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Room at the top: Supplement industry must promote women to leadership

Article-Room at the top: Supplement industry must promote women to leadership

Heather Granato is the vice president of partnerships and sustainability, Informa Markets, based in London, United Kingdom
The nutraceuticals industry is making progress toward gender equity, but less than one-third of its CEOs are women, according to a recent survey.

Eighty-seven women are promoted to first-level manager for every 100 men, and just under one-third of company leadership teams are comprised of women, according to the 2022 Women in the Workplace report from McKinsey. In its overview, the firm noted that women leaders are prioritizing working for companies that prioritize flexibility, employee well-being, and diversity, equity and inclusion.

Information like this and the desire to support the next generation of workers in the nutraceutical industry prompted the formation of Women In Nutraceuticals (WIN) in early 2022. The nonprofit seeks to achieve economic and societal equity to change the global nutraceutical industry. One key pillar in that is increasing the number of women in senior leadership positions and the C-suite.

At the outset, the perception was that across the nutraceutical industry, representation of women in senior management and C-suites was low; however, without data, it was a guess at best. Instead, WIN worked with NEXT Data & Insights on a global survey to gauge the representation of women in company leadership positions, as well as founders and board representation. Roughly 355 industry leaders completed a survey fielded from Dec. 1, 2022, to Jan. 23, 2023; the data was based on what individuals who took the survey could provide based on their visibility into the leadership teams.

At Natural Products Expo West, I had an opportunity to participate in a panel discussion around the state of the supplement industry and what we can do to drive change. During the session, I shared two statistics from the survey results, which speak to gender representation in the nutraceuticals industry. In terms of leadership, 37% of company leadership teams are comprised of women; there was a higher percentage of women in leadership in the ‘rest of world’ segment compared to Europe or North America. By comparison, McKinsey’s report found in 2022 that the proportion of women in senior management roles across all industries globally was 32%—the highest number ever recorded.

The level of female CEOs in the nutraceuticals industry was lower, with 28% of respondents indicating their company is headed by a woman. Additionally, when looking at larger companies—those over $100 million in annual revenue—the problem is more pronounced, as only 13% of CEOs are women. That said, the Women CEOs in America Report 2022 noted 8.8% of Fortune 500 CEOs are women. Does this speak to the size of companies in the nutraceuticals industry, or to the size of the companies employing the survey respondents? Perhaps the nutraceuticals industry is, in fact, mindful of the issue of gender equity and already addressing it.

How it can be addressed more effectively is central to WIN’s mission. Respondents were asked to comment on positive steps their companies were taking to support gender equity and challenges and ‘failures’ in this area. Respondents took an opportunity to call out initiatives such as equal pay, developing internal company networks, setting goals for levels of representation, and offering management training programs for colleagues. We also saw comments around initiatives such as allowing flexible schedules; generous, competitive parental leave benefits; "a pro-women atmosphere and culture;" investing in specialized training; and building a cohesive, nonthreatening work environment.

In terms of challenges, multiple comments focused on the need for more flexibility in scheduling—primary because women typically have more responsibility in the day-to-day job of raising children. Without support for that, companies are asking a woman to choose between her job and her child. Others called out the need for more training, particularly in technical areas, to help fill the pipeline of qualified individuals. There were also, however, comments like ‘women are doing just fine,’ ‘maybe they don’t all want to be VPs and CEOs,’ and ‘too much attention is unnecessarily given to this subject matter.’

Comparing our findings to those of the Fortune 500 or McKinsey global statistics, the nutraceuticals industry has made progress. But when less than one-third of CEO positions are held by women, and only a little more than a third of leadership positions are held by women, there is still work to be done. While not all women aspire to senior leadership positions, there could be unconscious (or conscious) biases at play that keep those who do have such ambitions from accessing the same opportunities their male colleagues take for granted. While responses from the successes and failures group both emphasized the importance of hiring for capability and qualifications, companies should still be taking thoughtful and quantifiable steps to remove bias from the hiring and promotion process.

WIN was founded to bring attention to the need for such work. The full insights from the Diversity in Leadership survey was presented at Vitafoods Europe; a whitepaper with additional insights will be available soon to WIN members and sponsors. As we set key performance indicators, watch Nutrition Business Journal and for the ways that we can—together—make positive change in the industry.

Heather Granato is the vice president of partnerships and sustainability, Informa Markets, based in London, United Kingdom. She is the president, as well as a founder, of Women in Nutraceuticals.

This column was included in the Market Overview Issue of Nutrition Business Journal. Visit to subscribe.Nutrition Business Journal's the Market Overview Issue, May 2023

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