CHICAGO – The dairy industry’s ability to cultivate its next generation of leaders and support diversity in leadership roles will determine whether it remains competitive on a global scale, International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA) president and chief executive officer Michael Dykes said at the 2023 IDF World Dairy Summit.

During a session that highlighted how a diverse workforce can strengthen dairy businesses and organizations, Dykes said the industry must remain committed to creating an inclusive culture and empowering people from all backgrounds.

The IDFA leader pointed to the organization’s people strategy programs, which were developed to support leaders throughout the dairy industry, with a goal of creating “world class” dairy businesses. The people-focused efforts involve development opportunities for professionals who are working at any level of the dairy industry.

“IDFA and its members are dedicated to creating an industry that is supportive and inclusive of anyone with the interest and skills needed to help us bring sustainable dairy nutrition to more people around the world,” Dykes said. “If there is a shared priority in our industry, it is people – recruiting a skilled workforce, providing the policies and incentives to support people, providing for their health and safety, and creating workplace environments that are equitable and inclusive of all people.”

The association’s people strategy programs support emerging leaders, women, human resources professionals, underrepresented people in the industry, and partnerships with college membership programs.

“We have a comprehensive approach because there are multifaceted challenges,” Dykes said. “The work we are doing to identify and remove barriers to women excelling in the workplace is just one example of the people strategy in action.”

He noted that the organization will debut its IDFA Women’s Summit in March 2024, as it celebrates women in the dairy industry and brings together rising and established leaders to advance gender equality, further strengthen their professional skill sets and advocate for dairy’s top policy priorities.

Furthermore, IDFA is implementing a new annual State of Women in Dairy Survey. Dykes said it will be used to improve retention, recruiting and gender equality in the US dairy industry. IDFA will reveal the inaugural survey’s results at Dairy Forum 2024, in Phoenix. IDFA research earlier this year found that 61% of survey respondents thought gender played a role in people missing out on a raise, promotion, key assignment, or chance to get ahead.

Another new people strategy action from IDFA, Dykes said, is the association’s Workplace of the Year Award, which is co-sponsored by Dairy Processing and also will be presented at next year’s Dairy Forum. The award honors a member company that implements policies that “promote a positive workplace experience for employees,” through demonstrated actions that support women and minorities, create cultures of inclusiveness and respect, and support professional development.