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Women in Leadership: How Violet Baker brings passion and innovation to our plant-based protein team

Women in Leadership - Violet Baker

For Violet, Maple Leaf’s Blueprint and company values play a huge role in fostering a positive workplace culture that’s been her home for the past 15 years.

Violet Baker is Vice President of Research, Development and Technology (RDT) at Greenleaf Foods, a subsidiary of Maple Leaf Foods. She began her career with Maple Leaf on a 12-month internship back in 2006, eventually joining as a full-time employee in 2008. Then in 2019, the newly formed Greenleaf Foods organization welcomed Violet to the team to help design and scale great tasting, plant-based protein products.

Throughout her career, Violet has worked to develop and improve a wide variety of product categories ranging from canned meats, wieners, deli meat, and dry-cured products, and has advanced through incremental leadership roles.

Today, Violet leads a passionate RDT team at Greenleaf Foods, encompassing the end-to-end product design and commercialization. The team she leads designs the culinary solutions, product formulations, process engineering, specifications, and labels to commercialize products in our facilities while partnering with the Marketing and Sales teams to put great food on the tables of great people.

What brought you to Maple Leaf Foods?

I came to Maple Leaf Foods in 2006 through a co-op placement in Product Development at our Courtland facility in Kitchener, Ontario while I pursued my BSc in Food Science at the University of Guelph. Every day brought new learnings and challenges as I worked with individuals on diverse product sets. After a 12-month placement, I truly enjoyed the people and culture in the department at that Maple Leaf Foods site. That year-long experience brought me back after my graduation and I’ve been fortunate to continue to work with many of these people over the past 15 years!

What made you stay?

There are a number of things that have continued to inspire and keep me here at Maple Leaf and Greenleaf Foods. Those items include:

  • Purpose and Values: When Maple Leaf’s Blueprint was released, I was struck by how closely it aligned with my personal values and goals. As my family expanded, I became even more focused on ensuring that my daily actions and career choices had a positive impact on the world around me. The Blueprint’s commitment to sustainability, animal welfare, and social responsibility resonated deeply with me, and I felt a renewed sense of purpose and motivation to contribute to the company’s efforts in these areas. I was excited to be part of an organization that shared my values and was working towards making a difference in the world. This renewed sense of purpose has remained with me as I continue to work at Maple Leaf, and it has helped me to stay focused and motivated as I strive to make a positive impact in my career and beyond.
  • People: I’ve created and cultivated a lot of relationships with cross-functional teams and on the RDT team. It has created an environment where I enjoy coming to work, I continue wanting to bring that positive energy for my own team and the people I work with.
  • Leadership: I’ve been blessed to work with amazing leadership teams throughout my career. They recognized my potential, coached me, and presented me with opportunities to stretch my abilities.
  • Diverse work experience: I’ve had an incredible opportunity to work on many categories of our business which has afforded me the unique opportunity to work cross-functionally with many teams across North America. Every day presents a new challenge, but it’s given me the ability to grow my skill set and learn new things.

Why is gender equity so important in the workplace?

Achieving gender equity in the workplace can also have numerous benefits for both individuals and organizations. For individuals, it can lead to increased job satisfaction, better mental and physical health, and a greater sense of fairness and justice. For organizations, it can lead to a more diverse and inclusive workplace culture, which can improve decision-making, creativity, and innovation. It can also help organizations attract and retain top talent and avoid potential legal and reputational risks.

Gender equity is important, but so is equity across cultures, ethnicity, age, and experience. A diverse work force adds value to our organization through unique perspectives and experiences.

During your career, what kind of progress have you observed in opportunities for women? Are you hopeful about the future?

In my 15 years at Maple Leaf, I’ve witnessed significant changes within the organization, particularly in the Product Development department. Previously, this field was dominated by men, who were often referred to as “meat-heads” within the industry.

Under Chief Innovation & Food Technology Officer Jitendra Sagili’s leadership, the RDT department underwent a significant transformation and expansion, with more than 50% of its leadership being women. This shift has not only changed the internal perception that women can succeed in meat development, but it has also impacted the external view of our company. As technical experts who often represent Maple Leaf in front of buyers and customers, we are able to challenge stereotypes and demonstrate that women can excel in this field. This gives me hope that we can break down barriers and create a more diverse and inclusive work environment for all.

How do you define your purpose at Maple Leaf?

As a leader of RDT at Greenleaf, I’m committed to creating delicious, affordable, high-quality products that nourish and satisfy our consumers. My purpose and motivations have evolved over the course of my career, influenced by personal and professional changes. In 2018, I was particularly drawn to the plant-based business, as I believe that those products have the potential to offer sustainable protein alternatives for the flexitarian market. Today, I’m driven by the knowledge that tasty food applications are key to getting consumers to choose plant-based products and reduce their environmental impact, and I aspire to achieve this goal.

What advice do you have for women in the early stages of their career?

Throughout my career, I’ve always tried to say yes to new opportunities, even when they seemed intimidating or challenging at first. I believe that by saying yes, we open ourselves up to experiences and situations that we might not have encountered otherwise. This requires a willingness to be uncomfortable and to step outside of our comfort zones, but it also allows us to grow and develop as individuals.

As Wayne Gretzky said, “you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” In other words, if we don’t take risks and try new things, we’ll never know what might have been possible. This prompted me to permanently relocate to Chicago from Toronto with my family to unlock the exciting career possibilities ahead.