CHICAGO — Women interested in rising through the management ranks in baking need to work hard and learn their craft, but they also need to know how to take care of themselves and care for others.

That was the message of the four industry leaders on the Women in Baking panel at the American Society of Baking’s BakingTech 2022, held March 1-3.

“We all have a responsibility to help others behind us and beside us,” said Trina Bediako, chief executive officer of NHB Holdings, parent company of New Horizons Baking, Norwalk, Ohio. “What leadership can do is give opportunities to people who’ve earned them, to train and mentor them, both male and female, with the same vigor and with the same intent. We all have an obligation to help somebody.”

And doing so is just good business as studies show that diversity of thought leads to more successful companies.

“The data is very important,” said Xochitl Cruz, vice president for sweet baked goods operations for Bimbo Bakeries USA, Horsham Township, Pa. “When we see our cross-functional teams where they have females present, the results are much better because we have a difference of opinions and experiences from males.” 

Ms. Cruz also talked about the importance of finding your passion in business and following it. 

The women on the panel talked about how they not only learned everything they could about the business and went the extra mile to succeed, they spoke about how they found support to help them as well.

“I surrounded myself with women in the industry who were stronger and men,” said Valerie Wayland, director of technical services and regulatory compliance for Flowers Foods, Thomasville, Ga. “My boss, he was able to take me around and introduce me. He had a lot of credibility in the industry. He was able to walk with me, to introduce me to people and tell them who I was, and it helped me. We need that relationship with people, and we need people to help us and reach out. We need men and women, but especially men, to reach out to women and make sure they’re not being pushed aside, make sure they’re not being ignored.”

Coming to the business with the right skill set will help women earn a seat at the table, said Kristy Taddonio-Mullins, president at Mile Hi Companies, Denver.

“And if we don’t have a seat at the table, maybe find a way to get that seat,” she said. “I’m a big fan of ‘If you’re not invited to the party, find out a way to go anyway.’ Crash the party, figure out how to get there.”

Being bold and not afraid to raise your hand is key to success, the panelists stressed.

“Don’t avoid challenges, run into them,” Ms. Bediako said. 

And finding a balance between home and work is important as well. Women in business need to set boundaries so they can serve their personal lives as well as their work commitments.

“Give yourself some grace,” Ms. Taddonio-Mullins said. “You’re not going to get it right all the time.”

The panel was moderated by Charlotte Atchley, editor of Baking & Snack.