Tetra Pak is calling for more women to join various sectors and management levels in the F&B manufacturing industry, saying innovation can thrive when diverse teams tackle problem-solving.
The company’s impetus is the various environmental challenges global food systems are currently facing, ranging from climate change to food safety and distribution. A homogeneous approach to solving these issues is less likely to stimulate sufficient change, it says.
“Tetra Pak has always championed diversity across the business, but we recognize that more can be done to encourage diversity of thought and ideation among different colleagues,” highlights Laurence Mott, executive vice president of development and engineering at Tetra Pak.
Crucially, a huge variety of skills are required to boost innovation in the food packaging industry, ranging from mechanical and automation engineering to microbiology and food science – fields of research where women have traditionally been underrepresented.
Speaking exclusively with FoodIngredientsFirst, Tetra Pak employees elaborate how Tetra Pak’s push for a gender-diverse talent pool can leverage the power of diverse perspectives and unlock creativity and performance.
Changing stigmas from within
Manufacturing industries have not always been an attractive career choice for women, in part due to the stereotypes and legacies of a heavily male-dominated sector.
According to the 2021 World Economic Forum’s Gender Gap report, women still choose science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) disciplines far less frequently than men.
Only 10.4 percent of women specialize in these fields versus over 30 percent of men, with a meager share of women in engineering, manufacturing and construction (2.42 percent).
Mott highlights some of the stereotypes preventing a more gender-balanced labor force are mainly around physical strength, dull industrial environments and lack of human interaction.
A bias in social perception of women’s capabilities in the F&B manufacturing sector further influences their decisions not to pursue STEM careers.
“When a man holds a position, it’s often readily accepted that they can do the job, but women really have to prove themselves,” Elsebeth Baungaard, Tetra Pak’s ice cream portfolio manager, tells FoodIngredientsFirst.
“Earlier in my career, this made me very focused on results. Everything needed to be 100 percent perfect, but as my confidence has grown, I’ve learned this doesn’t always have to be the case.”
A bottom-up approach
Due to the shortage of female employees in F&B manufacturing, Tetra Pak sees a need to “build from the ground up.”
“This varies by country and discipline,” explains Mott. “We are therefore working on programs such as food talent with universities and academic institutions to ensure we have more women joining the manufacturing workforce in the future. It’s a journey,” he emphasizes.
This “journey” includes six checkpoints where Tetra Pak still has room for internal improvement:
Progress made so far
Tetra Pak made diversity and inclusion a pillar business strategy, spearheaded by a representative group of 19 men and women from across the company.
In 2019, Tetra Pak saw a 14 percent rise in women in top management positions, followed by similar senior leadership growth figures in 2018 (14 percent) and 2017 (10 percent).
So far, the strategy has ensured women take on leadership roles across Tetra Pak’s divisions in automation and digital; program management; systems engineering; and materials and packaging. “We are proud that we have more women leading innovative projects in development and engineering than men,” Mott adds.
Furthermore, the company implemented a “Future Talent” graduate program to help usher in the next generation of female engineers and leaders. “The program is designed to challenge graduates and help them develop new skills, both personally and professionally,” Mott explains.
For example, Sara De Simoni, vice president of program management started her career via the Future Talent program as an openings development engineer two decades ago. Also, Lexie Li, assistant food technologist APAC PSE, joined Tetra Pak through the program after completing a master’s degree in Food Science and Technology.
The need for a female perspective
Women and girls represent half of the world’s population and therefore half of its potential. Ultimately, female leadership can broaden the diversity of ideas, leading to a better understanding of consumers’ needs, resulting in better-designed market solutions.
As just one example, Baungaard highlights women tend to be more empathetic. “This often makes us more attuned to customer needs and likely to pick up on any tensions.”
On the UN Day of Women in Science, PackagingInsights spotlighted the experiences of ten female experts in the male-dominated packaging and environmental industries. They explored the added-value of actively pursuing talent outside the white male labor force.
“The longer I work in this industry and specifically my role, the more I view being a woman as an advantage. I hope by sharing my positive experience, I can help encourage more women into science and engineering careers because we really do have so much to offer – and to gain,” Baungaard concludes.
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