For Women in Food, Respect Doesn’t Come Easily
We kicked off Women’s History Month by asking our community an important question: why do women still do most of the grocery shopping? What followed were dozens of thoughtful responses from customers full of candor and insight, not to mention some intriguing ideas for making Good Eggs even easier to use. We appreciate the suggestions!
We also spent some time this month talking to our women-led producers. Women are significantly underrepresented in leadership positions in the food industry, holding just 26 percent of VP roles; 20 percent of SVP roles; and 23 percent of C-Suite roles. I wish I could say these numbers are surprising, but they’re not. By posing questions to women who have succeeded despite this bias, we hoped to learn about the challenges they faced, while drawing inspiration from their perseverance. It didn’t take long for some common threads to emerge.
The Biggest Challenge? Being Taken Seriously
The producers we surveyed identified a host of challenges faced by women in the food industry — everything from unequal funding opportunities to balancing the expectations of motherhood with their careers. But one common response stood out from the others. Despite their accomplishments, nearly every woman called out the difficulty in being taken seriously — especially by men.
“Unfortunately, there are a slew of challenges to being a woman in the food industry,” Nichole Accettola, the owner and chef of Kantine said. “The most prevalent I have experienced is dealing with males who don’t take me seriously. I’ve been in situations with guests, vendors, and even employees where it seems as though, regardless of what I say, my words have no impact on the conversation.”
Brooke Budner, a wildcrafter who founded, owns, and runs Landsea Gomasio, agreed.
“Sometimes when working with other wholesalers and distributors, I find that I am not taken as seriously as my male counterparts might be,” she said.
Hyunjoo Albrecht, the president and owner of Sinto Gourmet, has experienced the same problem. She thinks her status as an immigrant plays a role, too.
“Being a minority as a woman and an immigrant, I feel that sometimes my business associates such as brokers, distributors, or customers don’t take me seriously or underestimate the potential of my business,” she said.
Mandy Harper, the founder and CEO of Wholesome Bakery, pointed to stereotypes as one reason women in food are treated this way.
“You are often not taken seriously,” she said. “Especially as a woman who owns a bakery, it is often deemed a role that is easier or normal for a woman to be in. It can be viewed as ‘cute’ when a woman owns a bakery or a company in general.”
This culture of disrespect often pops up in subtle moments that can easily be swept under the rug, even though they can have a lasting impact on the women who endure them over and over.
“Because I co-founded my business with my husband, some of our older male guests at the winery address all of their questions to him,” said Lauren Belden, the co-founder and Chief Creative Cultivator at Belden Barns.
There also seems to be an underlying assumption that women aren’t as knowledgeable or savvy as men, regardless of their title or experience.
Rana Lehmer-Chang, the founder and owner of House Kombucha, pointed to “people assuming I am speaking from emotion and not knowledge” as the biggest challenge she faces as a woman in the food industry.
Similarly, Stacie Pierce, the owner-chef at Little Bee Baking, said “salespeople assuming I’m uninformed and gullible” is her biggest hurdle.
While the details vary from producer to producer, it’s crystal clear that women in the food industry have had to work harder to be shown the respect they’ve earned throughout their careers.
‘Know Your Strength as a Woman’
Our producers had a lot of advice for women facing similar challenges in the food industry and elsewhere. Beyond working hard (and smart) and speaking your mind, our producers recommend leaning into your womanhood, tapping into your community, and taking care of yourself.
“Realize just how big an asset your womanhood can be to your business,” Lauren Belden said. “Not to generalize, but many studies have proven that women often make better leaders and more empathetic, understanding business partners.”
Pashmina Chaudhary, the founder and CEO of Indian Bento, offered similar advice.
“Know your strength as a woman,” she said. “We use empathy to our benefit, and this helps me motivate my team to new heights.”
A supportive community plays a big role, too. Several of the women we surveyed emphasized that surrounding yourself with the right people can help you achieve your dreams.
“There is lots of support out there, especially in the SF Bay Area,” Daniela Kratz, the founder and owner of Farmhouse Lab, said. “Reach out for help, build your network, join an incubator, a co-working space, and get a mentor.”
Nichole Accettola echoed that sentiment.
“If you aren't completely ready to commit to your own path, learn from others who can show you the way they achieved their goals,” she said. “Their experiences will benefit you one day!”
Self-love seems to be another piece of the puzzle. A healthy work-life balance ensures you’ll have the energy and mindset to persevere in instances where gender bias and other challenges arise.
“Don't forget to take a step back to take care of yourself, and don’t forget to exercise,” Jen Musty, the owner and founder of Batter Bakery, said. “Seriously, this is the number one thing you can do for yourself to keep sane, healthy, and strong in this crazy environment.”
Finding Happiness in the Freedom to Create
We closed our survey by asking our women producers what they love most about their jobs. Many of the responses were centered around a joy for good food, but what stood out most was the connection between happiness and creativity. Pouring your passion and point of view into a product or company is fulfilling and profound, according to the women we surveyed.
“I love building something from scratch and experimenting with direction,” Daniela Kratz said.
“Ultimate creative freedom” was at the top of Lauren Belden’s list.
Cristina Widjaja, the founder and CEO of Hey Boo, said that “being in a position to innovate and launch interesting products” was the best thing about her job.
“I love making people happy with healthy snacks I’ve created with ingredients my dad grows,” Mollie Sitkin, the owner of Old Dog Ranch Family Farm, said.
Mandy Harper put it even more simply: “I bake, which is what I’m passionate about.”
Gillian Shaw Lundgren mentioned that “working with my incredible team creating delicious things that make people happy” is what she loves most about being the owner-baker at Black Jet Baking Co.
Throughout history, the responsibility of pleasing others has been foisted upon women, but it’s not necessarily the thing that drives us or makes us happy. It does, though, seem to be a side benefit for our producers when they are creatively expressing themselves through business, art, and food.
We set out to learn from and be inspired by the women who produce the good food at the heart of Good Eggs. It’s safe to say we accomplished those goals. But what about the food industry — will it start to take women more seriously? It has a long way to go. Either way, we're here, we're kicking ass, and everyone else better catch up.