Few women currently hold top leadership positions in the dairy industry, but the tide is slowly turning.

The International Dairy Foods Association recently tapped into that dynamic during the 2019 Dairy Forum broadcast from Orlando, Fla., hosting a panel of women leaders in the dairy industry to share their experiences and encourage other women.

The women on the panel said they have all had their share of bumps and bruises along the way but defined challenges as learning opportunities rather than hurdles.

Women wanting to rise to the next level need to own their decisions, be resilient and “go on the journey.” They need to realize life is full of success and failure, and that’s the joy of the journey, Beth Ford, president and CEO of Land O’Lakes, said.

“But you don’t decide I’m not good enough or I’m not smart enough or I’m going to take myself out of play,” she said.

Women often sideline themselves because they made a mistake or things didn’t go well. But any issue is a learning moment, she said.

What’s important is building a strong network. Careers are built because of relationships and networks that will remain throughout a woman’s career and life, she said.

Miriam Erickson Brown, president and CEO of Anderson Erickson Dairy Co., agreed, saying the encouragement gained from networking has been invaluable to her.

Marilyn Hershey, owner-operator of Ar-Joy Farms and chairwoman of the National Dairy Board, advised women to surround themselves with people they admire and pick their brains as to how they got to where they are.

“Don’t worry about rising to the top. Just enjoy the journey and enjoy the relationships you make along the way,” she said.

Barbara Glenn, CEO of the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture, said women should think strategically about how to deliver the vision, goals and objectives of their organization and get on board early with project management.

Patricia Stroup, global vice president and head of commodities at Nestle, said women who want to be leaders need to be brave, be themselves and decide what they really want.

“Once you decide what you want, it’s easy. You need to decide what you want and then be brave enough to go get it,” she said.

Hershey said she second-guessed herself a lot in running for chairman of the National Dairy Board until one board member told her to just be herself.

“We have to have the courage to be ourselves, enjoy the journey, enjoy each day and laugh a lot,” she said.

Glenn said attitude is everything. Someone can be competent, the best communicator and collaborator, but it’s attitude that raises people to the top, she said.

Ford advised women to put joy into the job. And while it sounds simplistic, don’t be a jerk; nobody likes working with a jerk, she said.

“You’re never moving that person along or you’re never wanting them on a team because they’re just hard to work with,” she said.

“Just be a decent person and have some joy and fun and connect with people,” she said.

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