Nikki Putman-Badding was a fresh faced dietician, finishing grad school when she persuaded one of the biggest companies in agriculture to create a new role, just for her.
Three days at an Alltech conference left her “wide eyed” and convinced she had to work for the company. After hustling and networking, she was put in touch with her current mentor, Alltech’s global director of applications research, Becky Timmons.
“I was asked to write the job description for my role – the open-mindedness of Alltech to a young female, straight out of grad school, was amazing,” she says.
After working in technical and sales support improving nutrition along the food supply chain, beginning with crops and animals Ms Putman moved up to lead the human health division a year ago.
Gender bias and making room at the table
Women face challenges and stereotyping, says Ms Putman, remembering a conference where the technicians prepared her to introduce her male colleague, assuming (wrongly) that he was the speaker.
But “diversity can broaden and deepen an industry, says Ms Putman, and “it’s important to challenge bias and what a leader looks like. Don’t accept stereotyping or bias. Don’t be a bystander – lead by example – be part of the solution to make inclusivity, diversity and equality a priority in your organisation,” she says.
“Ask for clarification or an explanation of a comment, or if you feel your idea or opportunity for involvement were overlooked. Communicate the impact of the bias; by dealing with it directly you can ensure not only that your concern is heard, but allow space for effective and respectful communication.”
Dealing with gender bias involves greater awareness that it exists, and actively making room at the table for those who may be subject to it, says Ms Putman. All leaders need to do this.
“Male colleagues and leaders should counteract gender bias by acknowledging that stereotypes and both explicit and implicit biases exist – challenge yourself and your colleagues to monitor your internal and external dialogue and actions and choose to be part of the solution by recognising and correcting stereotyping and bias when it occurs.”
How women can pull each other up
Support from her mentor and other women, has been instrumental to her career, says Ms Putman. “I have been learning from females throughout my career. Many have mentored me throughout, without even knowing, because they acted as role models.
“A good leader fosters a diverse, inclusive workplace, regardless of gender, race or sexual orientation. In my experience, good female leaders tend be flexible, agile and confident in any situation. They have grace under pressure and take a team approach.
“My mentor, for example, has shown me the value of collaboration and creating relationships. She presents stability and agility and commands respect. She is fair across all genders – she sees a talented person and helps them. I’m forever grateful to her for giving me a seat at the table.”
Tips on career advancement
- Seek out a mentor: Irrespective of gender or background, find someone who inspires you and ask for performance feedback, introductions to key decision-makers and advice on professional development. Reach out within your company, on social media or LinkedIn. Attend local or industry networking events and ask for recommendations. Some professional and trade organisations offer mentor matching.
- Learn how your organisation works: Get to know the decision-makers and create relationships with other departments – look and ask for opportunities to collaborate
- Be confident in what you know, but humble enough to know you haven’t got all the answers
- Help colleagues succeed: The more you can share your own knowledge and skills to help others problem-solve, the more you’ll be asked to be involved.
- Continuously learn from others: Ask to be part of meetings that will help you learn more about roles or projects adjacent to yours or that you aspire to be in or a part of.
- Be prepared to explain why you are right for a role or project.