At one stage or another, throughout the course of a professional career everyone will need trusted advice and someone to turn to for leadership and guidance. For some, this might be in the early stages of their career but more often than not, it is when people are coming to a crossroads and need advice on taking the next step.

Since 2019, the Women in Food and Agriculture (WFA) mentorship programme has been providing support for women working across the sector. This mentorship has proven benificial in helping professionals gain independent advice at a global level. The programme is not just open to women giving advice – men can also register to become mentors.

Elisabeth Mork-Eidem.

Shine a spotlight

According to Elisabeth Mork-Eidem, global chair of WFA and VP, events and communications in Mintec, the programme first started due to a demand for support in advancing careers.

“Within the food and ag sector, there is an under representation of women, especially in senior positions. This also applies at farm level – looking at succession planning and women taking over farms etc. We really wanted to shine a spotlight on that and do our part in terms of trying to change that up,” says Elisabeth.

They launched a survey sponsored by Alltech, asking how people rated inequalities in the industry in terms of equal pay and any discriminations they faced. They also asked what supports were needed for career advancement.

“One of the main things that came out of that was mentorship programmes for women in the sector were few and far between. In discussion with Alltech, we looked at that and thought why don’t we try and launch a mentorship programme?” says Elisabeth.

Launching the programme

The programme launched under the company Agribriefing but has since changed to Mintec. The programme has always been a standalone brand within the company.

“We launched WFA and had the first event in Amsterdam in 2019. It was one of those extraordinary moments, especially for women of my generation, coming into a room where there were a handful of men but the rest of the participants were women,” she says.

At the start, it was difficult to get people to understand the benefits of being a mentor. There was a large interest from mentees, but mentors were slow on the uptake. The team hand picked every pairing to ensure participants got the most out of the experience, which Elisabeth admits, made the application process lengthly.

The official programme lasts for one year, although there is a huge demand in applications, they accept 100 pairings in each group to manage workshops and provide support.

Benefits of the programme

Elisabeth decided to mentor someone herself this year and has enjoyed working with an individual on their career progression and journey impartially.

“I’ve managed a lot of people throughout my career but I’ve found it really intersting to to work with someone on that personal level without any targets or anything hanging over me. I’ve actually learned so much from that person as well,” she says.

There is a wide range of people interested in the programme at different stages in their career.

“I think the important thing is that our mentees come into the programme for all sorts of different reasons. If you are young and you’re starting out in your career, you can benefit from someone who has been in it for a long time, in terms of what have they done, what have they learned,” says Elisabeth

They are finding that the mentors are learning just as much as the mentees and they are currently looking into the reverse mentorship angle.

“When you have someone who is more experienced and someone who is younger, it’s fascinating how much you learn from the younger generation coming up and hearing things differently. Just because you have experience doesn’t mean that your way is exactly the right way,” she says.

Mentor: Clare Fahey, director of customer insights, Alltech

Milly Fyfe and mentor Clare Fahey, Director of Customer Insights Alltech.

“I have informally mentored a lot of people throughout my time in Alltech and I really got a kick from seeing people flourish and develop their own careers. When Alltech started sponsoring the WFA programme, I thought it would be nice to formally mentor someone. Because we’re such a global organization, I could help people make connections in different parts of the world.

“I was matched with Millie Fife, a 39-year-old lady working over in the UK. She had worked in loads of senior marketing roles and had been CEO of one of the breeds societies and she was a really competent, proven marketer but was at a crossroads in her business. She was trying to decide if she wanted to double down on the marketing agency or if she was going to put her attention into her company ‘No Fuss Meals for Busy Parents’. I worked with her on that, prioritising where her strengths are and where her joy came from. She ultimately decided to forego the marketing consultancy. She’s got grant funding and is building a community kitchen where she will be teaching cooking classes and promoting English agriculture.

“While the programme has officially finished, we are still in great contact. Last summer, I visited Millie on her farm. I think I got every bit as much out of it as she did, she has a fantastic work-life balance. Millies’s priority is being out in the garden with her boys. I learnt a lot from her and took eight weeks parental leave in the summer to spend more time with my kids.”

Mentee: Martina Dadomo, project manager digital services at DeLaval, Sweden

Martina Dadomo.

“I saw the mentorship programme on a post on LinkedIn and I thought it was very interesting. I’m an agronomist and I work at DeLaval as a product manager in digital services where we aim to design, develop and market digital services for farmers to make their data production sustainable. I’ve been working there for almost 14 years. I started in Argentina, where I’m from and now I’m based in Sweden in the headquarters.

“I think one thing that made me believe in the programme so much was that I had a really good manager before and I felt she my mentor. I thought this is even better, because I can have a mentor that is not part of my organisation. It is someone with a different point of view and perspective and hopefully, someone with more experience to guide me in work situations.

“I started last year and we have been meeting once a month. At the time, I started a new role as a manager so for me it was very insightful to have someone who has been a manager for a long time. I had so many fresh challenges in the new role that I can ask her about. The most powerful thing for me was that I felt like I wasn’t alone – a sense of belonging, to be part of something.”

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