March is Women's History Month and that has special significance for baking industry supplier Dawn Foods. The company’s chief executive officer, Carrie Jones-Barber, started as a sales rep for Dawn, where she was the only female sales rep in her market. Since then, she has learned how to stand out in a male-dominated industry.

Carrie Jones-Barber recently discussed her experiences in the business world and the role women have to play in the industry going forward.

What do you most remember about the business world when you started?

Jones-Barber: After I finished school, I started in medical sales. My primary customers were male doctors,  and I learned early on that I was going to have to work harder than my male counterparts to demonstrate that I knew the benefits of our products and the value they could provide. I understood quickly that more prospective customers were going to turn me down than say yes, but I didn’t give up.

When I came to work at Dawn, the food industry was very male dominated. I was the only female salesperson in my market. All my competitors were represented by men. I remember having people outright ignore me if I didn’t have a male colleague with me. But I was persistent. I was confident in my product knowledge and my skills to help customers grow their business. I remember going into the shop of a prospective customer for the first time to run some product. They were amazed that I could make the donuts myself, without anyone else’s help. Not only could I run the product, but I also knew the optimal temperature for the fryer, and what the best product assortment was to grow their sales.

What are some anecdotal stories about some of your early experiences as you approached your career?

I was about 12 years old when I realized I wanted to be in the bakery business. I had watched my grandfather, dad and uncles work together my entire life to help Dawn and our customers grow. There is one late-night phone call that rang into our house that I’ll always remember. The phone was in my room at the time, so I remember answering it, and it was one of our sales reps that needed to consult with my dad about a product or a customer. This was a common occurrence, and my dad always took these calls, no matter the time, day or night. It was in that moment that I knew I wanted help people solve their problems and be the person they called when they needed help. At Dawn, we still put that same effort into the relationships we have with our team and our customers every day. It’s part of the DNA of our company, and it always will be.

Dawn Foods has always (been) represented as a supportive, family business. How did this help you?

When I started at Dawn, I was extremely lucky to have the support and mentorship of my dad and my uncles. It’s not often that people have the support from such incredibly successful people, who share the same goals and values that you do. In addition, a significant  priority for Dawn is what we call  our Circle of Excellence, meaning we put our great people and customers at the center of everything we do. Our high-quality products and the relationships we’ve built with our Dawn team members, customers, suppliers and the industry have helped us become a global leader in bakery. In fact, one of our Dawn values is relationships. To be a family-owned company for more than 100 years in the food industry wouldn’t be possible without building and nurturing relationships in the business. We see ourselves as a partner to our customers. Our purpose is not just to come in once a month and take an order, it’s to work with our customers to understand their challenges and opportunities, and what their aspirations are to grow. It’s because of this that we help our customers thrive. 

Which accomplishments are you most proud of?

This is a great question because it’s important to take the time to reflect on accomplishments, especially for women. We tend to be really good at doing this for others, but not so much for ourselves. What I am most proud of is my daughter, Samantha. She is in her first year in college this year and I am so proud of the strong woman she has become. It’s easy to first point to a professional accomplishment with this type of question, but I am most proud of seeing Samantha take on the world – it’s truly inspiring.

From a professional standpoint, my proudest achievement is when I became CEO of Dawn.  I spent years preparing – learning in school and in the field, attending seminars, meeting as many people in the industry I could, and holding different jobs within the company – doing anything I could to provide myself with the experience and capabilities required to lead. Becoming CEO of Dawn truly was a lifelong dream. I am proud that we continue to grow as an organization and inspire bakery success every day with our team, partners and customers. In my role, one of the things I love the most is supporting and mentoring our team members and watching them grow and develop their own careers. Being a small part of an individual's career development at Dawn is very fulfilling for me.

Can you share some of your personal interactions with other women business leaders, and where things are heading today?

I enjoy connecting with other women in business through networking events and conferences. Many of our customers are women, and we have an incredible group of women leaders at Dawn.

Conversations have definitely shifted over the last few years. The more I speak with other women, the more we uncover that we have many shared experiences. I think it’s important to talk about those experiences, share them and help others learn from them. The world is making positive strides when it comes to women in business, but there is still a lot of work to do. It seems that sometimes we’re taking one step forward and two steps back. I think we all need to continue to challenge assumptions and hold leaders accountable for changes that need to happen. We need to continue to cultivate cultures of inclusion and empower our teams and colleagues to bring their entire selves to their role. The more we can have teams with diverse perspectives and experiences, the better we can serve our customers.

What are some of the remaining obstacles to overcome?

As a woman and as a leader, I am optimistic that more people and companies are paying attention to diversity, equity and inclusion. But we must keep pushing to make things better for everyone. We must not be afraid to challenge the people that can make a difference. Businesses in general need to have leadership roles filled with people that represent their customers. Having people on your team with different backgrounds and with different cultural experiences not only makes you stronger and more competitive –  it’s the right thing to do. We must all be intentional with inclusion and not allow bias to impact our decisions. It is important that we take risks in our careers AND to ask for what we want in our professions – we must speak up, and not just wait for opportunities to be offered to us.

At Dawn, we are committed to recruiting, developing and celebrating diverse top talent. And we must put in the work ourselves so that every team member feels supported and included. I am personally committed to helping drive this in our culture at Dawn along with our entire people organization.

Please share some of your thoughts about the future direction of Dawn Foods.

Dawn celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2020, marking a century of partnership for us in the baking industry. While we always remember where we started and celebrate our heritage, we do so with our eyes fully focused on the future. We will continue to evolve our business to meet the changing needs and expectations of our customers, the industry, and our team members. We will strengthen our relationships with our customers and continue to innovate in the areas that matter most to them. We are committed to providing the best bakery ingredients in the business and working with our team of experts to live up to our vision to inspire bakery success every day.