New network provides space for sharing ideas and cultivating support
Amanda Knauff (left) and Leah Hardy (right)
The grocery sector in Canada has come a long way in terms of diversity, but the reality is that there is still a significant lack of women in executive board positions, especially when it comes to the produce sector. Industry veterans Amanda Knauff and Leah Hardy are hoping to change that with the recent launch of the first Women’s Produce Network through the Ontario Produce Marketing Association (OPMA).
Within produce industry boards in Canada, women still hold less than a third of board director spots. “So, we are underrepresented in associations that are making decisions for our industry,” says the network’s co-founder Leah Hardy, regional sales manager at Wonderful Sales. “Through this network, we want to bring together like-minded individuals and support women in produce; we want to ensure every person best fit for a job is considered for it.”
When she and Knauff met at an industry event in 2021 and started sharing their experiences and challenges, they recognized there was a need to provide more support for women. “Back then, knowing Leah was there and had my back made the experience 10 times better. I thought, how can I make other women feel the same way?” says Knauff, who is director of sales-retail Canada at Taylor Farms and vice-chair of the OPMA.
When they started talking to other industry colleagues and presented their idea for the network to the OPMA, it was a unanimous “yes,” they say. “We started a LinkedIn page and within three weeks, we had more than 100 people join our group,” says Knauff. “The initial feedback was total excitement and we had no problem getting early sponsorship support as well.”
The new network provides opportunities for women in Ontario’s produce industry to meet, share ideas, learn and be inspired, as well as discuss challenges they face. It also aims to influence positive change in the industry by addressing gender-related issues, promoting diversity, and cultivating a more inclusive and equitable environment.
Women’s Produce Network launches officially at the OPMA golf tournament in September, with representation at the Association’s upcoming winter gala too. “Then ideally next spring, we want to have a full-day conference with learning and networking opportunities for women and their allies – and other events to come,” says Hardy. Right now, there are six female committee members overseeing the network, but she says there are also plans to implement an ambassador program where select individuals will be representing the network within their own organizations to better reach others within the sector. “We want to ensure we are reaching women throughout the produce industry and not just those in marketing and sales.”
Knauff says Women’s Produce Network also aims to be inclusive of everyone who supports women. “If we want to see any changes happening on boards or in executive levels, it has to come from the people already in those roles,” she says. “We want our male counterparts to be excited about this too.”