Paradigm for Parity® CEO Spotlight Series: Dave MacLennan

The Paradigm for Parity® coalition CEO Spotlight Series showcases member company CEOs who are transforming their corporate culture to advance women of all races, cultures and backgrounds.

This week we are pleased to feature Dave MacLennan, Cargill Board Chair and CEO, who is celebrating Cargill ’s progress toward gender parity since becoming a founding member of the Paradigm for Parity® coalition in 2016. He shares that “it isn’t enough to make our workplace inclusive for some women” and that Cargill is “committed to making our company a place where ALL women can thrive. To do that, we’re paying particular attention to supporting women from underrepresented groups as they build their careers.”

1) What motivated your company to join the Paradigm for Parity® coalition?

Cargill was a founding member of Paradigm for Parity® in 2016. I was proud to join 26 other CEOs in pledging to take action to make gender parity a reality.

We joined this effort because progress toward gender equality within our company was stagnant. It was time to stop ignoring the problem and start doing something about it. We needed to make a bold, specific commitment to change — and then hold ourselves accountable for progress.

Since then, we’ve built a more inclusive workplace culture; actively supported women in their career development; advanced more women into leadership positions; and provided more opportunities for women working on the frontlines of food, agriculture, and nutrition.

Five years later, we’re a much better, more inclusive company. But we still have work to do to achieve our goal of gender parity.

2) What role can/should CEOs play in leveling the playing field for marginalized groups, including women and people of color, in the workforce?

As leaders of our companies, we set the tone. It’s on us to set the example, embed clear expectations into our business strategies, measure our results, and hold leaders — all of us — across the organization accountable for progress.

One way I’ve held myself accountable is by pursuing parity in my hiring decisions. As a result, Cargill has the most gender-diverse executive leadership team in our 156-year history. Now, women across our company can look to our leadership ranks and see a place for them at the table.

We can’t stop there; we have to support the development and aspirations of the next generation of women leaders. That’s why I mentor young women and persons of color within our organization. I often gain more from their insights and perspectives than I could ever give back to them as a mentor.

3) What do you consider to be the benefits of leveling the playing field for women in the workforce for your company and society as a whole?

We’re better when we’re more diverse. It’s that simple. Studies have proven it and we see it in our company. New research out of the Harvard Kennedy School shows that teams with a more balanced gender mix perform better than male-dominated teams in sales and profits. So, there’s a clear business case to be made for having more gender-inclusive teams.

But it’s also just the right thing to do.

For too long, women haven’t felt welcome in workplaces that were designed by men and for men. Cargill is changing that through our Inclusive Facilities Project, which recognizes gender differences and enacts change to support those differences.

We’ve taken a look at our plants and offices from top to bottom, making changes to ensure that everyone feels safe and welcome in the workplace. That includes making sure women have access to gender-appropriate uniforms, nursing rooms, feminine hygiene products in our restrooms, and more.

4) How is your company advocating for, lifting up, and supporting women of color in your workplace? What has made the biggest difference in advancing all women in your company?

It isn’t enough to make our workplace inclusive for some women. We’re committed to making our company a place where ALL women can thrive. To do that, we’re paying particular attention to supporting women from underrepresented groups as they build their careers.

Our “Elevate” program is designed to do exactly that. Through mentorship and cohort learning, we’re connecting future women leaders of color with high-visibility assignments, global conferences, expanded positions, and promotions that advance their careers. Nearly 100% of Elevate participants have stayed with the company.

Measuring progress with hard data like that is one of the best means to keep advancing progress and holding ourselves accountable. When we made the Paradigm for Parity® commitment in 2016, just 25% of our leaders were women. Today, it’s 32% and rising. We have more work to do and more progress to measure, but we’re committed to getting it done.

5) When you look at the Paradigm for Parity® coalition 5-Point Action Plan, is there one step that you think is most critical to ensuring that women of color have the same opportunities for advancement as their colleagues?

There isn’t one single action that will solve the complex, systemic inequities within our workplaces and communities. It will take a sustained, multifaceted approach to achieve the change we’re after. That’s why Cargill joined the Paradigm for Parity® coalition, and it’s why we remain committed to following through on the specific action steps it lays out, to build upon the progress we’ve made already.

By working to minimize the impact of bias, significantly increasing the number of women in senior operating roles, mentoring and supporting the development of future women leaders, creating more flexible and welcoming workplaces for all our employees, and measuring our results, we can drive progress toward gender parity — and we’ll be a much better company, and society, because of it.

Dave MacLennan has served as chief executive officer of Cargill since 2013. He began his Cargill career in 1991 in Cargill’s Financial Markets Division in Cargill’s Minneapolis and London offices. He later moved to Geneva to head Cargill Energy and then worked in Cargill Protein and Food Ingredients before becoming Chief Financial Officer in 2008, and Chief Operating Officer in 2011.

Prior to joining Cargill, he began his career as a runner, phone clerk, and risk manager in the futures and securities sector in Chicago. He was a member of the Chicago Board of Trade and Board of Options Exchange, and later in his career, president of fixed income capital markets at USBancorp Piper Jaffray in Minneapolis.

MacLennan serves on the boards of Ecolab, Caterpillar, the Minnesota Business Partnership, Amherst College and on The Business Council’s executive committee. His non-profit board service has included Youth Frontiers and College Possible, in support of his passion for the needs of under- privileged youth and their access to education. He holds a bachelor’s degree in English from Amherst College and an M.B.A. in finance from the University of Chicago.

About Paradigm for Parity®

The Paradigm for Parity® movement is a coalition of business leaders dedicated to addressing the corporate leadership gender gap. The coalition is made up of CEOs, senior executives, founders, board members, and business academics who are committed to achieving a new norm in the corporate world: one in which women and men have equal power, status, and opportunity. Our ultimate goal is to achieve full gender parity by 2030, with a near-term goal of women holding at least 30% of senior roles.