Event participants cite progress on gender diversity even while rueing slow pace of change

Participants in an online panel said the natural products industry is making progress in addressing harassment and gender equality questions. But much more remains to be done.

Hank Schultz, Senior Editor

March 22, 2023

4 Min Read
Event participants cite progress on gender diversity even while rueing slow pace of change

Outright incidents of sexual harassment seem to have declined within the supplement industry and progress on gender equality has been made.  But participants of a recent online event said more needs to be done.

The event, titled Identifying the Elephant in the Room, was hosted by New York-based firm Pitch Publicity, headed by Amy Summers. It was the first installment of a multi-part series, the second portion of which is scheduled to air on Thursday.

Wide ranging panel

Rick Polito, editor of Nutrition Business Journal, moderated the event, which included as panelists Sandy Almendarez, Informa Markets' vice president of content for SupplySide, Karen Howard, CEO of the Organic and Natural Health Association, Danielle Masterson, Deputy Editor of NutraIngredients-USA and Crystal Webber, CEO of Niche Nutrition.

The event comes on the heels of Informa’s Natural Products Expo West trade show in Anaheim. This show has grown to be the largest of its type in the natural and organic food space and so has become something of a bellwether for many topics in the industry. Several callouts of harassment at last year’s show led to institutional adjustments that Howard said seem to have created positive change. She said she heard of no similar incidents at this year’s show.

The participants of the event were in broad agreement that the situation is getting better for women with respect to freedom from harassment as well as representation of women in higher level positions. But much more still needs to be done, they also agreed.

More representation on boards

“I like to joke that you just look for guys in blue blazers and khaki pants and with gray hair and that’s where you’ll find the industry,” Polito joked.

“I see more women participating in board representation in dietary supplement associations and I think that’s a real positive. So I think things are improving in that regard,” Howard said.

Howard said when she began her lobbying work in Washington, D.C. more than 40 years ago (with more than 20 years in the natural products space), she felt isolated. Fortunately, younger women have more options, like the group Women in Nutraceuticals, of which Howard is a board member.

“I’m meeting more entrepreneurs at that younger stage which is delightful. I don’t think there is a natural home yet in our industry to have this kind of mentoring and learn from women who have already done it,” she said.

Is the good old boys club paying attention?

It’s a long row to hoe to change the habits of the good old boys club, however. Several panel members remarked on what happened at the most recent NBJ Summit, which included a block of content specifically on diversity and inclusion.

“Here’s what I noticed. The room emptied out. There were maybe 30 people who stayed. So that’s really disturbing; here’s an effort to be as transparent and open as possible and I applaud everything that was done. And yet the CEOs in the room chose to not be there,” Howard said.

Almendarez said there’s no denying that gender diversity, racism and similar topics don’t get as much traction on the Natural Products Insider website. But she said she conceives it as part of the company’s mission to examine those kinds of questions.

“We have also noticed the same thing in our coverage. When we call out specifically something on diversity or inclusion in some article we write or video we publish, it doesn’t get as many page views. But we incorporate diversity inclusions throughout our coverage. It is not a separate piece,” she said.

Tone of messages viewed as important

The panelists agreed the conversations are uncomfortable for some in the industry and might be even be viewed in some quarters as an attack.

“Even if people may have not had an internal change of heart they are more aware of what’s appropriate and how they should be behaving,” Webber said.

“Some men are very accepting and open minded and some others just feel attacked. So I think it’s how you phrase it,” Masterson said.

“Sometimes these conversations are scary, unclear. The intentions are not always fully understood and its new,” Howard said.

Masterson, who hosts a weekly podcast focused on women in the industry, said building the community takes time, but she’s been gratified by the community building that has take place as a result of her efforts.

“It’s been much more far reaching than I’d thought it would be and has led to some great connections,” she said.

About the Author(s)

Hank Schultz

Senior Editor, Informa

Hank Schultz has been the senior editor of Natural Products Insider since early 2023. He can be reached at [email protected]

Prior to joining the Informa team, he was an editor at NutraIngredients-USA, a William Reed Business Media publication.

His approach to industry journalism was formed via a long career in the daily newspaper field. After graduating from the University of Wisconsin with degrees in journalism and German, Hank was an editor at the Tempe Daily News in Arizona. He followed that with a long stint working at the Rocky Mountain News, a now defunct daily newspaper in Denver, where he rose to be one of the city editors. The newspaper won two Pulitzer Prizes during his time there.

The changing landscape of the newspaper industry led him to explore other career paths. He began his career in the natural products industry more than a decade ago at New Hope Natural Media, which was then part of Penton and now is an Informa brand. Hank formed friendships and partnerships within the industry that still inform his work to this day, which helps him to bring an insider’s perspective, tempered with an objective journalist’s sensibility, to his in-depth reporting.

Harkening back to his newspaper days, Hank considers the readers to be the primary stakeholders whose needs must be met. Report the news quickly, comprehensively and above all, fairly, and readership and sponsorships will follow.

In 2015, Hank was recognized by the American Herbal Products Association with a Special Award for Journalistic Excellence.

When he’s not reporting on the supplement industry, Hank enjoys many outside pursuits. Those include long distance bicycle touring, mountain climbing, sailing, kayaking and fishing. Less strenuous pastimes include travel, reading (novels and nonfiction), studying German, noodling on a harmonica, sketching and a daily dose of word puzzles in The New York Times.

Last but far from least, Hank is a lifelong fan and part owner of the Green Bay Packers.

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