Women in Nutraceuticals survey shows industry has long way to go toward equality

A global survey by the Women in Nutraceuticals group details how far the natural products industry has to go to achieve fuller representation of women in decision making roles.

Hank Schultz, Senior Editor

May 11, 2023

4 Min Read
Women in Nutraceuticals survey shows industry has long way to go toward equality

Results of a survey conducted by an industry group shows that the representation of women in leadership positions in the nutrition field mirrors that of other industries, meaning that the perception of inequality has been confirmed by data.

The survey was conducted by the nonprofit group Women in Nutraceuticals, which has been supported in part by Informa Markets. Heather Granato, VP, Partnerships & Sustainability, Food Europe, Middle East & Africa at Informa, who also serves as WIN’s president, presented the results of the survey at the recent VitaFoods Europe trade show in Geneva, Switzerland.

Consumer base skews female, but leadership representation does not

The survey showed that, even though the consumer base for dietary supplements and health and wellness products skews female, women are no better represented in leadership roles than is the case for many other industries.

The survey found that smaller firms, those with less than $10 million in annual sales, did better in terms of female representation. The survey revealed that among those firms, 48 percent of executives at the level of vice president or above were women. 

Representation at medium sized firms came in at 36 percent, while only 34 percent of executives at the biggest companies (more than $100 million in annual sales) are women.

Related:Supply chain: Women-owned farms make more profits

When it comes to board membership, women were even less well represented. At the smallest companies, 25 percent of board members were women, declining to 22 percent among the largest firms.

“We’ve learned that in our industry fewer than three out of 10 CEOs are women, and women hold fewer than four out of 10 leadership positions overall,” Karen Todd, WIN’s chairperson, told Natural Products Insider in an emailed statement.

Todd is also Vice President Global Brand Marketing at Kyowa Hakko (USA).

“Most of our industry’s products are purchased by women, so having the benefit of the female perspective in company leadership can only be advantageous,” she added.

WIN compiled survey results from several hundred firms, with the lion’s share based in North America and Europe.

WIN’s findings corroborated by other data

For comparison purposes, a recent McKinsey & Company report found that female representation in pharmaceuticals and medical products, the most analogous industry, is slightly behind that of dietary supplements and functional foods. That report put representation within that industry of women at the VP level at 32 percent, SVP at 28 percent, and C-suite at 26 percent.

WIN’s findings are corroborated by data from other sources beyond McKinsey.

A 2022 report put out by the World Economic Forum found the most equitable industries, in terms of female representation, are nongovernmental and nonprofit organizations, education and a category called “Personal Services and Wellbeing.” Women filled 47, 46 and 45 percent of the leadership roles in those sectors, respectively.

Not just the right—but the most profitable—thing to do

A press release put out by WIN notes that greater diversity among the executive cadre is associated with better financial performance. The group cited information from Harvard Business Review that found a 21 percent increased likelihood that gender-diverse executive teams report above-average profitability.

The group also noted that Entrepreneur magazine reported that diverse companies are better positioned to capture new markets, increasing both performance and profits.

Ultimate goal recedes from reach

Even with the carrot of higher profitability, powerful macroeconomic forces are making progress difficult. According to information put out by the United Nations, society is backsliding, not progressing on the issue of gender equality. A recent UN report found that the world is not on track to meet established sustainable development goals by the 2030 deadline.

COVID-19 and the backlash against women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights are further diminishing the outlook for gender equality,” the report stated.

Todd said there is not a moment to lose for companies seeking to catch the inclusiveness gravy train. Recent consumer research shows that the youngest cadre of consumers are increasingly likely to align with brands matching their concerns about inclusiveness.

“Younger consumers increasingly check companies for inclusiveness when deciding which brands to buy, so it’s essential to know where the industry needs to do better,” Todd said.

“One important takeaway from this survey is for the industry to start working right now to fill their management roles with more women, who can then step into senior leadership positions over time,” she added.

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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