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As attendees converged in Orlando for Progressive Grocer's annual Top Women in Grocery leadership development program and awards gala, the brand's "Tips From The Top" panel discussion delivered invaluable insights from three of the most influential female food and beverage industry executives, including Deanie Elsner, president, U.S. Snacks, Kellogg Co.; Meg Ham, president, Food Lion; and Janel Haugarth, EVP and president of Independent Business/Supply Chain Services, Supervalu.
"There's a tremendous amount of women in director, VP and SVP roles, many more than there were three or even five years ago," Haugarth said, when asked to characterize the state of women's leadership in the industry.
"Though I don't see enough women in CEO and board of director roles. We need to get more women in senior leadership so they can be leaders that bring the rest of the talented women in the pipeline up to senior-level positions," Haugarth said. "They're influential, effective and they get things done."
Ham agreed, noting that "women have been growing their presence and influence, and it needs to continue. The majority of consumers are still women, and the perspective that women bring to the senior leadership table is invaluable. We're making great strides, but we're nowhere finished with the journey."
The panelists then offered advice to attendees on the issue of feeling "stuck in the pipeline" without formal mentors or advocates.
"Be confident in your own abilities," Ham stressed. "Ask the hard questions, continue your self-development, and find someone in your organization that you can trust and ask for advice."
Elsner and Haugarth both spoke about the value of taking on new roles, as well as the benefits and challenges therein.
"There were three pivot points in my career where I took a role I had zero interest in," Elsner said, "but the experience was valuable." She spoke about serving in positions that no one else wanted – and were therefore the hardest—and how that helped advance her career.
"Look for lateral career moves," Haugarth added. "But don't think of them as lateral, think of them as brightening your base of experience. People will see what you're doing, and you'll get noticed."
The panel concluded with a discussion on traits that are most integral to women's leadership.
"Be confident in yourself – know and understand what you can bring to the table," Ham said. "Maintain an ability to collaborate and get things done with others; see the whole picture and bring all the different pieces together."
Haugarth added that female leaders should be "results-oriented and concise with [their] thoughts and ideas," while Elsner stressed the importance of maintaining a "network that you can reach out to that fosters a sense of support."
The "Tips From The Top" discussion panel was moderated by Meg Major, PG's chief content editor.