The inaugural IntraFish Women in Seafood Leadership Summit was a rip-roaring success, thanks to an incredible line up of speakers from around the sector, a huge global delegate turnout and a lively panel discussion about the challenges and opportunities of working in the seafood sector.
The event, led by IntraFish Editors Rachel Mutter and Elisabeth Fischer, brought together more than 120 executives -- nearly all women -- for a one-of-a-kind evening of frank discussions, and yes -- a few "f bombs."
With sponsorship from Trident Seafoods, the Alaska Seafood Marketing Board, Kuhlbarra, the Aleutian Pribilof Island Community Development Association and Discovery Health, the summit revealed the importance of strong leadership in the sector and how bringing balance and new perspective to the industry's challenges is going to give it the best possible chance to become the world's leading protein provider.
It was an evening of unusual candor and sincerity, and one offering attendees inspiration, career advice and a whole lot of humor. Below are some of the key takeaways from the evening's speakers.
'Be respected, not liked'
As one of the top executives at one of the top seafood companies in the Americas, Torunn Knoph Halhjem knows leadership.
The Trident Seafoods Senior Director of Global Species has a lot of advice for women coming up in the industry, but she said that one piece of advice summed it up well: "Strive to be respected vs. liked."
Following that advice has taken Halhjem from her childhood in Northern Norway, through her time working on Norwegian and Russian factory trawlers and to Trident Seafoods, which she joined in 2000.
"Ignore all the men who tell you you cannot," she said at the Women in Seafood Leadership Summit. "Ignore all the women who tell you you cannot."
Halhjem also stressed the importance of finding mentors, whether they be male or female. Many of her cheerleaders in the seafood industry have been men, she said, including Trident Seafoods CEO Joe Bundrant.
"It takes a strong man to hire a strong woman," she said.
Still, she also advised women to surround themselves with other women who want to succeed in the male-dominated field.
"The top three criteria for women to succeed are: determination and strong strategic thinking, a thick skin, passion and comfort in the spotlight. If you're a woman in this industry, you will be in the spotlight."
Find a culture that inspires you
Carrie Brownstein can trace back her seafood roots to 1909, when her great grandfather sold fish in Philadelphia.
“I guess you can say I was born into seafood,” she told the audience at the IntraFish Women in Seafood Leadership Summit last week.
Today, as Global Seafood Quality Standards Coordinator for Whole Foods, Brownstein has found a way to blend her passion for sustainability issues with her connection to the ocean and ultimately seafood.
Making a meaningful connection between your interests and passions and your career is the advice she offered the women attending the conference.
“One thing I tell people, is find a culture you connect with, that you feel comfortable with,” said Brownstein. “In the culture I work in now I don’t run into obstacles to being a woman.”
Ironically, it was at her first Boston seafood show where she saw women in roles she did not expect. “I saw women in bikinis offering seafood," she said. "Then I went to the Brussels show and saw people handing out cards for escort services.”
Her best piece of advice, she said, is to simply not work with people who don’t support and appreciate you.
Time for a changing of the guard
Libby Woodhatch, head of advocacy at Seafish, didn’t have a direct journey into the seafood sector. While she gravitated to the water -- she originally studied to be a naval architect -- fisheries science eventually called to her.
“I realized learning could be so fun,” she said of her study.
Woodhatch offered attendees some insights from the IntraFish-Seafish Women in Seafood survey, which canvassed more than 300 women in the sector to gauge their thoughts about the state of the industry for female executives.
The findings showed that while women in the industry loved their jobs and the people they worked with, they faced hurdles such as a lack of a support network, unclear career paths and gender bias.
“And it’s a gender bias that doesn’t appear to be shifting,” Woodhatch said.
Several major seafood companies and organizations in the UK have yet to show any developments in bringing women onto boards, and that reluctance to change is making those organizations fail to realize their full potential.
“Women have been the backbone of the seafood industry since the beginning. So the question is, ‘Is there a lack of women in leadership, or just leaders in the wrong position?’” Woodhatch asked rhetorically.
Women make the seafood purchasing decisions -- so why aren't there more of them on the other side?
When Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute (ASMI) International Program Director Hannah Lindoff began her career with Alaska seafood many years ago, six out of the seven program directors were men, but most of the lower-level staff were women.
She recalls going to the Brussels show with her months-old youngest baby strapped on her back, and getting nearly kicked off the show floor.
When now Executive Director Alexa Tonkovich applied for the institute, Lindoff said she was far and away the most qualified, but Lindoff had to fight to get her in.
Now, the institute has six female directors and two male directors -- and a woman, Tonkovich, sits at the helm of the whole organization. "It only makes sense," said Lindoff.
"When we at Alaska Seafood look at our target market, it's women," she said. "We need women making the packaging decisions, the marketing decisions, because women are making the buying decisions. We need women in this industry."
This industry is what you make of it
Jacqueline Claudia is the daughter of a coal miner who grew up with virtually no connection to seafood.
Sure, she dreamt as a young girl of being a noted marine biologist like Jacque Cousteau, but as far as enjoying the oceans’ seafood bounty, that came much later in life -- after her graduation from the Wharton School, a love affair with a commercial fisherman, and a job waiting tables at a fancy seafood restaurant.
Today, she is the CEO of seafood startup Love The Wild and has rapidly emerged as one of the most outspoken female leaders in the seafood industry.
She’s not afraid to use colorful language and, more importantly, she’s not afraid to take the risks necessary to build a company and a brand simultaneously.
“I never have been one to stand around and admire a problem,” she told the women gathered at the IntraFish Women in Seafood Leadership Summit.
The problem she is intent on solving is one that continues to plague the male-dominated seafood industry: getting more consumers to eat seafood.
“We believe in experimentation and customer feedback,” she said. For example, the company tested 127 boxes of its product in stores over an 18-month period to hit on just the right consumer look and messaging.
“We are building a brand that will take the fear away from eating seafood.”
She encouraged the women attending to be bold and flexible and willing to ask lots of questions. “I’m a big fan of asking forgiveness rather than permission,” she said.
“This industry is what you make of it,” she implored. “So for f***k's sake, grab it with two hands and run with it.”
The power to do good
It’s not just career women that can help each other out in the seafood sector. Former Regal Springs VP of Sales Magdalena Lamprecht Wallhoff offered a powerful story of how she was able to intervene in a major sexual harassment issue the company faced in its operations in Honduras.
When Wallhoff uncovered the issue, she was told to leave the issue alone -- harassment was endemic to Honduran society.
“I said, ‘It may be endemic in the country, but it can’t be endemic in my company,’” Wallhoff said.
After a hard-fought battle, the offending executive and others involved were fired, and Wallhoff used the incident to empower women at Regal’s plant with education on things such as domestic violence and health issues.
The power to make positive change is one of the true rewards of working in the seafood sector, she said, and it’s up to companies to pursue policies that can make a difference.
“The seafood industry has potential for social impact built right into it,” Wallhoff said. “Every company does have an impact positive or negative, and think of the impact you can have upstream. That’s building lives.”
Taking control of the narrative and making changes that are positive for the company should be a part of everyone’s mission -- and not just because of outside pressure.
“Don’t wait for NGOs to tell you if your product is good or not,” Wallhoff said. “They have just as much of a conflict of interest as anyone else.”
A culture that matches your values
Not only does Daniela Klimsova hold a degree in food technology and an MBA, but the Icicle Seafoods' Director of Business Development also spends time volunteering and sitting on boards of local non-profits.
Find your values, she advised, and find a company whose values align with your own.
While "being a woman in our industry still feels like a disadvantage," she happily highlighted the careers of her fellow Icicle female employees, from Tiffany McKenzie, captain of the F/V Progress, to Operations Manager of Fisher Accounts Irene Ekstrand.
Some of them mentored her at the company and she said it's important for women in the seafood industry to see other women succeeding and thriving.
"Imagine if seafood companies managed our people as well as we manage our money," Klimsova said. “Workplace parity would be a given."
At the lively panel discussion that closed out the event, Knoph Halhjem, Klimsova, Wallhoff, Claudia and Woodhatch didn't always agree with each other.
Good friends Wallhoff and Klimsova said they often disagree on the methods to bring women in the industry, but one thing was clear: Everyone agreed the industry needs more women in it.
The media can help, Woodhatch said, by profiling more female executives, or even simply just utilizing them as sources more often.
"We chose to be in this industry, not ... some other bulls**t industry," Wallhoff said. "We're here. We need to tell people that."