At Twomentor, we like to share bi-weekly thought leadership from phenomenal executives and social entrepreneurs focused on: a diverse skilled workforce, social impact entrepreneurship, mentoring cultures, sponsorship and elevating women in STEM careers. Beth Ford, COO of Land O’Lakes is the real deal role model and we love how she has found passion + purpose in her work. A skilled food and agriculture workforce is needed now more than ever as we live in a time that and estimated 795 million people of the 7.3 billion people in the world, or one in nine, were suffering from chronic undernourishment according to The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization. We are delighted to share Beth’s insights and wisdom with you today:
Julie@Twomentor: Beth, let’s start with your story. I was really struck with how you have been in six industries but found deep purpose personally in the food and agriculture industry at Land O’ Lakes, Inc. Tell us about that.
Beth:When I was 22 years old, my first job out of college was as a night warehouse foreman for Mobil Oil. Since then, I’ve held a variety of supply chain and manufacturing leadership roles, worked around the world and spent time on trading teams. I ultimately shifted to running businesses, spanning industries like consumer packaged goods, publishing, chemicals, and now agribusiness. I’m fortunate that my path has led me to a point where I can leverage my experience to make a difference. Sustainable food production is one of the grand challenges of our time. From my perspective, a career in agriculture translates to figuring out how we’ll feed a growing population. It is purpose-driven work.
Twomentor: How important is it to get more women into STEM professions?
Beth: This is of utmost importance given the role of technology in every industry. But to be clear, more women in STEM is simply table stakes. It is the ante for the game. More critically, we need to get women in leadership positions early and throughout their careers. STEM education gets you in the door… it doesn’t get you to the top. That’s about delivering results and developing a reputation as a strong, consistent and capable leader.
Twomentor: How do you think understanding purpose plays a part in practicing wide and developing as a leader?
Beth: I believe employees derive a unique sense of purpose from the experience of leading people. According to Deloitte, 63 percent of millennials surveyed in 2016 said their leadership skills are not being fully developed. That’s a lot of untapped potential. I see mentorship and sponsorship in the workplace as a critical component of a healthy, progressive corporate culture. By the way, sponsorship isn’t exclusive to the most senior levels. Some of the most impactful sponsorship I’ve observed or been a party to has been between peers or at a middle management level supporting others to take the next step in their careers.
It’s also important for people to understand their impact on the bigger picture. Good leaders help others to see that, too. At Land O’Lakes, it means telling the story behind what modern agriculture means to our global population and our planet, and then doing something about it.
Twomentor: You are in a male dominated industry built and owned by farmers, what is it like for women? For minorities?
Beth: The agriculture industry faces a perception issue. Many young people think of agriculture as dated. However, quite the opposite is true. In many cases, the biggest challenge we face in achieving a more diverse, equitable workforce is correcting that misperception.
We’ve been intentional about increasing diversity in our workforce and leadership, and it’s reflected in some of our most traditionally male-dominated roles. In the last five years, the percentage of female and minority employees working in my remit has increased from approximately 20 percent to more than 40 percent. In part, this has happened by requiring every role to have a diverse slate of candidates. Then, of course, it’s just about selecting the best person for the team.