CHICAGO — Reaching the top in any area of business takes work. And for women, it has historically taken over-the-top effort, especially in traditionally male-dominated fields like the baking industry.

But Xochitl Cruz, VP of sweet baked goods operations at Horsham, PA-based Bimbo Bakeries USA (BBU), is encouraging young female professionals entering the field to let that fuel their fire.

“No one is going to do it for you,” she said.


Cruz was one of four leaders in the baking industry who participated in a panel of women in baking during the American Society of Baking’s (ASB) BakingTECH 2022 event, being held March 1-3 in Chicago. The group left no truth unspoken as they discussed rising through leadership ranks, lifting others up and how the baking industry can better support the women in it.

When it comes to breaking through barriers while advancing one’s career, the panelists said obstacles are omnipresent in companies of all shapes and sizes — even in family ones. Trina Bedaiko, CEO of New Horizons Baking Holdings, knows this firsthand.

She’s been involved with New Horizons — previously under the leadership of her father, Tim Brown, currently the company’s chairman of the board — for nearly two decades, and she has learned a lot along the way. Being reflective and true to herself has been key as she’s taken the helm as CEO.

“Be bold and speak your truth. Make sure they hear you, and don’t let anyone speak for you. Make your dreams happen, and don’t run from the challenge.” —Trina Bediako | CEO | New Horizons Baking


“There’s no way in the world that I was truly ready for this all those years ago,” Bediako said. “But when you’re ready, you’re ready. And I have to prove myself every day, I have to truly know my strengths and weaknesses. People have to know who you are, not just where you are from.”

Cruz said another part of establishing leadership — especially for young women still zeroing in on their passion — is being your own biggest advocate.

“If you don’t find that thing that you are really passionate about, you’ll lose that motivation,” she said. “And you can’t be afraid to speak up about it.”

But as important as it is that women pull up their own chair to the table, the women also turned attention to the ways the baking industry can make that process easier. Kristy Taddiono Mullins, president and owner of Denver-based Mile Hi Foods, encouraged companies across the industry to prioritize educational opportunities for potential new employees that will soon be entering the workforce. The more diverse talent the industry can attract, the better.

“If we worked on internships for young people in college, that would be great,” she said. “There are a lot of ways that we can further educate people on all of the opportunities in this industry.”

And when these young professionals get to their future baking positions, it’s important that they feel valued.

“Fifty percent of them end up leaving the workplace,” Cruz said. “And it’s because they feel that they don’t have enough development opportunities.”

When it comes to helping employees across roles achieve that development, mentorships and sponsorships are key. Valerie Wayland, director of technical services and regulatory compliance at Thomasville, GA-based Flowers Foods, encouraged those who are closer to the c-suite to actively seek out these relationships. As much as they can teach others, they might learn something, too.


“These relationships are two-way streets,” she said. “You need to take those bits and pieces and surround yourselves with the people that have the qualities and skills you want.”

And as that relationship builds, it’s important to embrace some vulnerability along the way.

“Realize that you don’t know everything,” Taddiono Mullins said. “Be willing to take a pause and be vulnerable with people.”

For these executives, the most important lesson: Trust yourself.

“Be bold and speak your truth,” Bedaiko said. “Make sure they hear you, and don’t let anyone speak for you. Make your dreams happen, and don’t run from the challenge.”

Taddiono Mullins echoed that sentiment, even though putting yourself out there can be intimidating.

“If you’re not invited to the party,” she said, “figure out how to go anyway.”