This year Women in Food and Agriculture (WFA) hit the road, hosting events in Vienna and Chicago consisting of various workshops, panels and educational sessions on topics such as personal development and team building for women in the food and agriculture sectors.
The Food and Ag space has for years been a male dominated industry, but with diversity initiatives across the board in most major companies, the transition to a more inclusive environment has begun to take shape, with many female leaders in positions to influence the next generation of the industry. To talk more about women’s career development and how Bayer is following through on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion initiatives, WFA sat down with WFA Vienna Roadshow panelist, Nora Eischet, Head of Sales Operations, Sales Excellence and Digital Farming Solutions at Bayer CropScience Germany.
[WFA] Thanks for chatting with me. Tell me a little bit about your current role with Bayer.
[Nora Eischet] I recently became a member of the country leadership team of our DACH (Germany-Austria-Switzerland) organization, where I lead the teams for sales operations & excellence as well as Digital Farming Solutions within our Crop Science division.
“Agriculture is the most fundamental of industries. Innovations in this field have contributed to the continuously increasing prosperity of humankind. At the same time, it is a major shaper of our environment and one of the biggest levers when it comes to sustainability.”
[WFA] How did you get started in this industry? Tell us what led you to your role in leadership in the crop science field.
[Nora Eischet] When I initially joined Bayer at the corporate level, I was mostly interested in our Pharmaceuticals and Consumer Health divisions. As for our Crop Science business, I didn’t know anything about it nor about agriculture in general, and to be very honest, I also didn’t care very much. Luckily though, I was staffed on various Crop Science projects, and as my understanding of that industry grew, my perspective took a 180 degree turn. Agriculture is the most fundamental of industries. Innovations in this field have contributed to the continuously increasing prosperity of humankind. At the same time, it is a major shaper of our environment and one of the biggest levers when it comes to sustainability. I truly believe we can make a difference with our solutions for farmers, consumers and our planet. Coming into the space has opened my eyes and shown me the blind spot that I – like most people in our society – had before. This is where my passion comes from to work in this industry, advocate for it, and be a part of shaping the agriculture of tomorrow.
[WFA] What obstacles did you run into on your journey?
[Nora Eischet] I am lucky to be part of the generation that already has strong female leadership role models to look up to in the industry. At the beginning of my career, what I struggled with most was to have confidence in myself. I know that many women feel the same way. For me, the main thing that helped was experimentation. By experimentation, I am referring to exposing yourself to opportunities that might intimidate you at first – in short, leaving your comfort zone. Today, I still experience feelings of insecurity, but I know how to put them into perspective and not let them stop me from being bold and doing the right thing.
Now, I am coming upon the second type of challenge that many female leaders face: How to combine family plans with the responsibility I feel for my work and my team. I don’t have the answer yet, but what helps is talking about it with other women and looking for role models that fit your personal balance between motherhood and career.
[WFA] What did you speak about at this year’s WFA Summit in Vienna?
[Nora Eischet] I had the privilege to sit with three amazing, inspiring leaders from other companies. We shared many very personal stories and experiences that highlighted obstacles that we managed to overcome in our journeys, what we learned from them, and how we now try to pave the way for a new generation of diverse leaders coming in. What we all observed and discussed is that at this point, diversity is less about generating “demand” for it – most companies and leaders have realized how beneficial it is and have put programs and targets in place to increase it. We now have to work in the “supply”. How can we make our industry more attractive for diverse talent to join us? How can we make leadership roles fit specific needs of diverse talent?
[WFA] Your panel touched on hiring strategies and attracting new talent to our industry; what strategies have proved effective in identifying, nurturing, and promoting individuals from underrepresented groups?
[Nora Eischet] There is so much that can be done! Within your company, you can create mentoring and networking groups along different diversity characteristics, to share best practices, encourage and learn from each other, and for leaders to sponsor diverse talent. If you spot a potential talent that you want to elevate into a leadership position, make sure that position fits their needs. Maybe you’ll find creative ways to make it fit even better (for example job-sharing for leadership roles, allow for family co-travel if the kids are still small etc.).
“As you are trying to bring in more talent from outside, target your employee branding and marketing activities toward universities and networks that you might not have considered before.”
As you are trying to bring in more talent from outside, target your employee branding and marketing activities toward universities and networks that you might not have considered before. Write the job descriptions in a way that encourages talents to apply even if they don’t tick all the boxes. And in the interview process, make sure to have diverse interviewer panels to get a 360° perspective on the candidate.
[WFA] Could you share instances from within Bayer/in your career where diversity has directly led to innovative solutions, improved company culture, and increased business success?
[Nora Eischet] Absolutely! There are so many examples, but I’ll pick one that is related to one of our biggest innovations, our short-stature corn, which is being launched as the Preceon® Smart Corn System. Until recently, I was part of the launch team in our U.S. market, a huge undertaking that is being led by an amazing female colleague of mine. She had worked in the hospitality business for seven years before she decided to go back to university, study biology, do her PhD in genetics, and then join our company. As the launch lead for Preceon®, drawing on her personality and background, she is working tirelessly to create the most customer-centric experience, setting higher standards and inspiring the whole organization around her to shoot for this goal. She definitely is a big inspiration and an example how diversity directly drives innovation, culture, and customer value.
[WFA] In your opinion, how has Bayer contributed to what you are discussing? How have they pushed Executive Leadership towards a more diverse and inclusive environment?
[Nora Eischet] Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DE&I) is a key priority for Bayer. We strive to be a place of work where everyone is valued and enabled to be the best version of themselves. As a global organization, working in various markets, our employees come from diverse backgrounds. I mean this in terms of nationality, race, gender, education and others. Over the past decade I feel that we have been able to increasingly foster this diversity into true inclusion at the team and leadership level as well. But there is still room for improvement. This is why we have established clear global commitments for gender balance throughout the Bayer Group and at all levels of management. Additionally, we have also defined commitments to further diversity, covering age structure, nationality, career experience, LGBTQ+ and people with disabilities, among others. Further aspects such as ethnic background and race are integrated into our commitments for our regional organizations.
But DE&I is not only an internal aspiration of ours – we also have ambitious commitments to support women across the globe, especially in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). Until 2030, we want to support 100 million smallholder farmers (many of which are women) and provide modern contraception to 100 million women in LMICs. We see DE&I as a holistic ambition, to not only change our place of work but also the communities we serve for the better.