Tholen – Today is International Women’s Day. Within the fresh produce sector, the proportion of women in business and management positions remains limited. That is why we focus on a star fruit and vegetable in each issue of our Primeur magazine. How do they live it in this world of men? Are those differences not a problem at all or can you be more relaxed? Here are some quotes from the fruits and vegetables that were in Primeur last year.
And this year also a special mention for tatiana lysenka van Fruit Queen and her three Ukrainian colleagues (two women and one man) also thought that doing nothing about the ongoing war in their homeland was not an option and set up an aid campaign to deliver supplies and food to Ukraine.
“Sometimes you hear that men prefer not to do business with a woman, but I don’t have that experience. The important thing is that you have to feel good about the person you are doing business with. With one person you can keep playing with the price for a long time, while with another you have to know exactly how far you can go. Of course, women can do that just as well as men, maybe they can do more.” Danitza Mulder, account manager at EFP International en Primeur 1 2021.
Yeliz has not experienced the fresh produce sector as a typical world of men. “I’m not a ‘dino’ in the industry, of course, but with us the split is always 50-50. Maybe it was different in the past, but in modern companies that move with the times, I think it’s not a problem anymore.” True, Yeliz was initially hired for a project for which they had a man in mind. “Or I had a struggling aunt so they took me anyway. I had to go to the wholesale markets and of course they start very early there. As a mother that kind of work is more difficult to balance with childcare, but they had made me a whole schedule for it to work and that was very nice.” Yeliz KayaProduct & Account manager Eminent Food.
Also for Marianne van der Gragt (Managing Director New Green Overseas) working in a man’s world is and was not a problem: “In my early years I thought it was very important to know exactly what I was talking about, so that there was no reason for discussion. On the contrary, it probably makes more of an impression on men who are dealing with a woman. They usually always remember my name, while of course I had to remember a lot more male names.”
Helen Verhagen, Managing Director/DGA East4Fresh grew up in the world of fresh produce and believes the fresh produce industry could be much more relaxed. “It is a very hard and direct world. You are told without hesitation what someone else thinks of you, whether it is justified or not. As a woman, you have to manage it well to keep up. However, men also have emotions, but they are conditioned in their upbringing not to show them. But when you hear those fruit and vegetable farmers talking on the phone, it’s not a normal response, it’s a stress response. Mindfulness teaches you to distance yourself from emotions and both women and men benefit from it. You are not only busy with vegetables and fruits, but also with your inner growth.”
Susan vanHorsesen (Senior Account Manager Fruits and Vegetables of Fossa Eugenia) sometimes dresses up at the supermarket buyers’ table, to go to the farmer’s field with boots the next day. In both worlds, men usually make the decisions. “You have to be a strong relationship builder. That is certainly as important as marking a sale. If the relationship with the customer is in order, he also has a foot in the door at ‘Koning Purkoop’ and has the opportunity to sell. The relationship with the grower must also be good, he is not waiting for someone in a suit to tell you what the requirements are. In fact, I like doing business in these completely different worlds. The fact that, as a woman, I walk among the men helps me instead of working against me, so I think there is a kind of weapon factor.
Ria van Donkelaar manager of the fruit and vegetable wholesaler Roelofsen, finds few women in the work environment, but also few young people. “A company stands or falls based on how you assemble your team. If those guys get along with each other, I’ll do more than fly organizationally in a very entrepreneurial way with a revenue model or growing. Involvement, quality, service and a focus on long-term relationships are essential in the fresh produce industry. We mainly look at the composition of the team, the level of knowledge and our professionalism. In terms of organization, I have taken the lead on this. Sometimes that’s easier than other times. So men have to grind their teeth a little bit, so I think I can hold my own.”
One learns by doing is ahead maud schiltmans Human Resources Manager at Looije Verpakkingen is the perfect catchphrase. “Learn by doing, where mistakes are allowed. Where you stumble, your treasure is buried,” he said on Primeur 7/8, 2021. “It is essential in this industry that you stand your ground. It’s a fast-paced market that you need to respond to immediately. But behind that real business is an entire organization. I am happy that with my acquired knowledge and experience, together with the teams, I can ensure professionalization and allow the company to grow further”.
“If you like action and can handle some pressure, then as a woman you can hold your own in this industry,” says the Mexican. Daniela Aguirre, supplier specialist for TripleF Fruit. She is proud to be one of the few women who works in a trading post. “Not only at this young age, but also as an expat where I am the only foreigner in a Dutch team. Growing up in a different culture has been a huge challenge along with a language barrier which can be very frustrating at first. In the end, it’s all worth it and I’m lucky to have a lot of support for the TripleF team.” She realizes that the predominance of men in the fruit and vegetable trade mainly affects the Netherlands. “I am the only woman in our company. In countries like Spain, Germany and France I have a lot to do with women who work in commercial positions”.
Judith Harman, responsible for the purchase and sale of exotic products from Mediterranean countries for Bud Holland, sees that women are gaining more ground. “Women connect and walk in the most effective way towards the result, men can learn something from that.” Working among men has never been a problem for Judith. “As long as you, as a woman, clearly indicate your limits and can bite yourself if necessary. You shouldn’t be too sweet. Men are direct, but that clear language really appeals to me. As a woman, don’t be put off by the sometimes harsh/stiff attitude of men. It’s a fun and versatile position that holds and falls with good communication. And talking… that’s what we women are really good at!”
“In the fruit and vegetable sector I notice that we are not very used to seeing each other. Here’s a call: let’s visit each other more, so we can learn from each other and, above all, have interesting conversations, because in the end it’s all about cooperation in the chain from which we all benefit! Mariska Werring, sales director of Leo de Kock who is not afraid of a lively discussion. “I have always followed my own vision and I have done it with total commitment. What seems most important to me is that the person understands his profession and does it with dedication. The right person in the right place. It would be good for the industry if more women came to work. It would be good to mention the variety and growth opportunities in particular to put our industry in an even more positive light. Then the women will come.
The fact that, as a woman, you are expected to stand your ground in the fruit and vegetable sector has never played an important role in the career of Mila DenEngelsman, Auri bv. “Of course you have to have a little guts, because you can’t sit in a corner and wait for something to come to you. If you want something, just do it. Fortunately, I have always received help from the people around me.”
Not being a man or a woman determines if you can be successful in your work, that has more to do with the environment in which you work. “You must always be with yourself. As long as your way of working and your personality match the people you work with, you will click. I also didn’t work the same amount of time at every company. I can barely play a game and I’ve always done things that were close to me.”
Gert Horsten, an independent entrepreneur from the Grappe de Raisins delicatessen and fruit and vegetable shop, has been connected through Trias with entrepreneurs from the less prosperous south of the world since 2008. These contacts keep him grounded: “We are way ahead in the West when it comes to technology. They are very strong in terms of commitment and ingenuity. You can learn a lot from your mutual cooperation. Many entrepreneurs are now having a worse time due to corona, but come on, don’t wait for the government. Continue with the resources you have. It’s still much easier for us than it is for them, so be creative.” Although there are big differences between continents and countries, the level of female entrepreneurs is very consistent, she observes. “Women forge very fast and strong bonds with each other.”
Moniek Wisse (Retail & Foodservice Account Manager at Schaap Holland) can stand on her own within the team of male colleagues. “Yes, they take me into account a little. I don’t like to partake in rooster behavior.” As for Moniek, there really is only an advantage to being one of the few women who works. “Like me, it’s still mostly women who do the shopping and they take care of the food, so you have a good idea of what the trends and developments are and you can take that into account. I always pay attention to what’s happening on the shelf. You also automatically take women more into account. For example, we wanted to offer 10kg bags of chips for food service, but that’s too heavy for girls who often work in a snack bar to lift, that’s why we offer a maximum of 5kg bags And I’m sure they’ll be happier with that.”
Are you or do you know fruit and vegetable farmers that we can target in Primeur? Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org