rom cutting her teeth on the buy-side, to her current leadership role at Burnac Produce Limited, Doreen Ng has seen nearly every side of our industry.
Journeying back and forth between the buy-side and supply-side has given Doreen a unique viewpoint of the professionals who make up each varying level. Gaining her industry foothold at BF Food Brokers before moving to Canadian supermarket Super Carnaval as the only woman in its procurement department, Doreen says that her time in the industry was only interrupted by a brief respite when she harnessed an entrepreneurial drive to helm her own business.
Canadian powerhouse Burnac Produce Limited wooed Doreen back to our beloved industry in 2009 with its extensive portfolio, status as a solutions-driven produce provider, and one especially tantalizing benefit: a family-like environment committed to investing in its diverse team.
Rising through the ranks, Doreen now heads up the fruit division of the company as its Senior Director, Fruit Programmes. But even as she now lends herself a mentor to others, one goal remains at the forefront of her daily investments and future plans–carried with her from the beginning: uplifting industry women.
As Doreen marks a steady rise in women-held produce leadership roles, she sees unlimited opportunities for produce members to contribute to the current landscape and bring women further into the fold.
The future, as Doreen sees it, has women and men aligned as buyers and executives on all sides of the industry. So, just how do we get to that future, breaking past generalizations and utilizing all skill sets of an individual?
As Doreen digs into her wealth of knowledge, she tells me that it all starts with opening up your thinking and exposure, and giving someone an opportunity...
As a successful woman and leader in fresh produce, what has helped bring you to this position in the industry?
DN: First and foremost, I focus on relationship building; a foundation that can be built from being sincere, together with integrity and zero tolerance for disrespect. I find that trust and respect are boomerang words; when you give it, you will get it back. There are also a few other key mentalities that have been integral to my growth and can boost your rise in leadership:
ACCOUNTABILITY: Treat a company as though it is yours. This means remaining dedicated and accountable for all of your responsibilities.
DEDICATION AND PASSION: Produce has no waiting room, and you’ll need to be as fast moving as the industry we serve. Your cell phone is an appendage that will grow on you and help you stay informed. Don’t fall victim to being lost: Mother Nature changes quickly, just like our industry.
ADAPTABILITY: Quintessential to professional intelligence, go the extra mile and master any task presented to you by striving for perfection and never settling for mediocrity. Detail-oriented mentalities, methodical thinking, analytical strategies, and empirical data go a long way towards achieving your goals.
APPROACHABILITY: My maternal sense allows for me to be strong-willed, consistent yet warm, and pragmatic. But with a sense of empathy, these traits can be fulfilled by anyone.
It’s through these values that I’ve earned my most treasured asset: my mentors. My work ethic and mentality have given me superiors who believe in me, and continue to invest in my growth with relentless support and confidence–opening pathways for me to shine.
Where do you see women in produce now, and where would you like to see them in the future?
DN: The number of women in produce is very low right now for executive buy-side roles, but I can say that it’s slowly growing. On both sides, I would like to see companies who are searching for their ideal candidate to consider a woman without any conditions, same as they would for a man.
The buy-side and supply-side can also recognize that the new generation of millennials has a different set of expectations than the eras before them. The independent movement is at the forefront with younger women delaying or not having children, with a drive for achieving well-paying, successful careers that we can answer in kind. Future leaders need to put in the time in our industry, and be prepared for the sacrifces that may come in the way of an equal life-work balance as they strive for success as both a woman in produce and an executive.
How do you suggest women tackle industry issues they may face at large?
DN: Fresh produce is a 24-7 career that requires complete dedication. As our historically male-dominated industry seeks an integrated understanding of how women can fit into these roles, I see millennials introducing new mindsets as they enter the industry.
For current women in executive roles, we need to embrace this new generation through leading by example on conduct, discipline, work ethics, and again, trust and respect. Male leaders and colleagues can continue learning how to support their female counterparts and see them as the leaders they are. Both men and women need a clear understanding on how to manage boundaries as we meld and work together.
Q4: What are some common myths regarding women in the industry that you find untrue?
DN: First, let’s start with some truths; women are resourceful and resilient, and these strengths are integral in making us good leaders and mentors.
That said, there are a few fictions that follow women around from role to role as they move up the career chain which are untrue generalizations. Namely, that women are:
...and I am one example that all of the above are untrue.
What message would you like to impart upon women in the industry?
DN: There is no stagnancy in the produce industry, so prepare to be as fast-paced and ever-changing as our perishables. Fill each day with proactive measures, just like the ones you instill for your products and services. As you enter into the industry and begin to progress, don’t be ashamed to spend time in the trenches–the best lessons can be learned there.
Continue to strive for financial independence with career success, but take into account that those rewards come with hard work and perseverance. Surround yourself in your personal and professional life with those that support your goals or don’t try to limit you with outdated standards. Don’t be afraid to step away from those that see your ambitions as a threat.
I find this industry completely exciting, and each challenge is an opportunity for a rewarding resolution. As I begin each day, I strive to not operate in fear and advocate the same amongst my team members. As each day offers new opportunities, give it a try and see what you can accomplish, as a woman, a leader, and most importantly, a role model!
IT WILL TAKE a talented collection of leaders to forge our way into the next stage of success. And if Doreen’s words can offer us a glimpse of our industry’s future, women will be right there, ready to take up the challenge.