Seed World

Women in Seed: Perspectives for Everyone

ASTA’s Women in Seed panel at the Vegetable and Flower Seed Conf calls for breaking some of industry’s conventional norms.

Next week, we’ll be unveiling an in-depth panel discussion about a critical topic in the seed industry today: women’s role in the industry. As a lead-up to that feature video, today we are recapping the Women in Seed discussion presented live at the American Seed Trade Association’s Vegetable and Flower Seed Show in Monterey, CA. 

The ASTA session featured four industry thought leaders — notably both male and female — and aimed to provide the audience with tools and strategies to help navigate some of the working world’s gender-based career challenges.

The panel included Lisa Branco, general manager at Radicle Seed Company; Maria Sanchez, global seed regulatory manager at Bayer; and Jason Sparks, global head of communications for Syngenta’s Vegetable Seeds and Flowers. It was moderated by ASTA chair and Sakata America Seeds CEO Dave Armstrong. 

All panelists agreed the seed industry is dramatically better off because it can draw from the talents of both men and women. They also emphasized that every effort should be made to ensure the seed industry is not just open to the best candidates, regardless of gender, but that the seed industry actively pursues and retains the best of the best talent, both male and female. 

Making the industry more welcoming to women requires effort and, in some cases, breaking of conventional norms. 

“I think as people, in general, we want to feel seen; we want to feel heard, and I think anything that challenges that creates some fear base, on some level. For an industry that’s been primarily male-dominated, having women show up (in leadership roles) is different and it might be intimidating to some,” Branco said. “But if you can reach back and help somebody else come up, get involved, me included, you’re creating a change. To be a change-maker in this industry, you have to lead by example, and you have to do it even when things are uncomfortable. If we keep what’s comfortable, we don’t change.” 

Work-life balance can be challenging for anyone. For women, who still often carry a majority share of responsibilities at home, balance and boundaries are often a particularly critical priority… and a difficult challenge. 

“I think agriculture in general—it’s been a man’s world. As women, we’re expected to work like we don’t have a family at home, and we’re expected to be at home like [we] don’t have a job. I think it puts us at this constant war within ourselves that we are not doing enough here and we’re not doing enough there,” Branco said. 

While women might lead the charge for balance, work-life balance makes for happier, more productive, healthier, more creative, more engaged employees regardless of gender. The most successful companies don’t just encourage work-life balance, they actively invest in and even mandate it. 

Across the seed industry, women are making significant inroads into leadership positions of all kinds, including at the boardroom table. That’s of clear benefit to the seed industry, agreed panelists. 

“In terms of diversity and inclusion in executive boards, there’s no doubt that when you have a more diverse group of leadership, you get more creativity and innovation from that group. When you bring in different perspectives, bring in different backgrounds, you will be better suited to serve your customers,” Sparks said.

While the seed industry — and society in general — still has a way to go in achieving full representation in leadership, gains are being made, he added. “I see the awareness in society for diversity. I think the work that is ahead is to make sure we are including everybody.”

“For me, it’s more about respect and about the value of anyone’s contribution,” Sanchez summarized.

At Seed World U.S., we’re committed to digging into all topics that impact success, growth and opportunities for our seed value chain. Diversity, equity and inclusion are certainly key topics on that list. ASTA’s panel discussion was a great start to an important discussion. Next week, we’ll be building on that start by unveiling an in-depth video feature about where we need to go from here to better support — and best leverage — women in seed. The video features Jason Sparks and ASTA’s director of government relations Payton Englert speaking very candidly about challenges and opportunities to the gender discussion. Look for it online at and in your Seed World U.S. Daily e-newsletter.