More diversity begets better innovation, seafood leaders say
Atlantic Sea Farms CEO Briana Warner is a believer in the direct, cyclical relationship between diversity and innovation.
“I think some of the people who are innovating and doing innovative stuff, you’re going to see new people come into [the industry] because it goes back to a circular thing – if we get more diversity in the industry, they’re going to be coming up with more-diverse ideas that break out of the mold, and then we’ll attract more diversity,” Warner said.
Warner and her fellow “Finding the Next Generation of Diverse Seafood Talent” panelists – who convened during last month’s Seafood Expo North America event in Boston, Massachusetts, U.S.A. – have experienced what happens when different perspectives enter the seafood fray: Better ideas emerge, which leads to better business.
Such an observation is part of the reason why diversity and inclusion (D&I) policies are on the rise in several industries, seafood included. Experts in the segment, such as Tony Byers, author of the book, “The Multiplier Effect of Inclusion: How Diversity and Inclusion Advances Innovation and Drives Growth,” and the former director of global diversity and inclusion for Starbucks, have seen U.S. companies invest billions of dollars into D&I initiatives as a means of improving corporate cultures, innovation processes, and more.
In recent years, Byers – who spoke during a separate plenary session at Seafood Expo North America – said dedication to D&I has intensified, with many institutions and organizations moving away from performative diversity and “becoming much more strategic and intentional about their actions.” Businesses are focusing on how to improve outcomes for D&I success by creating more room in their policies for sustainability, integration, and change, Byers said, while also refining how they attract and foster talent.
“The lessons of the past year are instructive to us, they’re telling us that we should be intentional, that we should look for diverse perspectives and build a better feedback process that’s going to help us enhance our performance,” Byers told SeafoodSource. “We should think about building or developing talent from different backgrounds inside of our businesses, so that we can get different voices, different perspectives, which can lead to more ideas that are innovative and new.”
Josephine Theal, the director of category management for food for Delaware North, joined Warner on the “Finding the Next Generation of Diverse Seafood Talent” panel. Theal said she has observed companies in the food industry “doing a better job of not just having the hiring manager being the one interviewing, but pulling in other people” – a practice that helps in onboarding employees who can bring a new and fresh perspective with them to their jobs.
Theal encouraged “anyone involved in that [hiring] process to be able to advocate for someone who may be different from the mold that’s already there” in the seafood industry.
“To be able to advocate for the one who maybe has the smallest voice, I think that really has a ripple effect and will continue to,” Theal said.
Warner said attracting new talent into the industry can also be aided along by highlighting and celebrating existing innovators.
“Making sure that we’re holding up the people that are [innovating] – and showing that innovation and highlighting that innovation – is going to naturally attract more people,” Warner said.
Theal added that “executive training goes a long way” as well, so dedicating external resources in that area can help bolster seafood’s D&I efforts.
And building a creative community, both internally and externally, can be crucial when trying to retain and inspire employees, Theal said.
“Though there is a lot of opportunity to be someone different coming into an industry and bringing new ideas to the table, sometimes that can feel tiring – to feel like you’re the only one bringing new ideas to the table, or that you’re constantly fighting that uphill battle,” Theal said. “So, to be able to have a team of people who are standing behind you, who can maybe continue to stimulate your creative juices and provide you sometimes with just a head-nod so you feel like you are going down the right path, it helps you to feel like your ripple-effect will actually be impactful. I love hearing that things like that do exist, and I think they can exist in larger pockets throughout the industry.”
Supporting innovative new initiatives can imbue a culture of creativity for a seafood business, and expose it to even more-diverse viewpoints, according to Warner. Atlantic Sea Farms, for instance, is a part of the Seafood Collab, a group of seafood and aquaculture producers committed to environmental and social responsibility. The collaborative consists of “young, exciting brands that are in fish doing exciting, sustainable things,” and their work is resonating in the market, Warner said.
“Their packaging pops and it’s fun, and the marketing is fun, and they’re on Instagram, [attracting] more people. And that group is not all white and it’s not all men, and it’s pretty cool to see,” she said.
Warner also recommended involving consumers in establishing a more-diverse industry.
“There are huge roles for consumers to play,” Warner said. “We say all the time to our consumers, ‘Ask for women-run companies, ask for the diversity and inclusion statement at the seafood counter.’ I think that we all can be doing that every day – you don’t have to be a CEO to do that.”
Buying decisions can make a significant difference, Warner said.
“People hear money,” she said.
Photos courtesy of Briana Warner and Josephine Theal