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January | February 2019
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I often think about how I came to be a woman in a position of influence in the coffee business, which, like many industries, has traditionally been run mainly by men.
Although things have changed since I started working, I can offer a few thoughts.
First off, I never started out with the intention of being a prominent woman in business. The best way I can describe it is that I wanted to do more than I was doing at each step of my career. As an office manager at my first publishing job, I wanted to move into sales to have a bigger impact on the company’s success (and more fun). As a salesperson at my second publishing job, I wanted to learn all aspects of the business to do a better job at selling and to make my sales job one I could believe in. These opportunities weren’t part of a master plan to become a leading woman in the coffee business; they were created because I wanted to grow as a person.
Second, I’ve had mentors along the way, and I have been fortunate not to encounter insurmountable barriers in my career. Mentors, both women and men, have helped me develop the tools to succeed. They have not only helped me be in the right place at the right time, but have impressed on me the importance of taking action at those times. It’s not just that I have never actively been held back, which is important; it’s that I have always taken the responsibility to continue progressing, which is even more important.
I have found that many successful women have similarly evolved, and I have been impressed in particular with a couple of recent experiences. On a trip to the yeast research and development firm Lallemand, manufacturers of Lalcafe yeast, I was very impressed with the all-women executive team that oversees the company’s work in coffee and cocoa, from female product managers to women managing the research and development activities. The strength of their work and the active support and mentoring within the team was easily seen, even during my brief visit.
Fabulous coffee and cocoa team at Lallemand, France.
Also recently, a women-curated Cascadia Roaster’s Competition was held in Portland, Oregon. The amazing sister duo who run Buckman Coffee Factory, Joey and Cassy Gleason, along with Buckman’s Stephanie Backus and Libby Allen, Jen Hurd from Genuine Origin, and our very own Roast operations manager, Claire Harriman, conducted a well-organized, well-attended and, of course, fun event. The competition was a huge success because it was run by talented, driven people who created the opportunity and took action to make it a reality.
I’m proud of the strides women are taking in our industry and am happy to share my experiences with anyone who might benefit. Two pieces of final advice in all of this: First, to the already successful women, make sure you are using your influence to put the right people in the right positions and, only if needed, give them the right help at the right time. (That’s not bad advice for the successful men in our business as well.) And finally, we need less talking about incorporating women into leadership and more getting out of the way and letting them do it.