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Dawn Foods sponsors its women leaders

Dawn Foods took mentorship a step beyond and established a sponsorship project for the women in its ranks, called the Women’s Leadership Development Program. The HR initiative pairs employees up with one another to help advance women’s career paths at Dawn.

Carrie Jones-Barber,  CEO of Dawn Foods, had just received a new mentorship request when we met at the ‘Donuts with Dawn’ breakfast. Dawn Foods, alongside The Society of Bakery Women, organized the networking event at IBIE 2022 – a space where women were encouraged to step up, strike up a conversation and together explore new ideas, new opportunities and new connections.

Speaking at the event, Carrie shared how we constantly learn from each other through networking with a story of her own: “I learned something new just a few days ago while talking to a client about diversity – the importance of bringing people of different backgrounds to the table; equity – making sure that we treat everyone in the best possible way; and inclusion – supporting people to feel safe to bring their entire self to work, every single day.” With this, she learned there is also something worth adding: belonging. “You can invite someone to the dance, but if you don’t get them on to the dance floor, they don’t feel like they belong,” her client said. These should be the four priorities: diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging, she concluded. These words thus inspired someone in the audience to reach out for Dawn’s mentorship program.

Dawn supports women in their roles through the Women’s Leadership Development Program, which uses a sponsorship system. It was considered the more accurate concept choice when compared to ‘mentorship’ because it implies closer involvement. In this way, it becomes the sponsor’s responsibility to see the other person succeed, give them opportunities, and support them throughout.

Dawn implemented a one-year-and-a-half program that includes a partnership with the training group Linkage to support the development of women in the baking industry. Both men and women are taking on sponsor roles, helping ‘sponsees’ advance in a meaningful way and hone their skills. Program participants attend an intensive and interactive four-day leadership institute on advancing women leaders, facilitated by Linkage, “It equips women business leaders with actionable steps and practices to address the barriers that impede their advancement in the workplace,” as Linkage describes it.

Felisa Stockwell, Vice President, Global People & Culture, and Osvaldo Santos, Vice President of the People team (LATAM), created the Women’s Leadership Development Program. Together, they developed it for over a year and found a partner in Linkage, before its official launch at Dawn in 2021.

Felisa Stockwell, Vice President, Global People & Culture, speaks at the ‘Donuts with Dawn” IBIE event

Women on board

Women are nominated by their managers from within the international organization for the program or by selection via talent management process. The program’s debut class of 2021 comprised two ‘sponsees’ from Europe, three women from LATAM and five from the U.S. The class of 2022 was announced just ahead of IBIE.

“The program is all about providing career opportunities, giving women the tools and fundamentals to build their confidence, find what their passion is and use that as a career target. This program empowers women to be confident and bold, to ask questions, and even ask for help,” Dawn’s CEO underlines. It supports the women of Dawn to create a network that fills their gaps and helps them be more successful, together. In the words of an attendee of Dawn’s IBIE breakfast, “There are always storms; to be successful, you need to learn to dance in the rain.”

Embarking on this program starts with creating relationships and allowing space for vulnerability. Conversations and connections started in this safe environment continue throughout and beyond the program, Jones-Barber explains. At the end of the first program, in January 2023, there were four sponsees advancing into a new leadership role.

“Can we talk?”

Joining the program gives everyday work a new perspective, too. In her role as a sponsor, Dawn’s CEO looks for opportunities and ways to promote her sponsee that may arise from any daily activity. Once a month, they meet to catch up with anything from feedback on recent activities to advice on certain concerns. It’s in Dawn’s open-door culture that everyone can be comfortable reaching out, without following a rigid, corporate ‘to-do’.

Talent development is part of the Women’s Leadership Development Program. And that’s because, “As a manager, one of the most important things that I can do is help someone develop their career, watch them grow and take on new steps and opportunities, giving them the tools to do so, providing feedback, or listening to them. It’s all so fulfilling!,” Jones-Barber underscores. Talent planning is very important to Dawn, including the sense of belonging. This is even seen in regular team-building events that are leveling the playing field. Empathy and vulnerability are valued and cared for, the company’s CEO highlights.

These values are reflected in the company’s CSR strategy: “We believe our actions matter and that we have a responsibility to make a positive impact in communities around the world. Our approach to social responsibility aligns to our commitments to our people, our products, and our customers – better known as the Circle of Excellence.”

The pandemic brought ad-hoc connections to a stop. To help stay connected and reassure the people working at Dawn worldwide, the company set up more frequent communication opportunities. Pay scales are also being adjusted, and are even more closely monitored since the pandemic, to remain competitive. On the bright side, people are now making decisions faster than ever before, changing the dynamics of how the business is run.

Workforce shortage

Staff shortages lingers on in the baking industry. Dawn has implemented several approaches to address it for the company, over time, in order to attract and retain people. Having started as a small family business, Dawn takes pride in its roots and wants to ensure that people who join are satisfied and that they feel fulfilled and appreciated – in one-on-one conversations and on a global scale. “We say, ‘Let’s make this a great place to work!’ And we are very much focusing on it,” Jones-Barber points out.

The company takes decisive steps to find the next hire; we utilize social media, digital marketing and job boards, but we also leverage Dawn networks and even encourages its people to refer friends or family members. If a newcomer is excited about the new job to stay for the first three months, they usually remain on board, the company observes. Communication is the key to this, as it is to all the following steps in their career at Dawn. This can mean learning new jobs and finishing or furthering their education – all of which are supported by the company. In-house training also provides generous specialization opportunities, as well as resource sharing.

Wherever possible, a hybrid work system is in place, tailored to the job and the person’s needs, while retaining the feeling of belonging to the organization. At the end of the day, Dawn wants its people to be truly proud to be a part of the company – and those who stay, are, the CEO says. Optimism is valued at Dawn, the happiness of its people, customers and consumers. It is all about being a part of the ‘Circle of Excellence’.

Photos: IBIE 2022, ‘Donuts with Dawn’ networking event. Credit: Dawn Foods

The article was published in Baking+Biscuit International, issue 2 – 2023.