Suniti Mujumdar was on her way to entering medicine, when she swerved off that path and entered the world of agriculture at Alltech. That was in 1997 and the rest, as they say, is history.
“I wanted to apply my interest in science and human behaviour in a different way and I unintentionally crossed paths with Alltech,” remembers Ms Mujumdar. “I’m glad I took a chance that has led to a career of intention with an industry filled with purpose, diversity, inclusivity, and people who make a difference in nourishing the world.”
Ms Mujumdar is now Alltech’s educational engagement manager, where she’s been for the past eight years, having worked her way up from communications intern, to marketing and branding roles.
“In those early years, I had to be a jack of all trades,” she remembers. “I was often at the start-up phase of projects and so it’s been really rewarding to see those brands develop and grow globally since.”
Inspiring young agricultural scientists is now one of her driving forces, particularly women.
A hugely important part of this is science outreach work in schools, colleges and universities. This has included Alltech building 14 school science labs in Kentucky and Ireland and the global Alltech Young Scientist competition.
Why is outreach important for inspiring women into science and agriculture?
“It is extraordinarily important to have female scientists engaging and inspiring women,” says Ms Mujumdar.
“So many of the innovations that are driving the industry forward are coming from female scientists.”
The Alltech Young Scientist competition, now in its 16th year, plays a big outreach role, she says. More than 60,000 students have participated from more than 70 countries, with US $1m awarded for educational development.
“It’s considered one of the world’s most prestigious agri-science competitions for university students and has discovered some of the best and brightest upcoming researchers from universities around the world,” says Ms Mujumdar.
“Last year three of the four global finalists were female, and the winner was too. For other women in the audience it was great to see, and to think; ‘wow, I could achieve that, I could be up there too’.”
Are things changing for women in the industry?
“There are a lot of strong women in agriculture who’ve been doing amazing work for years, but they are often invisible,” says Ms Mujumdar. “I heard a female speaker once say; ‘we have all these people who are literally standing next to us and aren’t seen’.
“But, things have definitely changed over the years. I studied biology and psychology and had no agricultural background, so when I entered the industry it was very clear and visible to me just how male dominated it was.
“But I’ve seen it change in Alltech and the wider industry. The female presence has grown and not in stereotypical roles that women often get pigeonholed into.
“I’ve watched women take on manager roles, and some of our best technicians, IT staff and sales people are women. It’s been great to see. The change I see is because of greater visibility and the voice of women.”
That can apply to other places in the world too. Specifically, on-farm, where women’s role in agriculture is less recognised, adds Ms Mujumdar.
“It’s interesting to see how different cultures react to a strong women moving forward in a leadership role – it can be confusing, but also inspiring for other women.”
How has a bigger female presence at Alltech changed things?
“Women have this ability to multi-task and to be mindful not just of ourselves, but of the greater good. And I do think the female voices that have contributed have changed the way we do things. They’ve shown that it’s ok to take a moment to think about things a bit more before carrying on.”
How can we support women’s careers more?
“It’s our responsibility as an industry and as women to ensure women are seen and heard,” says Ms Mujambar.
“This is the responsibility of men too. If a company’s management is male dominated, it’s really important that female talent is recognised.”
Mentorship is also extremely valuable, says Ms Mujumdar, and she has herself benefited from both female and male mentors who’ve helped guide her, and has been a mentor herself.
Mentoring with gender and cultural sensitivity is key, she says. “Women often have this mindset that we’ve been taught, which is ‘I can’t do this, it’s not for me’. So it’s about improving their confidence and telling them they can do anything, and often better than their male counterparts!”
What do you see for the next generation of women?
“I think young women are now coming into the industry with a lot more confidence,” says Ms Mujumdar. “And this younger generation has a very strong approach to collaboration.
“It feels like they will all reach out to each other and build each other up – it’s very inspiring to watch and it’s a huge lesson we can take from them, and to ensure that as women we are building each other up.
“I feel more and more inspired by this generation and its approach to agriculture. But we need to make it clear that that agriculture is an inclusive and diverse industry – raising that voice to attract new talent is critical.”
What female inspiration can we find through the Alltech ONE Virtual Experience?
“We have a lot of strong, female keynote speakers,” says Ms Mujumdar. “A lot of people have been commenting about how many cool women we have presenting!”
The keynote address kicks-off with former astronaut Cady Coleman, who is herself a strong champion for women, she says.
The Experience launches on 18 May., with keynote speakers and special presentations streaming throughout the week. There will also be on-demand sessions, including on agribusiness, aquaculture, beef, crop science, dairy, pig, poultry and sustainable agriculture. Registrants receive 24/7 access to all content until May 2021, with new, exclusive content added monthly
To register for the Alltech ONE Virtual Experience and save $150 USD, visit one.alltech.com and use the code AGRIB2020.