Dairy and gender equality: IDFA survey identifies ‘a variety of perceived disparities’

By Teodora Lyubomirova

- Last updated on GMT


Related tags gender equality women in dairy Usa women in business Dairy

The International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA) conducted a survey in a bid to develop gender equality recommendations and benchmarking data for the US dairy sector. Its findings revealed a mixed picture.

The survey comprised 548 industry stakeholders – 396 female and 152 male – and followed up a less comprehensive poll conducted by the trade organization in early 2023.

The respondents were of varying ages, job functions and lengths of experience and included people who worked for processors, co-operatives, individual farms, retailers and suppliers. The majority (52%) of those surveyed held supervisor roles, followed by non-supervisory technical (22%), generalist (6%), admin support (4%) and ‘other’ (16%). More than 200 of those polled had an experience of more than 15 years.

The survey focused on three categories of questions – demographic data, experiential responses and policy-based responses, with both quantitative and qualitative questions used to gain insights from the respondents.

When assessing women’s position in the industry, the research focused on six areas – treatment, pay equality, support, opportunities for advancement, factors in recruitment and retention, and anti-discrimination policies.

The results were largely damning, the responses indicating poorly-implemented anti-discrimination rules, low levels of leadership support, a real gender pay gap, and a          variety of perceived disparities that make women feel disadvantaged compared to their male colleagues, particularly with regards to career advancement for younger women.

“The findings of this survey merit deep consideration among organizations in the dairy industry and suggest actions should be taken to better support women and improve gender equality in the dairy sector,” the IDFA concluded. “While some challenges are not easily solvable in the short-term and may require multiple solutions and partnerships at multiple levels, it is important to begin that work now.”

From flexible working to leadership programs

While IDFA said the results demonstrated ‘positive progress’ overall, the survey revealed many opportunities for improvement across the board. According to the respondents, women in US dairy feel less respected than male peers, with many females reporting they had been mistakenly regarded as holding junior roles due to their gender.

Female respondents also reported pay disparities, with 55% of women suggesting their gender had an impact on their level of compensation.

The research also highlighted a perceived lack of mentorship and support opportunities for female colleagues, as well as reported gender biases playing a substantial role in career advancement.

The respondents had also indicated that equality and inclusion policies were not effective enough and called for deeper cultural changes.

On the positive side, flexible work policies – thought to be crucial to retain female staff, but also male – were growing, with 82% of women surveyed reporting their organization offered flexible working schedules.

A large section of female respondents (70%) also said they are regularly asked for advice in their workplace when important decisions are being made in the business, and there is a widespread belief that career advancement opportunities exist, with 66% of women polled stating they were ‘happy’ with what was being offered, versus 22% reporting they were ‘unhappy’.

The survey also highlighted women’s competitiveness, with a third of female respondents (34%) stating they already held a senior position while a further 55% wanting to be senior leaders.

From culture development to effective HR – IDFA’s recommendations

IDFA moved to propose several ways forward for organizations willing to address the perceived gender-based gaps. The body recommended five areas of improvement –

  • culture development (based on the unique needs of each organization, through engagement with leaders and executives and with progress tracked through data-based metrics);
  • leadership programs, such as executive-led mentorship with ‘clear direction’ towards reaching leadership positions;
  • compensation equality, addressed via regular compensation audits to help address pay disparities;
  • effective HR support, where human resources departments are resourced to handle gender discrimination complaints, and
  • expanding family leave policies to aid work-life balance.

The full set of recommendations can be read via IDFA’s website​.

Meanwhile, the trade organization has vowed to continue the survey in order to follow the industry’s progress in addressing the discrepancies identified in the latest research.

“Respondents made it clear that not only is this survey important, but that they expect expansions in future iterations,” the organization said. “Some asked for the survey to include racial demographic data as well as questions about race-based employee experiences.

“Others asked for the survey to be offered in Spanish for those members of the US dairy workforce that may have additional experiences but are unable to share them due to language and cultural barriers. Others asked for a better understanding of company size relative to respondent feedback to better understand the dynamics and outcomes.

"IDFA agrees with these suggestions, and with the sentiment that these results are just the beginning of understanding and addressing the problems related to gender equality facing the US dairy industry.”

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