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Bond of Brilliance


More than 550 honorees and guests joined us last month in Orlando to celebrate the induction of our 10th class of Top Women in Grocery, and without question, it was quite the celebration.

Occurring just two days after what present-day historians describe as one of the most contentious and controversial political election seasons in U.S. history — and certainly the most hostile and divisive in my lifetime — the timing of TWIG’s 10thanniversary event was both ironic and restorative. A simple one-sentence email I received from a guest following the event succinctly summed up the feelings of many: “It was such a magnificent, inspiring night, and just what the doctor ordered — for all of us to feel inspired and hopeful.”

And though it’s true that hope is not a strategy, the unmistakable vibe pulsing through the Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress underscored the fact that while momentum will continue to build for female leaders in the food industry, there remains more to be done, particularly in the areas of more c-suite women executives and more equitable representation of women on corporate boards and yes, in public office.

Cognizant of the timing of our gala event, I sought to absorb as much as possible in the weeks leading up to it from media discussions and public discourse about how a woman in the White House would have been good for women in business. My key takeaways are as follows, beginning with the prevailing consensus that while a female president will absolutely shine greater light on women’s strides, having a woman in the Oval Office is no guarantee that gender bias or organizational policies will decidedly change at many organizations.

Gender inequality is still apparent in many businesses — including the food industry — and is well documented by countless research studies, including a recent report by LeanIn.Org and McKinsey, which found that women remain underrepresented at every level in the corporate pipeline, and that it will take more than 100 years for women to reach the top levels of U.S. corporations.

Fewer than one in five members of Congress are women. At Fortune 500 companies, fewer than one in 20 CEOs are female — a figure that has remained relatively unchanged over the past eight years. Beyond that, the race toward gender parity with wages is moving even more slowly. According to the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) “2016 Global Gender Gap Report,” gender parity with wages won’t be achieved until the year 2186.

Moreover, a recent article in the Harvard Business Review (HBR) about challenges for women in the financial services industry, by Oliver Wyman partners Astrid Jaekel and Elizabeth St-Onge, candidly tackled why these challenges remain, and what should be done to finally break down the barriers and position the female leadership needle on an accurate plane.

“The problem is not simply the tone or atmosphere of the workplace; it is the unstated ideas about what is required for success,” Jaekel and St-Onge write. An effective senior female executive, the authors continue, is perceived “to be aggressive, dominating, transactional — characteristics that are stereotypically masculine and that are, as a matter of statistical fact, more commonly associated with men.… Even our definition of leadership often follows stereotypical male characteristics,” according to the HBR article, which went on to say that as a result, women often have to “masculinize” their female traits — many of which just so happen to be the most beneficial for highly effective organizational teams.

“The result is that women are implicitly held to a higher standard than their male colleagues. Proving yourself is harder for women,” Jaekel and St-Onge continue, noting an interview they conducted with a female senior-level executive, who explained how companies “‘are more willing to take risks on men. With a woman, she has to prove it first.’ Consequently, many women lose confidence that they can succeed, and lower their ambitions or quit.”

But as brilliantly depicted at our Nov. 10 confab, quitting is out of the question for our Top Women in Grocery, who for the past decade have paved the way for the next generation of industry leaders.

Nominations for our 2017 program begin on Jan. 2, and next year we’ll honor a new class of Top Women. For now, we extend a final thanks and congratulations to our 2016 honorees, confident in the knowledge that the best is yet to come.

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