The struggle for women to secure positions in the C-suite is an ongoing battle, and COVID-19 hasn’t been a huge help either. This is especially true for the food and beverage industry. While women make up half of the workforce in entry-level F&B jobs, less than a quarter make up roles at the executive level of the same industry. For women of colour, the percentage is miniscule, at just 3%. Then we turn to the APAC region, where women are not sufficiently represented in leadership across all sectors – only about 27% of leadership positions in this region are held by women.
Here I’ll be taking a look at the state of female leadership in the food and beverage industry, highlighting trends specific to the APAC region, and the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on women in this sector.
As a general overview, women in the food industry are underrepresented at the executive level. On average, women in the industry get promoted less than men do, despite leaving their jobs at the same rate and staying in their jobs for the same amount of time. However, men are hired and/or promoted sooner, a trend that expands beyond the F&B industry.
As for the region itself, only 73% of boards in Asia have at least one woman. This figure is still underwhelming, especially considering the remarkable financial impacts having women in positions of leadership can have on a business. The Board Gender Diversity in ASEAN report found that companies with over 30% representation of women had nearly 4% better financial performance than boards with none. But despite this significant correlation between profit and gender diversity, one in three women in the APAC region still feel that gender is a barrier to success.
Women in the F&B C-Suite
A diverse workplace, with comparable numbers of gender distribution across all levels, has been proven as better for a business’s overall productivity and profit margin. In 2015, the McKinsey Global Institute found that fully bridging the gender gap in the US labour market would not only be equitable but add $4.3 trillion of additional annual GDP in 2025 – 19% higher than normal levels. It’s also thought that gender diversity also helps provide better customer insights, which most likely contributes to the overall boost in profit. Despite all of this, food companies lag when it comes to implementing programs that seek to ameliorate women’s development within their ranks and recruit more of them.
In the food and beverage industry specifically, great strides have been made for women’s representation at the senior level over the last ten years. For example, for both PepsiCo and The Coca-Cola Company have women in their executive suites, and both companies cite diversity and inclusion as key pillars of their business practices. Coca-Cola’s goal is to become 50% led by women. They currently sit at 34% and are implementing developments strategies across the business to ensure they reach their goal. PepsiCo has associations of women present in all the countries where it operates, working with local governments to develop diversity plans. However, there is still much work to be done. In 2019, only 16% of C-suite executives in the food and beverage industry were female.
Impact of COVID-19
Whenever a crisis occurs, women are hit harder in a broad sense. COVID-19 was no different, disproportionately affecting women across the entire globe. Unsurprisingly, the burden falls the heaviest on women in developing countries. Overall, women’s jobs were found to be twice as at risk as men’s jobs during the coronavirus pandemic.
Much of this was attributed to school closures. School closures led to an increase in domestic load at home, which primarily fell on women to pick up. This resulted in one in four women considering leaving their jobs during this time, as opposed to one in five men, according to a McKinsey study. This difference was even bigger among individuals with children under the age of 10.
Such setbacks could not have been anticipated, of course. No one knew how enormous, widespread, and longlasting the effects of COVID-19 would be. But the pandemic did exacerbate a number of gender discrepancies in the workplace. Ann Cairns, executive vice chair at Mastercard and panelist on BoardAgender’s discussion of women in the workplace, said “What that’s highlighted is that we haven’t solved childcare globally. What I think you can do is you can look at it inside your own organisation and you can look at it inside your own country and decide what you’re going to do to create some sort of level playing field for men and women about this.”
The answers to bridging this gap are simpler than one might think. There are a number of options that a company can take to start bridging the gender divide in their companies, both in terms of pay and in terms of representation.
- Do some research: PayPal’s CEO invested in outside consultants to conduct an audit of the company, collecting data on everything from location to pay range to position to familial situations. The results yielded a $3 million pay gap, which he paid immediately. Conducting a similar exploration into your company’s discrepancies can be extremely rewarding, helping provide clarity on areas to work on in regards to gender disparity.
- Implement training/recruitment processes: Bank of America is a great example of a company that spent the time and money to develop a development program for its women. The company implemented mandatory diverse hiring guidelines to reach a wider candidate pool and stuck to a mentorship timeline with each employee to ensure career development. Between 2015 and 2018, B of A’s women representation rose from 33% to 44% at the senior leadership level.
- Eliminate gender discrepancies: Companies can review their maternity and paternity policies to ensure that they do not require more of one parent. They can also review their childcare options, if any, and perhaps especially look into emergency childcare systems for those with young children. Flexible working options are also a great way to help parents and remove some of the onus on women for childcare.
When it comes to improving diversity authentically and organically within a workplace, there’s always more work to be done. There’s no denying that COVID-19 set back diversity goals by a significant margin, either. But there are many ways companies can strive to bridge the gender gap in their companies. APAC has a lot of work to do, but we look forward to seeing how companies strive to make their practices more dynamic and inclusive in the near future.
Be sure to follow us on LinkedIn to stay up to date with all the latest trends and developments across the supply chain. At Proco Global, diversity is one of our core pillars. Feel free to get in touch with me to discuss women in the manufacturing industry here.