The second IntraFish Women in Seafood Leadership Forum built on the huge success of the first event, drawing a crowd of executives from across the seafood spectrum: from aquaculture, fisheries, processing and purchasing.

This year's event, held in Bergen, Norway on International Women's Day, in cooperation with the North Atlantic Seafood Forum (NASF) conference, brought an all-star lineup of female execs from around the globe offering their insight, ideas and passion for the industry.

IntraFish Editor Rachel Mutter opened the second round of the groundbreaking Women in Seafood event by first addressing the handful of men in the audience.

"You're perhaps right at this moment getting a taste of what it's like for all of us each and every day of our careers," she said.

The first Women in Seafood Leadership Forum, held in Seattle in June 2017, was notably slim on men.

"It was a really inspirational evening," Mutter said. "Better than we could have dreamt. But there were only two men in the room.

"This issue of diversity in the workforce is not just a women's issue -- it's a men's issue too," Mutter said. "This is about the industry, and making it the best it can be."

The issue of the seafood industry's shrinking talent pool was one of the themes of the evening, and the need to make companies understand that hiring women isn't necessarily the right thing to do, rather than the smart thing to do.

"It's ironic to me that this industry so concerned with sustainability -- of feed, of environment, of economics -- seems to often miss the most pressing sustainability issue that it has, which is its own workforce," Mutter said.

Reams of research have shown diverse companies outperform less diverse peers, Mutter noted, a theme that several speakers would return to throughout the evening.



We were told explicitly by Trident Seafoods Senior Director of Global Species Torunn Knoph Halhjem to -- ahem -- edit some of the comments during her inspirational opening presentation.

Halhjem -- who's worked in Europe, the United States, Japan and Russia in everything from factory trawlers to board rooms over her 20-year career -- has one of the most diverse experiences of the seafood sector throughout its supply chain.

"The first 10 years of my career, it felt like there were four or five women," Halhjem said. "If I look at the last five years, it seems like it's exploded -- it's wonderful to see how many women are coming into our industry."

"Tonight is all about how can we get more women into this industry, and once they're in, how can we elevate them," she said. "We chose this industry, now we have to spread the word."

Halhjem did just that, offering a checklist for success for any woman wanting to succeed in seafood.

"First, ignore all the men who tell you you cannot do it," she said. "More importantly, ignore all the women who tell you you can't do it."

From mentorships to groups of like-minded women, having a support system in your career is critical.

Another key, Halhjem said: stop caring if people like you.

"Strive to be respected. If you want to make it and climb the ladder, that's the most important thing," she said. "This is not a popularity contest. It never will be. It's all about results."

Another issue -- and one not many executives are bold enough to point out -- is the need to pay attention to dress code. There's enough pressure for women in a male-dominated industry, and playing to female stereotypes is a hindrance, not a help, she added.

Haljhem also wanted to make sure the audience knew Trident walked the talk on the importance of women in the workforce, playing a short video interview with Trident Seafoods CEO Joe Bundrant.

"Women bring a different point of view," Bundrant said. "They have a better management style and a very creative way of thinking."

Hiring and further developing those employees can require changes in thinking, Halhjem noted. Workplace changes such as working hours flexibility can make a major difference, particularly given the outsized role women tend to play at home.

"I know every woman in this room can do the same darn job whether you're at home, breast-feeding or multitasking, as you can do sitting in the office," she said.


Culture, culture, culture

Anne-Kristine Oen, CEO of Salmon Group, a company owned by mainly family-owned salmon and trout producers along the coast of Norway, spent years working in other industries before joinging the seafood industry, and brought her perspective on the broader landscape of the workplace, and where the seafood sector needs to go.

"It's too bad that so few women are in interested in jobs in our industry, because we don't want them to miss out on the fun," Oen said. "It's fun, it's global -- it's pretty 'rock and rollish.'"

To get those women interested requires cultural change -- and that takes time, she noted. Salmon farming culture in particular is still somewhat macho, but that's changing, Oen said.

"The business is, I would say, is where shipping was 10 or 15 years ago," Oen said. "I'm not strictly talking about women in leading positions, because I think diversity is a topic which is closely related to ethics, attitudes and sustainability. At the end of the day, all of this is culture."

Oen quoted Peter Drucker: "Culture eats strategy for breakfast."

Establishing a strong, diverse, welcoming and exciting culture is critical not just for retention, but for attracting new talent that can further shape a company's future in a positive way.

"I'm happy to see so many young ladies in the audience today: the future," Oen said. "They're clever, highly educated, they're versatile... and they represent new values. They can change cultures. They are the masters of technology, and will be the ones that digitalize the industry for us and with us. With a bit of luck they can drag old people with white hair into the new digitalized future."


Do something!

Kefalonia Fisheries CEO Lara Barazi-Yeroulanos challenged the audience at the women in seafood summit: don't just talk about cultural change in your company, do something about it.

"I have a lot of experience with what it's like to be the only woman in the room," she said.

The seafood industry has been historically hard and dangerous -- that makes it understandable that it's male dominated.

"Today though, fisheries and aquaculture are a multi-billion-dollar industry," she said. "It's importance as a source of sustainable, nutritious protein will only increase going forward."

That said, the very tradition that makes the seafood industry so unique brings with it cultural biases that can make it challenging for women, Barazi-Yeroulanous said.

Barazi-Yeroulanous is one of the few female CEOs in the industry. How can other women get there?

"Well, I think all of us here have developed a process," she said. "Be good at what you do. Learn skills. Work hard, and then work harder. Be patient and develop a sense of humor. Use your EQ [emotional intelligence] -- we're good at this."

Mentorships, role models and allies, again, play a key role.

"What I'd really like to bring to the discussion is, how can we changes these attitudes collectively as a whole, and not just learn to succeed despite them?" she asked.

The commitment the industry has made to sustainability shows that it's capable of making seismic shifts, Barazi-Yeroulanous said.

"The message that we have to change as an industry has really sunk in -- both for fisheries and for aquaculture," she said. "Could we not advocate for the same commitment to change for women in seafood? I am proud to be working in an industry that I think is on the forefront of the blue revolution. I would be even prouder if it was at the forefront of gender equity."


Raise your hand

Kathleen Offman Mathisen, the CHRO at salmon farmer Grieg Seafood, spends a lot of her time working in human resources nowadays, focusing on diversity and its merits.

"Diversity creates value for the business," Mathisen said. "It's important for the bottom line."

One of the ways to reach those diversity goals is to ensure that those women who are in the seafood industry role model what it takes to be successful. Oftentimes, that is belief in oneself, Mathisen said.

"A lot of the men that I've worked with have promoted me -- but I did something myself. It's not just that people need to create opportunities around you: You have to reach your hand up," Mathisen said. "Because if you do not believe you are able to take a leadership role, who else will believe in you?"

Women should be reaching out to mentor other promising women at their company to reach greater heights and grow.

"Sometimes, it's the women that are stopping other women from reaching the top," Mathisen said. "That's something we need to think about."

Taking the time for a coffee or a lunch to talk with a colleague that needs advice or support is a small price to pay for developing talented new people.

"It's often females that want to know what you've been doing, how have you been successful? But you also need to talk about your mistakes, so other people can learn from them," Mathisen said.


Surprise! Your career is seafood

Petra Weigl, general manager of sales in Europe for tilapia producer Regal Springs, has been in the seafood industry 30 years, including time with major European seafood processors such as Iglo and Pickenpack.

But her long career in seafood was by no means planned. After several attempts at different studies were rebuffed by East Germany's education system, Weigl finally got accepted for a role she wasn't exactly excited about: working with food technology in Bulgaria. And even worse? Fish.

"It was too late to escape," she said.

But sometimes, having choices made for you can turn out well, she said.

"I am so happy. I never would have thought what a beautiful industry this is and how the world would be opened to me," she said.

Weigl's first boss -- Jan Pickenpack -- is a reminder of how things have changed since Weigl started.

"When he was looking for a successor, he had to sell his company," Weigl said. "He had three kids, but of the wrong gender: all ladies. He had no idea that one of his daughters might follow in his position. He didn't even think about it -- of course not."

During that period, Weigl became used to colleagues getting credit for her ideas, being ignored at meetings, and being grouped in with what the other executives would call "the girls."

That being said, Weigl said she's happy that men were able to take on some of the more difficult work that the fishing industry in particular brings.

"There are so many harsh jobs -- we're not all like Torunn," Weigl said.

What's changed, however -- particularly with the advancement of aquaculture and the sophistication of the seafood industry -- is that different skills are now needed in the sector.

Now, qualifications, skills, ambition and a personal life plan are more valuable to a career in seafood than just brawn, she noted.

"If you want to have a career and have kids, and they don't let you, go out and look for another company," Weigl said. "There are plenty of them in our industry. I hope old fashioned companies in our industry are dying dinos."

Weigl's hope for the audience? That they can find companies that have the same supportive culture hers does.

"I hope that you are able to find a company offering flexible working times allowing you to be a lady, a manager and a mother -- if you wish to," she said.


Performance first, diversity second

Committing to change and gender diversity is easy to say, but getting a company with 155,000 employees across 70 countries to where it needs to be is, to say the least, no small feat.

Hilde Waage, regional HR leader of EMEA & North America for Cargill Aqua Nutrition, has responsibility for a significant portion of the 2,000 employees working across 20 countries and 38 facilities in her division.

Diversity is front and center at Cargill, and the group has made a commitment to the "Paradigm for Parity" initiative, which recognizes the critical importance of having diversity on a staff, finding that companies with 50 percent of women in senior operating roles show a 19 percent higher return on equity than average, for example.

The initiative calls for equal representation of men and women in management roles by 2030, and has a clear set of five steps to getting there: minimizing unconscious bias, increasing the number of women in operating roles, measuring targets at every level, identifying women of potential and getting them sponsors, and basing career progress on performance -- not presence.

"How many of us have heard this comment: 'Oh, she is so good, but she has young kids, so she can't be in a leadership role right now,'" Waage said. "Well let that woman decide for herself."

Waage warned that diversity isn't the end goal -- performance and development is.

"If you really want to get the best out of your diverse teams, you need to have an inclusive environment. You need to have an environment where people can bring their whole self to work and thrive," she said. "Otherwise they will come, they will join your companies, and they will leave again."


Change takes time

Like so many Norwegians, Renate Larsen was born with fish in her blood. But her skill and ambition over a 19-year career in the industry was unique -- it drove her to the top of the world's largest seafood marketing organization.

As CEO of the Norwegian Seafood Council (NSC), she's already seen a difference in the gender make-up compared with her previous roles, which include being CEO of Leroy Aurora.

"I've grown used to being the only woman in the meeting, the only woman at the work dinner, but now that I'm working with the market, I'm not the only woman anymore," Larsen said.

Larsen reflected on the changes in the sector -- and whether or not those changes are happening fast enough.

"Let me tell you this: there is still no queue in the ladies' room in conferences like this," she joked.

Larsen said conferences in particular are an important area to put focus on gender diversity and parity.

"We have to address that those who are making the program have a responsibility to get more female speakers," Larsen said. "It's OK to be impatient."

Larsen's work -- like for so many seafood executives -- has taken her all over the world, and that has sometimes given her a window into how women are perceived at seafood companies in other cultures.

One experience with a Japanese executive visting Norway was particularly telling.

"When he met me, he was shocked. Meeting me, a young woman, blonde, managing men older than me?" He thought that was hilarious," Larsen said. "'For me, it was science fiction,' he said. 'I come from an old traditional company, and I'm not used to it.'

"We talked about how culture needs to change, and that changing culture takes time. That's the truth in Japan, and that's the truth in Norway."

As many speakers noted, the obstacles placed in the way of working mothers in particular have to be knocked out of the way, and that includes perceptions about what is and isn't OK for a working mother to take on.

Larsen, a single mother since her teenage son was three years old and an executive since he was nine, said she and her son "made it work" with the support of family, and that today, "He's my biggest support, and my biggest fan."


Final thoughts

Halhjem and Barazi-Yeroulanos were joined by three other executives on the final discussion panel rounding up the evening.

Tone Bjørnstad Hanstad, an analyst with DnB Markets, that recently worked on the IPO of Salmones Camanchaca, said the evening turned out to be more positive than she had anticipated, and that since working with the seafood sector, she's been happily surprised to see that the opportunities for working in the industry are diverse --particularly if you're willing to put in the hours.

Veronica Pedersen Åsheim, state secretary at the Norwegian Fisheries Ministry, said women may be missing out on a lot of opportunities to rise simply because they lack the need to gain more confidence in themselves and their ability to tackle a management role.

"Of course we lack women in leadership positions, but that's not the only problem," Åsheim said.

"The problem is that women don't apply for leadership positions. And why is that? Because women always are modest. We don't think that we're good enough. While men are more tough: they think, 'Well, I might not know everything, but I'll probably get there one day.' That's what we women need to learn from the men. We need to be tougher. We need to learn that in time, we will also be better, and we will grow with our positions."

Salmon Brands CEO Tine Hammernes Leopold took a broader view.

"I think the most important issue that we should address is, 'What are the real barriers for women to progress in any kind of career?'" she said.

However, Leopold, who comes from a fast-moving consumer goods background, said that the seafood industry's struggles are slightly different -- but still ultimately a risk to both diversity and innovation.

"The barrier here is not the gender issue, but the issue of being open to new kinds of experiences and new kinds of knowledge," she said.

"Having something different is not easily valued. Coming in knowing something that's not common for the industry to use or to value can be very hard."


Bring on the men!

Halhjem said that the next step for pushing the Women in Seafood initiative forward is actually not to reach out to more women -- but to more men.

"We can sit here all day long and talk about the value and the importance of bringing in more women to the industry," Halhjem said. "But whether we like it or not, it's even more important that we have CEOs like Joe Bundrant talk to others.

"Because at the end of the day, other CEOs are more likely to listen to Joe Bundrant, and what he says about the benefits," Halhjem said. "Not what Torunn says, or what anybody in this room says, unfortunately. So I think that's going to be a key point."


Stay tuned for more coverage of our Women in Seafood initiative. You can find full coverage of the Seattle event and our Women in Seafood interview series at our dedicated page.