ADM’s Mayka van Acht on the Changing Role of Women in the Agriculture Industry
As we celebrate International Women’s Day and continue to make progress in making gender equality a reality, we speak to Mayka van Acht, ADM VP for Human Resources in EMEAI. A champion for diversity and inclusion, she shares her own experience as a woman in the agriculture industry and how companies are creating more opportunities for women.
What made you consider a career in the agriculture industry?
I have been closely connected to farming and agriculture my whole life, having grown up on a farm in the Netherlands. I started working in the industry 25 years ago after landing a job at ADM straight out of university and I have been with the company ever since. Working in an industry that provides food and nutrition to the world is very motivating.
Is it fair to say that the industry is still very male dominated? Why do you think that is?
We have areas where we are doing well and areas of improvement. Not just at ADM, but in the general industry some functions have lower representation of women, such as in operations. But there are also areas in which we have already achieved gender balance, for example in corporate functions. This is also related to the fact that at ADM, about a third of our workforce is employed in manufacturing plants, and the general representation of women is lower in this type of industry.
What are some of the attitudes or behaviours you or other women have encountered/are encountering that you think pose obstacles to reaching the highest levels of our industry?
I have personally never encountered obstacles that have hindered me because I’m a woman and more importantly I have always felt I could be myself at work. On the other hand, I have seen other women facing hurdles and I want to recognize that it is still not always a level playing field. As humans, we all have bias and over time this means that we have acquired a certain image of what success looks like, which we know isn’t always accurate.
So one thing we can do is change these job requirements to appeal to a wider group of talent and be more inclusive of women. The current methods of working are not the only ways that jobs can be done. We need to think more openly about what we need to succeed in the future rather than look at what success looked like in the past and provide greater flexibility to appeal to a wider audience. Our mindsets need to change to allow people to do the work differently and to think differently about it. We also need to be intentional about having more diverse candidate slates when we are recruiting, so that we keep an open mind to talent from different backgrounds.
Do you think there is a willingness on the industry’s part to address these issues? Or do you find that it is often left up to women to shine a light on and tackle?
Women don’t have to do this on their own; we are only 50% of the equation. The industry is working together towards the same goal. An example of this is the Together We Grow consortium of agricultural companies, universities, non-governmental organizations and the government, all collaborating to develop a more diverse talent pipeline.
At ADM, the Executive Council is a 100% supportive of creating a more diverse and balanced leadership team. We are committed to it because the organization does better when we work with people from different backgrounds. Everyone should be able to be themselves, even if it means being different. Everyone brings their own strengths to make the organization better.
Are there areas of the industry where you would like to see more women? And how do you think the industry can help them get there?
Yes, I would like to see more women in business roles. Research has shown that women fall behind in their careers when they rise up to the first level of management, so very few women move into business roles. When you don’t step onto the career ladder early on, it becomes difficult to fix later. At ADM, we have talked about how we need to find the right career paths to help more women move into senior management roles. We can make a lot of progress here, not just at ADM, but at most companies. On this International Women’s Day and beyond, I pledge to continue working towards providing equal career opportunities for everyone at ADM.
As a member of ADM’s Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) Council, can you tell us about some of the D&I projects that were launched in 2019 and the progress that has been made so far?
We successfully held our very first Global Week of Understanding in 2019, in which we engaged the entire workforce to talk about what inclusion means for them. It was very powerful to create a bottom-up movement around D&I.
In the area of recruitment, we increased our pipeline of graduate hires and more than 50% of the graduates we hired were from underrepresented groups. Everything starts with how and when you recruit. When you have diverse talent to begin with, you can promote them into senior roles.
We also developed an internal training course on inclusion, to create greater awareness about our unconscious biases, and we are undertaking a pay review to strive for equal pay between men and women.
Another huge achievement has been the Together We Grow consortium that was initiated by ADM in the United States. It developed from a startup into a mature industry association with its own director and resources. It’s an important network to support women in the industry and broaden the talent pipeline.