July 12, 2023
Spend about 10 minutes at any nutraceuticals event in the United States (and beyond), and you’ll realize a dirty little not-so-secret: Though its products are overwhelmingly purchased by women, this industry is run by men.
For decades, that’s just how it’s been. It was a frequent topic of conversation among the women (and enlightened men) in the industry who experienced the fallout from this disparity every day. They told each other stories of discrimination, harassment and outright assault, and sought each other out at conferences and shows to talk about how they could turn it around.
Then, in early 2022, those conversations morphed into action. Women in Nutraceuticals (WIN), a nonprofit with the goal of achieving economic and social equity to advance the global nutraceutical industry, was born.
“WIN started with a small handful of women and one man—all of us seeing this gap in the industry,” says Michelle Martin, WIN’s chair of engagement, who immediately noticed the “gap in diversity” when she came into the industry as president and COO of Cypress Ingredients in 2021. After leading a large women’s conference in California for two decades, Martin was hyper-aware of the lack of structural and systemic support she saw for gender equity within nutraceuticals. “I thought, ‘I know diversity is a win for business—no pun intended—and I don’t see that here,’” she says.
Martin started asking around, and her inquiries led to a video call on Dec. 29, 2021, with Informa Markets Vice President of Partnerships and Sustainability Heather Granato, who would become WIN’s president, and Avant Nutrition President and CEO Lynda Doyle, now WIN’s secretary. Granato and Doyle had been talking about creating an organization to promote gender equity for some time, and that initial call “evolved rather quickly into, ‘This isn’t just a LinkedIn group; we want to actually make tangible change,’” Granato says.
Established as a global 501c3, WIN set out with three measurable goals to support women across the nutraceutical supply chain: increase the percentage of women holding leadership roles, increase funding for female-led businesses and increase women’s participation in research.
Since its launch at SupplySide West in fall 2022, WIN has welcomed 300 members, 30 sponsors and about 22 partners. And even if it is much more than a LinkedIn group, amassing 2,000 followers on that platform in less than a year is pretty impressive.
“We were so surprised at how quickly we grew,” Doyle says. “As a matter of fact, it just exploded.”
Several companies have made significant financial commitments, says Arizona Nutritional Supplements CEO Doug Reader, WIN’s chief financial officer and treasurer, “which tells you that people believe in it and want it to work.”
In need of a baseline to establish KPIs and quantify how much of a difference its efforts make, WIN asked NEXT Data & Insights, a division of founding sponsor and NBJ parent company Informa Markets, to conduct an inaugural Gender Parity in Leadership survey gauging the representation of women as company founders, leaders and board members. The survey found that 37% of company leadership teams are women and 28% of companies have female CEOs. At companies with more than $100 million in annual revenue, only 13% of CEOS are women.
That puts nutraceuticals slightly ahead of other industries, but not by much. A 2022 McKinsey report found that the proportion of women in senior management roles across all industries globally was 32%, and the Women CEOs in America Report 2022 found that 8.8% of Fortune 500 CEOs are women.
“We’re about the same—we’re not worse, but we’re not better,” Granato says. “And those numbers are not great. I don’t feel that they are where we should be. We should be better than 37% of women in senior leadership, and we should be much higher in terms of our C-level representation.”
“We want to make this industry better, and we really want to see this industry grow,” Doyle says. “And the only way we’re going to do that is to effect change in leadership and bring more diversity to leadership.”
Martin says she was taken aback by “just how in line we were with all the other industries, which I found surprising because, as a consumer coming into this industry, I know that women lead purchasing.” As someone who swallows a handful of supplements every day, Martin says she was most shocked to find out how little research is being done on women.
“Women are not just small men,” Granato says. “So, there’s a need to address that.”
Real men WIN
For Reader, the sole man on WIN’s board, all of this hits home. He recalls working for a weight-loss company with primarily female consumers that was run by seven men and one woman. “That just never feels great,” he says. “And I’ve read Harvard Business Review studies that make it very clear diverse thought leads to greater growth. I can see that in my own company now; this diversity of thought is making a difference for us. So, that was really why I felt inspired to join the board.”
Reader says it’s eye-opening to be the only man on a board, and he now understands how it usually is for women. “It’s like, welcome to our world. How’s it feel?” he says. “Honestly, it’s a little sobering.”
The rest of the board members are delighted Reader is willing to step over any discomfort and put in the hard work. They say his presence helps make their point that WIN is not a women’s organization but one that is working collaboratively across the industry to empower women—which inevitably benefits men.
“If you’re a silo group over here, it ends up being a conversation; it doesn’t end up being change-related action,” Doyle says. “You need to have everybody work together. That’s really the critical piece of it.”
“These are not women’s issues. These are human issues,” Granato says. “And the more voices we have, the better chance we have of making a difference in the world.”
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