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How allyship is the industry’s key to the future

By
Doug Bohr

When the Women’s Fresh Perspectives Portfolio began, it was a breakfast meeting at what was then-known as PMA Fresh Summit. The event convened professionals across the produce and floral supply chains who support the development of women in our industry.  It was about inspiration and connection, and — not surprisingly — it grew.

Doug
Doug Bohr

From that was born Women’s Fresh Perspectives Conference, an immersive professional development program for women unlike any other.  Designed by women for women, it fast became a meaningful, shared experience for a community of women who — with the support of their organizations — could take time to focus on how they could uniquely contribute to the industry. It has had tremendous impact on the women in our industry and, in turn, on our industry as whole — and it too has grown.  This year’s Women’s Fresh Perspectives Conference is sold out.

As the flagship programs, Women’s Fresh Perspective Conference and Women’s Leadership Breakfast at the Global Produce & Floral Show continue to grow, we ask ourselves: What’s next?

Due to growing demand, we are now adding a Women’s Fresh Perspectives Networking Lunch at The Washington Conference in June and a Women’s Fresh Perspectives General Session at The Foodservice Conference in July. We also host a Women’s Fresh Perspectives Breakfast at The Southern Africa Conference in August. This is just the beginning. We are focused on finding new ways to connect and inspire women while promoting allyship in our industry. We believe this portfolio needs to be felt year-round. With our committee’s support, we continue to look for new ways to extend our impact and bring allies along with us. This could be through virtual sessions, smaller regional meetups, or other events in new markets.

This important work is never done. The industry is always changing, year over year, generation to generation. We’re expanding into new markets, and into new spaces of innovation and business. We are attracting new talent with the necessary new skills from new places. An intentionally inclusive culture that values, welcomes and encourages the full participation of all its people — not regardless of but especially because of their differences of experience, perspectives, skills and insights — is essential to our industry’s success.   

Creating an inclusive culture can take many shapes and dimensions. It can be onboarding that consciously addresses barriers to newcomers to our industry, your company or team to get acclimated to their new workplace and culture. It can be professional development that supports both industry-specific learning and skill-building. It can be mentoring that purposefully pairs emerging talent with industry professionals to whom they can relate and share experiences that makes the newcomer feel connected and engaged. It can be team building that intentionally creates a space for team members to practice dialogue, and thereby build trust and rapport. It can be networking to expand that sense of connection to industry peers and colleagues.

Our Women’s Fresh Perspectives Portfolio provides expert insights, learning and practical resources on each of these topics. It is important to acknowledge that these practices — and efforts to build a more inclusive culture, generally — can fall short of their potential if companies and teams do not intentionally embrace and adopt these practices.

This is where another practice, allyship, whereby colleagues in positions of influence actively support and advocate on behalf of colleagues and, in turn, company policies and practices that support them, can have significant impact.   

What does allyship look like? Here is just a glimpse:

1. Actively engage, communicate and build relationships with colleagues, especially those who may be under-represented and therefore marginalized within the company or team. It can be isolating when you work for a company or team in which you are the only woman, for example. Building relationships and trust is the first step to removing barriers that may prevent your colleague from feeling welcome and fully participating and contributing to your company’s or team’s performance.   

2. Share your access. If you have more information or experience about the innerworkings of your organization, or relationships with peers across the company that may help provide instrumental assistance, share those with your team members.

3. Model and advocate for behavioral change.  Cultural change requires behavioral and sometimes structural change. If you are in a position of influence, introducing or advocating for practices, including those listed above, could have meaningful impact on someone’s career development, on talent retention broadly and on the performance of your company. When you see bias, barriers or blind spots in your company’s talent development practices, make the business case for change that research shows will improve not only talent retention but your company’s or team’s performance.   

These are just a few initial suggestions, but probably the most important one is that as an ally, you’re committed to learning. There is always more to learn and appreciate about those we work with to unlock their full potential and, in turn, our team’s full potential, all of which are key to your company’s success.

This year, the Women’s Fresh Perspectives Portfolio will place additional emphasis on allyship. For those looking to learn more about how they or their organization can begin this work, IFPA has created a DEI Toolkit as a resource for all those interested in learning more.

Doug Bohr is chief education and programs officer for IFPA.

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