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‘For a long time, women have been innovators in food. We just lost our footing as this new industry took hold’ - Jennifer Stojkovic [interview]

Women in Food Interviews - banner Jennifer Stojkovic.jpg
Jennifer Stojkovic founded the Vegan Women’s Summit in 2020. An advocate of food system reform to combat the global climate change crisis, she believes that women around the world have a vital role to play in making this happen.

What drove you to create the Vegan Women’s Summit and why does the food industry need such a specific summit?

“The Vegan Women’s Summit is a global platform with over 40,000 women from the future of food, fashion, beauty and biotechnology. Our focus is on empowering the nearly four billion women in the world to help us build a kinder, more sustainable world, whether they are founders, investors, professionals who want to join the industry, or consumer advocates. We believe that by harnessing the power of women we can accelerate the growth that’s needed for this industry to really snowball and take off, becoming the default for the food system.”

Your book, The Future of Food is Female: Reinventing the Food System to Save the Planet, features stories from female CEOs, venture capitalists, and scientists who are working to make the food system more sustainable. Why do you believe that the future of food is female?

“When it comes to this conversation about women’s leadership in the food system, it really dates back to our historical roots. Women have been leaders in the food system for a very long time, especially in different cultures around the world. What is most interesting is, when you look at some of the early stages of women in business in North America, the very first vegetarian restaurant was run by a woman at a time when women weren’t even allowed to own businesses.
“So, I think there’s a deep history and for a long time, women have been the creators and the innovators in food. We just kind of lost our footing as this new industry took hold with a lot of male leadership. It’s time for us to correct the path of the future of food and make it more diverse, equitable and inclusive.”

Before entering the world of food, you worked with the world's largest technology firms, such as Google, Microsoft, and Facebook. What role should technology play in making our food system more sustainable, diverse, and inclusive?

“I built my career in Silicon Valley working with the world’s biggest tech companies, and I found myself the only woman in the room most of the time or the youngest woman in the room. So, I thought that as food tech began to emerge as the next big industry, we had the opportunity to correct that and learn from the tech industry to see where they have gone wrong in creating a more inclusive culture, and where we could go right.
“In terms of technology as a key piece of the future of food, I think that with the planet on track for eight billion and soon 10 billion people, it’s an inevitability that we need to use technology. Making sure that we create technology that is fair and inclusive of all is very important. Reaching different consumers of all backgrounds and different cultures, creating culturally-specific foods is very important.”

What challenges have you experienced as a female founder and entrepreneur in your career?

“In San Francisco in particular, when I was starting my career in the tech industry, imposter syndrome was a very real issue. Being the only woman in the room, very often I felt that perhaps I did not belong. Unfortunately, I did have some issues of gender bias, everything from being looked down upon as being ‘cute’ and ‘sweet’ from older male professionals to unwanted sexual advances. Speaking to other women professionals, it’s very rare that I find a woman who hasn’t had that experience.
“I think what’s important is that we speak more openly about this and start a dialogue so that these kinds of issues don’t happen in a vacuum anymore. Culturally speaking and demographically, some older generations are a little bit more set in their ways in their treatment of women. I’m still called ‘young lady’ on an almost daily basis by people I meet.”

Are you able to maintain a work-life balance?

“I think a work-life balance for me can happen on different timelines, on 24 hours or one week or one month. With my busy schedule I like to think I can balance very heavy weeks, especially multiple weeks of travel, with multiple weeks of downtime. You need to understand the limits of your body and your mental wellbeing. One of the things that’s helped me is understanding that I won’t always have a balance on a daily basis, but I can keep it on a weekly or monthly basis.”
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