Breaking barriers: Female leaders transforming the food and beverage industry

The business landscape is constantly evolving and we’re seeing a significant shift is taking place in the food and beverage manufacturing industry – the rise of female leadership. From London to Tokyo, women are driving change and achieving remarkable success in this traditionally male-dominated sector.

Let’s start with some context. Despite making up nearly half of the workforce in many countries, women remain underrepresented in leadership roles. The food and beverage sector reflects this trend, but positive change is underway. According to a 2023 report by Food Industry Executive, women now hold approximately 28% of senior management positions in the global food and beverage industry. While this represents progress, there’s still considerable room for growth.

In the UK and Europe, women are making their mark at the highest levels of the industry. Dame Fiona Kendrick, former Chairman and CEO of Nestlé UK and Ireland, stands out as a prime example. Under her leadership, Nestlé UK & Ireland sharpened its focus on nutrition, health, and wellness, demonstrating how diverse leadership can drive positive change in corporate priorities and strategies.

Turning our attention to the Asia-Pacific region, we find Makiko Ono, President and CEO of Suntory Holdings Limited in Japan. In a country where only 8% of managerial positions are held by women, Ono’s achievement is particularly noteworthy. Her commitment to sustainability and innovation is setting new standards in the beverage industry, illustrating how female leaders can pioneer progressive business practices.

In America, Michele Buck, the Chairman, President, and CEO of The Hershey Company, offers another inspiring example. Since taking the helm in 2017, Buck has expanded Hershey’s portfolio and strengthened the company’s commitment to sustainable cocoa farming practices. Her leadership demonstrates how women at the top can drive both business growth and corporate responsibility.

However, it’s important to acknowledge that the path to leadership for women in this industry is often challenging. Many face obstacles such as unconscious bias, lack of mentorship, and the complex balance of work and family life. Encouragingly, many companies are now recognising the value of diversity and actively working to create more inclusive environments.

The impact of female leadership extends far beyond individual companies. Women in top positions often bring fresh perspectives, driving innovation in product development and sustainability practices. They’re also more likely to mentor other women, creating a positive ripple effect throughout the industry.

As we reflect on these examples of female leadership, it’s clear that women are not just joining the ranks of top executives – they’re reshaping the industry itself. From the UK to Japan, from confectionery to beverages, women are demonstrating that diverse leadership is a key ingredient for business success.

The next time you encounter a product from a major food or beverage manufacturer, consider the possibility that a woman might be leading the company behind it. These leaders are not just running successful businesses; they’re nurturing the future of the industry.

Now, it’s our turn to contribute to this positive change. We can support and promote women in leadership roles through mentoring young professionals, advocating for inclusive policies in our workplaces, or simply recognising and celebrating the achievements of women in the industry. Progress in gender equality is a collective effort, and we all have a role to play.

Here’s to a future where leadership knows no gender barriers!