CHARLOTTE, NC — The workforce crisis facing bakers, snack producers and other food manufacturers is more complex than just a worker shortage. During the SNAXPO conference, held Aug. 22-24, SNAC International’s Women in Snacks (WinS) network hosted a panel to discuss strategies for creating an inclusive workplace culture where employees want to stay.

Moderated by Cathy Harrell, founder and consultant for DreamVision Diversity & Inclusion Consultants and former VP of field marketing for Sonic Drive-In, the panel included Mike Harper, CFO and VP of finance for Rudolph Foods; Shannan Redcay, SVP of productivity and development for Utz Brands; and Lisa Stern, SVP of sales and marketing for Lifespice Ingredients.

There’s one basic practice, according to Harper, that is a key factor and has kept him at Rudolph Foods for more than 16 years: Create a platform that’s safe for people to speak.

“We can give our opinions and thoughts without retribution,” he said. “That’s the start of a great company because diversity of thought is important.”

It’s also important for managers to set people up for success in any given situation, regardless of perceived constraints. People may often be bound by their circumstances, but they can also be used in positive ways when provided the right opportunity.

“So often, you see someone in a specific circumstance and think they’re bound by it,” Harper said. “I’ve seen people who are bound by their circumstance still flourish and excel.”

Harper noted that Rudolph is in the process of refining its education requirements to take a more qualitative look at job candidates.

“What we are finding is that experience, in many cases, is more important than a degree from a big university,” he said.

When it comes to growing and developing an inclusive and diverse workforce, culture can be everything.

“You have to look inward at your culture to make sure it has the foundation to support these kinds of initiatives, Harper said. “Culture beats strategy every time.”

In looking at the foundation, Stern advised that diversity needs to begin with inclusion.



“You have to look inward at your culture to make sure it has the foundation to support these kinds of initiatives, Harper said. “Culture beats strategy every time.”


WinS panel“To have a diverse group, you have to involve multiple parties at the table,” she said. “You can’t just look at education anymore; you have to consider other factors as well. We need to stop trying to ‘check the box’ and look at a broader pool.”

Doing this, she said, will organically create a culture of diversity and inclusion.

The foundation must also include awareness, according to Redcay.

“There needs to be a recognition that you don’t know anything but yourself,” she said. “I don’t know what it’s like to be anything but a white female. When I acknowledge that as a limitation, I can seek different opinions and avoid putting my own assumptions onto other parties and learn from them instead.”

Changing expectations of singular thoughts and experiences will lead to culture change.

For industry members trying to climb the corporate ladder, the panel reminded them to think of setbacks as detours for professional development.  They also present ways to reset and find a new path forward because key learnings and new opportunities can often be found in adversity.

“I always tell my team, ‘Every negative has a positive,’” Stern said. “Inevitably, things will go wrong. But if you take a step back, pivot and learn from it, you can move that experience into something greater.”

Opening opportunities for diversity, equity and inclusion can ultimately change how a company defines — or even measures — success.

“For a culture of diversity to really take hold, there’s no limited amount of success,” Redcay said. “Success is not a finite jar; we don’t pull from it and then it’s gone. There’s enough opportunity for everybody.”

SNAC International set up the WinS network in 2018 to champion and develop a professional network for rising female leaders in the snack industry. Learn more here.


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