efforts and the kind of warm, talented and professional colleagues that will become your friends. I’d say that the stats may show that agriculture is male dominated but worrying about that fact is just wasted effort. Just go for it and be part of a change in an industry that can make a difference to food security worldwide – why wouldn’t you want that?"
Honorable Mentions Pt. 1
Rose ReifsnyderSenior Marketing Director at Agrinos
Rose Reifsnyder is one of the top marketers in the industry when it comes to event branding. Her key achievements include: building a launch strategy and developing marketing tactics for a premium-priced product, achieving a $10 million dollar sales target.
A Core Pillar in EBIC
Kristen is someone who has been a true leader within EBIC and the biostimulant community and is one of, fewer than 1200, people in the world to earn the Accredited Business Communicator (ABC) credential from the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC). "I am a strategic communicator and professional affairs specialist with extensive experience working on food and agriculture issues. Since 2008, I have been a Consulting Partner at Prospero & Partners, an independent consultancy helping food and agriculture organizations to create value sustainably." -Kristen Sukalac
Bhavna PatelInternational Finance and Business Manager at AlgaEnergy
Bhavna Patel has played a key role over the years with operational set up for BioAg companies. Bhavna is an International Finance and Business Manager at AlgaEnergy, responsible for accounting, financial reporting, cash management, budgets, accounts payable & accounts receivable, human resource and regulatory. She is also responsible for international business operations.
Sabine Henning HelbigAssociate Partner at GBAL
What advice can you give on pursuing a self-made future?
"Focus on what you really want in life, I mean, your life purpose. This life goal is the one that makes you happy, fulfilled and keeps you curious on each single day! It is the dream job or position where you enjoy doing what you do. Once you find out your dream or goal, you should focus on how to reach it, no matter, how difficult, complicated or sacrificing it may be. Think of obstacles, that are presented in your way, are there for helping you to step up and become even better and more experienced in your work. Never give up on your life goal and you will always succeed and make the world a better place!"