The baking industry can draw inspiration from a unique food industry leader who is empowering women in the workplace.
That leader is Valerie Oswalt, Executive Vice President, Campbell Soup Company and President, Campbell Snacks, who is interviewed in the latest Bake to the Future podcast from the American Bakers Association.
Oswalt credits her New York City upbringing with exposing her to “incredible diversity — including socioeconomic diversity.” She now leverages that experience in encouraging the food industry to support diversity — with a special focus on women in the workplace and in leadership roles.
FOOD INDUSTRY OPPORTUNITY
“In our industry we need to allow everyone to have a seat at the table,” Oswalt said. “And it’s like a family table, where everyone’s invited, and they can show up as who they are.”
The discussion was moderated by Hailey Blumenreich, ABA’s Marketing and Communications Manager, and Katie Juhl, Director of Marketing and Communications. This podcast episode follows on a prior segment that spotlighted women pioneers in the baking industry.
UNIQUE CAREER JOURNEY
Oswalt’s career has been marked by key roles at major food industry organizations, including Kraft Foods Group and Mondelez International. She also has prioritized academic achievements by earning an MBA from The Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University and currently working on a doctorate in education at University of Southern California. Her dissertation is focused on the lack of female leaders in S&P 500 companies.
She joined Campbell Snacks in 2020, just days before pandemic lockdowns began. Oswalt oversees brands including Goldfish, Milano, Pepperidge Farm, and Snyder's of Hanover.
OBSTACLES FACING WOMEN
Women in the workplace encounter unique hurdles when taking on leadership roles, Oswalt said.
“Women are often thought of as communal, collaborative and kind,” she explained. “If a woman shows up as assertive and very leaderly — having incredible managerial courage and conviction — it may not be as well received, because that's not what people have been trained to expect.”
STRATEGIES TO DRIVE CHANGE
Oswalt pursues strategies to educate people about the need to support women as leaders. Among her focus areas:
- Supporting employee resource groups and mentorships.
- Prioritizing involvement with organizations that support women leaders, in particular the Network of Executive Women (NEW).
- Working with men as allies in the goal of advancing women — and educating men about the obstacles women may be facing and how they can help.
BUSINESS CASE FOR DIVERSITY
An important area for education is relaying that diverse organizations perform better.
“There's clear evidence that when you have more diversity in your board, executive-level leadership team, and leadership throughout your organization, your business performance is better, period,” she said. “There's evidence across every country, in every industry.”
GUIDANCE FOR WOMEN
Oswalt advises women in the workplace to push past their comfort zones and take advantage of new opportunities.
“Put aside your fears and just really go after it,” she said. “It breaks my heart to hear that folks have compromised on things they've dreamed of doing. You have to have the grit and perseverance to push through obstacles and get the right support, and then you can achieve anything.”
PERSPECTIVES FROM OTHER LEADERS
The ABA podcast includes brief audio segments from other baking industry leaders who relay the importance of championing diversity. Those executives are Paula Marshall, CEO of Bama Companies; Cordia Harrington, CEO of Crown Bakeries and ABA First Vice Chair; and Erin Sharp, Group Vice President of Manufacturing, The Kroger Co., who was ABA’s first female Chair.
“We believe that diversity is not only a core value, but it's also the reason a lot of people make their careers at Kroger,” Sharp said.
OPPORTUNITIES FOR THE FUTURE
Oswalt cites the positive influences of women pioneers in the baking industry, including Margaret Rudkin, who founded Pepperidge Farm in 1937. Rudkin eventually sold her company to Campbell Soup and became the first woman to serve on that organization’s board.
“We’ve made so many strides and there are definitely more opportunities to make impacts,” Oswalt said. “But we need to celebrate how far we’ve come.”
Thank you to Nashville Entrepreneurship Center for permission to use your podcast interview with Cordia Harrington and to Gold Revere for permission to use your song, Goldfish Crackers.