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How the Work of a Culture Officer Can Revolutionise Businesses

If you have ever thought about leaving your job, you may have considered moving for a reason that a Culture Officer is responsible for.


We know how important the culture of an organisation is and are witnessing more agri-food businesses recruiting individuals to curate their culture, making certain their mission and values are being met and ensuring a positive experience for prospective, new and existing employees. Improving areas such as staff retention, employee engagement, DEI, performance management and talent development; culture specialists can be key to ensuring your company recruits and retains the top performers in the sector.


For Orla McAleer this is her day-to-day work and her passion project, having spent her first year in the role as Chief Culture Officer for Alltech. We sat down to talk about how she got into her position, what her day looks like, what staff are really looking for from an employer and how we overcome barriers for women in the sector today.


Orla McAleer
Chief Culture Officer

[WFA] First can you tell us about what you do as a Chief Culture Officer? What are your main aims?


[Orla McAleer] As the Chief Culture Officer at Alltech, my primary responsibility, alongside the CEO, is to shape and nurture the company culture. This involves ensuring that our values, mission and purpose, of Alltech’s ‘Working Together for a Planet of Plenty’ are reflected in every aspect of the organisation, from recruitment, our employer brand and onboarding to daily operations and long-term strategy. My main aims include fostering a positive, inclusive work environment where our team members feel valued, engaged, and motivated to contribute their best work. Additionally, I work on initiatives that promote continuous learning, innovation, and collaboration across all departments.




[WFA] A lot of people would love to understand more about how you get into a role that is defining the culture of an organization. What is your career background?


[Orla McAleer] I’m not sure mine was what you would call a traditional route into the world of corporate culture. I started in PR and communications in Alltech and held various regional and global roles in marketing before becoming the Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) in 2017. In that role I led and grew a large and very diverse, global marketing team, which collaborated with many parts of the business.


My passion has always been people- leading them, developing them and watching them shine. My previous positions and that as CMO gave me a broad understanding not only of the company but also of how to build and sustain a positive workplace and team. Having worked for 20 years within Alltech, I also know and understand the company and our culture very well and had lots of experience collaborating with different departments, so the role felt like a natural fit for me. I have been in the role for around a year now and am thoroughly enjoying the new work and challenges it brings daily.


[WFA] What does the day-to-day work of a Chief Culture Officer look like?


[Orla McAleer] It is cliche to say, but every day is so different. I’m based in our European headquarters in Ireland, so I focus on regional projects in the morning and afternoon dependent on time zones. Recently we have created diverse working groups to look at some big picture strategic projects which are a key priority for me at the moment. These groups are made up of different people from different parts of the world in different functions, and are looking at things like leadership development, succession planning, on boarding and the overall ‘Alltech’ experience.


A big part of my role is spending time with different departments, gathering feedback and understanding their unique challenges and successes. It is vital I work closely with other senior leaders in the business and functional departments to understand how we can help them, what their needs are. I also meet with external partners and attend industry conferences to stay updated on the latest trends and best practices in culture management.


[WFA] What are the biggest challenges you face in your role?


[Orla McAleer] One of the biggest challenges and opportunities we have is data.  Culture and talent look after much of the ‘S’ or Social in ESG.  There are so many reporting requirements today for data whether for ESG or EU directive reporting. Due to the entrepreneurial nature of our business, much of the information on talent and culture resides at a local level, so trying to extract data or have it in a centralised place can be challenging. However, that is a project we are currently working on within Alltech and AI could potentially be a game changer for us in this field.


Another challenge is aligning the diverse perspectives and needs of a global workforce while maintaining a cohesive company culture. Balancing short-term demands with long-term cultural goals can also be difficult, especially in a fast-paced business environment.


It’s also important to ensure the business understands the strategic potential and importance culture can have. Alongside this resistance to change is another common barrier; even when employees understand the benefits of cultural initiatives, it can be challenging to shift established behaviors and mindsets. Ensuring that all employees, regardless of their location or role, feel included and valued requires continuous effort and creativity. We have to ask ourselves how do you make sure that people feel really looked after from a personal perspective and and I think like all other organisations today were are trying to achieve this while doing more with less.


[WFA] Why do you think having a Culture Officer is so important for a business?


[Orla McAleer] Culture, ultimately, is the key to everything in a company and it has such an impact on so many aspects of the business. This isn’t just a nice to have, it has real financial implications for companies, as studies have shown that companies with strong culture alignment can increase sales and returns by up to four times. A positive culture also enhances the company’s reputation, making it easier to attract top talent and build lasting customer relationships.


Having a dedicated culture officer ensures that there is someone consistently focused on maintaining and improving the workplace environment. This role helps bridge the gap between leadership and employees, fostering open communication and ensuring that the company’s values are lived out daily.


[WFA] When it comes to Diversity, Equality and Inclusion (DEI), why is fostering an inclusive culture worth the investment?


[Orla McAleer] DEI is crucial for creating a workplace where all employees can thrive. An inclusive culture leads to a more engaged and innovative workforce, as diverse teams bring a variety of perspectives and ideas to the table. This diversity drives better problem-solving and decision-making, ultimately leading to improved business outcomes. Financially, companies with strong DEI practices often see higher employee retention rates and lower recruitment costs, as they become employers of choice, as it adds to the employer value proposition. Additionally, a commitment to DEI enhances the company’s brand and customer loyalty, as consumers increasingly prefer to support socially responsible businesses.


Today organisations are also focusing more on ‘belonging’ rather than diversity. How employees feel accepted, valued, and included within an organisation. What I’ve learned on this journey is diversity is one part of the equation. Yes, you have a diverse workforce, but if those people actually don’t feel that they are really heard and listened to and belong in the organisation then they will leave. We need staff to feel that they are part of the business that they’re contributors in.


[WFA] Having worked in a number of C-Suite roles, do you believe that there are still barriers for women in the food and agriculture sector in senior leadership positions?


[Orla McAleer] I will be honest and say that on a personal level I don’t feel that I have faced any barriers during my career and time in Alltech. I have been lucky to have great mentors and work for a company that values diversity. However overall, yes absolutely there are still barriers for women in the corporate sector, including unconscious bias, limited access to mentorship, and the challenge of balancing work and family responsibilities. That is one of the reasons that we partnered with Women in Food and Agriculture to develop the first mentorship program, and have continued to do so year on year since then. As someone who had incredible mentors and sponsors, I can see how beneficial that can be for women in the industry.


To overcome these barriers, companies need to implement policies that support gender diversity and inclusion at all levels. This includes offering flexible work arrangements, ensuring equal opportunities for advancement, and providing mentorship and sponsorship programs for women. It’s also important to create a culture where diversity is valued and celebrated, and where leaders are held accountable for promoting gender equality. I think we’re slowly chipping away at these barriers, but it’s going to take time and more importantly it takes leadership to take ownership of driving change.


[WFA] Finally, looking to the future of our sector – when we think about the current and next generation of agri-food professionals, what do you think they want from their jobs and careers?

[Orla McAleer] Firstly I think overarchingly people are really looking for meaning, purpose and a company and role that aligns to their values. They want to be able to go into a company feeling that they are contributing positively to something that they’re doing in the world. The next generation in particular, are prioritizing companies that are socially responsible and committed to sustainability and ethical practices – they definitely want more than just a paycheck. Within Alltech, we have an incredibly strong purpose that has been part of our DNA since the company was founded and by promoting this we are attracting the next generation of food and ag professionals to our business.


Flexibility is also a key factor, as people value work-life balance and the ability to work remotely or on flexible schedules.  People still want to make sure that they have an opportunity for work-life balance alongside this purpose. I do however believe that collaboration, innovation and a sense of community are strengthened by working together in person where possible.

Part of our purpose as food and ag professionals is making sure that we’re elevating the voice of the industry so that the entire sector is viewed in a much more positive light. Personally I think the agri-food industry is fantastic and we have so much to offer. It’s phenomenally innovative, forward thinking and has such an impact in the world today. We’re the ones who are the custodians of the earth and we’re the ones who are providing food on people’s tables.

Alltech are supporters of the WFA Mentorship Program which pairs mentors with women from across the food and agriculture sector. Find out more and apply to take part here:


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