Proco Commodities spoke with Sara Alonso Papayanupulos, the Global Commercial Director of Pop Vriend Seeds with 20 years’ of experience in marketing in the food and agricultural sector. Sara is on a mission to help drive a more sustainable world, through new technology, products and efficiency in farming and the food chain. As a woman in the commodities sector, Sara speaks from experience about the challenges she has faced over her career, and gives advice for young women starting out their careers in recruitment.
Why did you choose this industry?
I’ve been part of the agriculture sector since 2002 and I absolutely love it. Being able to contribute to farming and bringing food to the table is something that has motivated me since I was young. This is partly because my family is in farming and partly because it is a beautiful activity that involves being in nature and usually involves very hard working people. Farmers need support to improve their activities every cycle, and no cycle is similar to the previous one. This makes it a very dynamic, but challenging industry.
What challenges and highlights have you faced?
I started working in a multinational company that delivers inputs to farmers. I had just finished my Master’s and while I was very young, I realized that this was a very competitive, results-oriented company looking for high-potential professionals to grow their business. This was a challenge and I took it, I moved with the company from one city to the other, even when my only child had just been born. Moving is not easy, and neither is traveling for work when you have young children, but I was able to cope with it. This remains one of the biggest challenges for women in business, with roles that require traveling and moving around. It doesn’t get easier when they go through adolescence, and you have to teach them responsibility for when you are not there.
What advice do you have for women who are moving into leadership roles?
Know and trust your worth. We are used to not taking our place and making it comfortable for others. I have dared to ask and look for challenging positions, for personal development and more responsibility. You don’t need to tick all the boxes, but you need to be willing to learn and then you can tick it all off. Don’t lose your personal balance – you cannot do it all, but you can do a lot if you prioritize well. That means prioritizing your health in a holistic manner. Sometimes, I did too much, too fast and it is important to enjoy the ride too. Don’t make it too difficult for yourself, it is better to take strong, but small steps, rather than too many and too fast and lose direction. Love what you do, do what you love… is what makes most sense to me.
What do you think is the biggest obstacle for women in the workplace?
The biggest obstacle is childcare. The problem arises when women are still early in their careers and aren’t sure what they want. At that point, your salary usually isn’t so high, so it’s easy to make the choice to stay home. Later on, it’s more difficult to go back to work. I assure you that you can organize it all – work and take care of your children. But there should be more flexibility from companies for part-time and day care coverage, maybe as part of compensation.
In meetings and discussions, it is important to give the time and space for women to speak up, a male-dominated environment is sometimes aggressive and women will stay quiet in those situations, if deemed unsafe or unsavoury.
Men made the rules about workplaces, time schedules, many things that come with ‘careers’. Women have a different energy – sometimes so much energy that we can work for 12 hours, while other days we feel the need to be more quiet.
Do you have a female mentor in the business?
I had many mentors in the past, some women and some men. I like to be a mentor too and have done this with some women. I believe that I can demonstrate ways I’ve solved problems over my career in ways that can help them. I didn’t have a mentor with whom I could share more my personal and work balance situations, I always had to go with external coaches when I was facing adversity.
How do you see the future of women in your sector?
I see that there is the need for more female energy and skills; men are also becoming more involved in childcare and this will continue. Women in general develop long term relationships, like to form alliances, and collaborate, and this is key for the new way of doing business. I am positive when I see my daughter’s generation, knowing what they want and being more confident. I wasn’t so confident at the early stages of my career as they seem to be now. I had to discover a lot by myself because my mother was not a professional woman, although she did work part of her life in her own shop.
What are your personal ambitions for the future?
I want to continue with my leadership development towards more collaboration and steering, I want to have bigger impact in others I work with, I want to use my female skills listening to my intuition, and I want to have a positive impact in the sustainability business goals of a company.
|We’d like to thank Sara Alonso Papayanupulos for her valuable contributions and insights|
If you need help designing and implementing the best framework for driving diversity, equity, and inclusion at your business, get in touch with us at Proco Commodities. We can help you determine how best to ensure your company is building towards a more inclusive future through hiring and retaining the best.
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