Women in Seafood

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Women in seafood: Kefalonia's Lara Barazi-Yeroulanos

'Qualities such as macho-ness and toughness are frankly not enough anymore. Being the captain of the ship isn't enough: our industry needs to adapt to a changing marketplace.'

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Lara Barazi-Yeroulanos is the CEO of Greek bass and bream farmer Kefalonia Fisheries. She is a member of the board of the Federation of Greek Mariculture (FGM), the Greek representative to the Federation of European Aquaculture Producers (FEAP), a member of the board of the European Aquaculture Technology and Innovation Platform (EATiP) and the Hellenic Aquaculture Technology and Innovation Platform (HATiP).

She serves as a consultant to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) on issues of sustainable aquaculture and development. She is a graduate of Columbia University (BA) and Harvard University (MA) with degrees in Economics & Agricultural Development and International Trade & Finance.

IntraFish: How did you begin working in the seafood industry?

Lara Barazi-Yeroulanos: By coincidence really, our company, Kefalonia Fisheries S.A., was founded by my father-in-law Marinos Yeroulanos. I have been very fortunate in that my family entrusted me with it although I had no background in the industry and I have been running it for the past 18 years.

IF: What attracted you about the seafood industry?

LBY: I love that we produce healthy, delicious food. Aquaculture combines elements of farming and fishing, direct contact with nature and the sea, it can be very technical and scientific but it’s still a business with all the challenges related to that.

IF: What obstacles have you faced in your career a man might not have encountered?

LBY: I’m not really sure that the main obstacles I encountered were really affected by the fact that I am a woman: I joined the company as CEO at a rather young age, with no previous experience in the sector. Also I am not Greek so when I joined I didn’t speak the language at all and was unfamiliar with the culture. So whatever credibility issues I faced would probably have been challenges for a man as well as for a woman. 

Later on, I would say that the greatest challenges I have faced revolved around balancing work and my family. My job requires a lot of traveling and I have to be ruthlessly efficient in terms of prioritizing the time I dedicate to each issue. I don’t have time for long, late board meetings, industry conferences which will not directly impact me and my business and unfortunately that means that I have to forego many opportunities for networking in a more classic 'male' fashion.  

IF: Would you encourage other women to seek a career in this industry? Why?

LBY: Absolutely, the reasons are that it is an industry which combines many different sorts of challenges and requires a varied skill set which basically means that you never get bored.

It is always challenging and most especially in aquaculture you have the opportunity to bring innovation to a traditional activity like farming. I think women are very good at thinking outside the box. 

IF: What advice would you give aspiring female seafood executives?

LBY: Don’t let the fact that it may take a long time for you to be taken seriously, discourage or embitter you. Focus on what’s important: results. That’s why you were hired in the first place and most importantly results speak for themselves.

I also would advise women to be patient, much of the sexism in the industry comes from a lack of education and knowledge and the best way to change that is by example. Change stereotypes through your actions not words.

On the positive side I also think it’s important not to try and imitate male styles of leadership (if they don’t suit you). Women tend to have less confrontational more cooperative styles which are better suited to team endeavors. We know that in a world of increasing complexity, this is a huge advantage so embrace it.

IF: What are the biggest challenges facing female seafood executives in the industry?

LBY: Not being given a chance in the first place. This is true both at a management/operational level as well as at the board level.

IF: How can the industry recruit more women into the sector?

LBY: This is a tough one. Perhaps part of the problem is that women don’t tend to view the seafood industry as being very attractive to them. Certainly having more visible women industry leaders both in executive and board roles can help change the anachronistic image of the industry.

IF: Why are there so few women in executive roles in seafood?

LBY: Part of this may be because seafood is a traditional industry, with its roots in fishing: a man’s job, very tough and dangerous at times. But the seafood industry has changed: it is now a multi-billion euro industry with the task of producing the highest quality, most nutritious food in a sustainable manner.

This is a job with much complexity where qualities such as macho-ness and toughness are frankly simply not enough anymore. Being the captain of the ship isn’t enough: our industry needs to adapt to a changing marketplace, changing natural conditions and challenges; this requires technical skills, communication skills and teamwork.

IF: If there were one thing you could change about the industry to make it a better place for women workers, what would it be?

LBY: Well the most important thing of course is making sure that women’s rights in the workplace are respected, that all laws are applied and rigorously enforced. Women need to feel respected and safe.

From there on I think that the few women executives that are already in the industry can and should use their influence to promote greater gender equality and give women the opportunity that I mention above is often lacking. 

IF: What was the dumbest advice a man in the seafood industry has ever given you?

LBY: The most common 'advice' I was given was to know my place, not be too ambitious and to respect my elders. I was also often told that I needed to understand and adapt to the 'Mediterranean' way of things, where although women have power, it is not supposed to be exercised in an overt way. I’m not sure it was dumb advice but it certainly wasn’t very helpful.

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