Women in the Food Industry

The food industry continues to grow, and so there are many opportunities within the industry. Where does it stand however, on gender equality? A paper by McKinsey examined closely the employee experiences as well as the policies the food industry has put in place to promote diversity.

In the United States women make up the majority of food-purchasing decisions, as well as nearly half of the entry level workforce in this industry. They are however, underrepresented above this level. In the C-suite for example, they represent less than a fourth of employees at this level, and there are even fewer women of colour in this group.

Research carried out by McKinsey and LeanIn.org found that of 222 companies surveyed, 90% state a commitment to gender diversity[1]. The McKinsey Global Institute showed in 2015 that if the gender gap was fully bridged, $4.3 trillion of additional annual GDP would be added in 2025[2]. McKinsey and LeanIn state that there are four key reasons why businesses in the food industry need to act.

The first is that gender diversity drives improved business performance. Businesses with more gender diversity tend to perform better. Companies who are not in the top quartile for gender diversity are 15 % less likely than better performing companies to have returns higher than their national industry medians[3].As well as this, having a diverse talent set has been shown to create teams that are better functioning and who make better decisions.

The second is gender diversity allows employers to attract and retain talent. By focusing on recruiting and retaining women the size of the talent pool increases. Over half of US college graduates are women. The McKinsey Global Institute has projected that by 2020 in advanced economies, there will be a shortage of up to 18 million college educated workers[4]. As well as this, a 2012 survey showed skill shortages was the main reason that 40% of companies had entry-level job vacancies.[5] More actively recruiting women and other underrepresented groups will expand the talent pool and decrease the skills shortages.

Thirdly, gender diversity increases innovation. If a company has a diverse workforce, they then get a range of views and insights into the general population and consumer base. Women are important consumers and key decisions makers when it comes to purchasing. They are responsible for 85% of consumer purchases as well as 93% of US household food purchases[6]. If more women are hired companies will have direct insights into their consumer base.

Fourth is that the fair thing to do is to improve gender diversity. In business today, social responsibility is becoming much more important. A number of countries also have legal requirements for diversity. For example, in the UK they have the UK Equality Act of 2010 and Ireland has the Employment Equality Acts. All employees benefit from a fair, inclusive workplace, not just women.

As previously mentioned women are highly underrepresented at all levels in the food industry. Women represent only 23% of C-suite executives in the food industry. They are also less likely to serve in P&L roles. This means they are also less likely to be promoted to more senior positions. This issue is even more serious for women of colour, who make up only 14% of entry level employees and hold only 3% of C-suite positions. Women face more barriers to acquiring their first promotion, with 20% less women than men reaching the first promotion to manager in the food industry.

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[1] Alexis Krivkovich, Kelsey Robinson, Irina Starikova, Rachel Valentino, and Lareina Yee, Women in the Workplace 2017, October 2017, McKinsey.com.

[2] For the full McKinsey Global Institute report, see “The power of parity: How advancing women’s equality can add $12 trillion to global growth,” September 2015, on McKinsey. com.

[3] For more, see “Why diversity matters,” McKinsey Global Institute, January 2015, on McKinsey.com.

[4] For the full McKinsey Global Institute report, see “The world at work: Jobs, pay, and skills for 3.5 billion people,” June 2012, on McKinsey.com.

[5] Dominic Barton, Diana Farrell, and Mona Mourshed, “Education to employment: Designing a system that works,” January 2013, McKinsey.com

[6] US Yankelovich MONITOR tracking study data

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