WE Lead Food: Do you want to join a network of women leaders to transform the food sector?

Do you have great ideas about how you can transform and improve your organisations and the wider food sector, but you aren’t being listened to?

Like too many women working in the food industry, your bosses may have told you that you aren’t in a leadership role and don’t have the authority to change anything; or you don’t have the entrepreneurial skills needed to drive transformation.

If you are full of energy and ideas to make a positive difference in the food sector, then the WE Lead Food programme could be the first step towards overcoming these structural obstacles to unleashing your passion and transforming your development as a woman leader and entrepreneur.

WE Lead Food is a programme specifically designed for women working at all levels in food organisations, from small start-ups to food giants, and from charities to government regulators.

The eight-week online programme is designed for women to explore and develop their existing leadership strengths without needing to conform to male stereotypes of leadership and business success.

Women of all ages, working at all management levels, are encouraged to apply for a place on the next course, starting in October.

Not only will it give you an entrepreneurial toolkit and space to realise your strategic vision for a more sustainable food sector, but the support and advice to make it happen.

Tap into a global network of inspiring women leaders

Now in its fifth year, WE Lead Food now has a community of hundreds of like-minded women spread across every continent.

Through the programme, you can access a network of inspiring contributors, trainers and leaders offering mentoring and potential project partners, but also practical expertise in visioning, planning, collective leadership, influence and motivation.

Challenge the masculine leadership model

The programme’s lead deliverer Dr Shima Barakat created WE Lead Food with partners, to challenge the misconceptions surrounding leadership and entrepreneurialism, especially for women.

Based at the University of Cambridge, she was inspired to help women leaders as a student, witnessing how heavily teaching in business schools was gendered. When she started delivering her own programmes, it became even more apparent to her that a persistent gender gap exists across countries and sectors which was being ignored.

Supported by the European of Innovation and Technology (EIT Food) and EU funding, and in partnership with the University of Cambridge and top European food institutions, the WE Lead Food programme redefines leadership for women.

Traditionally, Leadership courses tell you how you should lead in a competitive environment, with strong masculine undertones. They tell you how you must change and strive to be better, compared to your peers, and often to a masculine stereotype. WE Lead Food is a departure from the usual leadership course!

WE Lead Food consciously moves away from that competitive paradigm, towards collective leadership by offering space and tools for women to explore their innate strengths and develop them further.

On WE Lead Food there is also plenty of myth-busting around the term ‘entrepreneur’. We’ve become fixated on the image of brashly confident Silicon Valley-style tech start-up owners, raising millions of dollars to fund some radical idea. But at its core, entrepreneurialism is really about creating value.

What entrepreneurs have in common is their ability to create a vision of the value they want to create, to see a path to achieving it, and to take others along on that journey.

That value is often seen as financial, but it can also be social or environmental. At WE Lead Food, we don’t specify what it should be; each woman on the course is encouraged to define her own vision, within her own personal and professional context as well as her own desires and passions.

Removing the barriers to moving forward

In developing a course specifically for women within the food system, some gender-specific barriers to participation had to be tackled.

  • Am I a Leader?

Too many women ask themselves: “Am I a good fit for this programme?” where the subtext is often: “I’m not sure I’m good enough for this.” Women often don’t receive enough signals from their own organisation that they are truly working as a leader, so they start to believe it. As a result, when they see a course like this, they may not apply. However, while leadership and seniority often seem to go hand-in-hand, we are showing how these can (and should) be decoupled. True leadership happens at all levels within an organisation and is about influencing the people around you. Are you influencing others? Do you have a vision of the world as it could be rather than as it is? Are you bringing others along with you? We take a broad view on who is a leader. If you answer yes to the above questions, then you are a leader and we welcome an application from you!

  • Will my English be good enough?

Language skills are also a common concern for a global programme conducted in English. WE Lead Food does require a certain proficiency in working English. Keep in mind that the programme is truly global and both trainers and participants are mostly non-native English speakers so there is a lot of support and understanding within the group. However, you need to be able to understand the trainers and be able to express yourself sufficiently in writing and talking in English.

The programme partners run pre-programme webinars and local events throughout the year for women to take part and see for themselves if the course is right for them. We encourage you to join one of those, if you can, to experience for yourself the level of English proficiency needed.

  • I‘m not sure I can afford the fee

Course fees are also a common, women-specific concern. Our default thinking seems to be that we must pay for our course because it’s personal development. We will also put supporting family above personal considerations.

We remind and encourage applicants to ask their organisation to cover the fee, because ultimately the organisation benefits, from your enhanced skills, from your extended network that you develop, and from the transformation you will bring as a result of having participated in WE Lead Food.

For example, one of our alumni returned to her organisation to create a road map to increase revenue by $30 million. Organisation also have access to a global network for recruiting, advice and collaboration, for example when applying for grants.

WE Lead Food is committed never to discriminate against an applicant based on her ability to pay. Excellent applicants who are unable to pay can apply for a fee waiver.

If you’re looking for a way to make a difference in your part of the food sector but you’re still unsure about applying to the WE Lead Food programme, Dr Barakat has these encouraging words:

“No more doubting your leadership skills – you may be missing a fantastic opportunity to make a difference to your career and to the planet. We can’t tell whether you’d be a great fit for the programme until we see your application, so let’s take the first step together and start that conversation.”