An Interview with Sonja Ziebe
International Women’s Day gives us a great opportunity to focus on the achievements of some of ICL’s top female scientists and engineers – and to showcase the important and exciting projects that they are working on. Sonja Ziebe is an ICL food technology engineer based in Germany. She shared some valuable insights into her work and the wider role of women in the vital field of food technology.
ICL is committed to implementing the United Nation’s 2nd Strategic Development Goal of Zero Hunger. Food technology engineers like Sonja are contributing to that mission on a daily basis. We’re grateful to her for speaking to us today.
Hello Sonja, how did you become interested in the intersection of food and technology, and what led you to pursue a career in this field?
I was always interested in natural sciences and the preparation of food. Food technology combines physics, chemistry, and biology in a concrete and practical way – and in the end, you can eat something 🙂
How do you think technology can be leveraged to promote greater gender equality and empowerment in the food industry, particularly for women entrepreneurs and farmers?
During my studies, I saw that food technology is a field already widely pursued by women. We already made great progress towards gender equality. Also, it is great to see how many women entrepreneurs are active in the field of innovative food science. However, I assume that with more advances in technological progress, any remaining gender inequalities, especially in the areas of agriculture and production, can hopefully be reduced in the years to come.
Can you share some examples of innovative food technologies that you have helped develop or implement, and how they are making a positive impact on women in the industry?
In the past, I was working on projects where I was the only woman working in a man’s world. It is important to stay confident and believe in your skills. That way you can be a role model for other women in the industry. One innovative product I developed is a leavening acid for the baking industry which reduces the sodium level in cakes and thereby promotes healthier eating. Food is a hugely important part of life and we should be able to enjoy our luxuries without too many adverse health consequences!
What are some of the biggest challenges facing women in the food tech sector, and how can we work to address them?
Like in many male-dominated areas, e.g. production, women might be taken less seriously. In addition, women often have two scopes of duties to handle: family and work. Therefore, an employer supporting a healthy work-life balance is an asset to working moms. ICL understands the issues and creates a genuinely supportive work environment.
In your opinion, what is the most exciting trend or development in food technology today, and how do you see it impacting the role of women in the industry?
Reducing the carbon footprint is a big and important topic in the food industry. We need to think strategically and use new technologies to optimize supply chains and allow sustainable food production. I think women have a huge role to play in food production, whether it’s reclaiming marginal lands, or creating their own high-tech food production enterprises.
How do you balance the need for scientific rigor and technical expertise with the importance of human-centered design and cultural sensitivity when developing food technologies for diverse communities?
The most important thing is to approach each situation with humility and with an open mind. It’s easy for scientists and engineers to become blinded by their own technical abilities and to be overfocused on their goals. In the past, the scientific community was sometimes guilty of not paying enough attention to the unique needs and expectations of local communities – especially when there were major cultural differences.
We need to avoid the trap of hubris and think from the ground up. Once we are in a genuine partnership with a community, we can achieve amazing things!
What advice would you give to young women who are interested in pursuing a career in food technology or a related field?
Believe in yourself and your skills! It might be hard initially, but people will realize how good you are.
How do you plan to celebrate International Women’s Day, and what message do you hope to send to other women in the food tech community?
I’m looking forward to attending ICL’s lectures. At home, I will hug my little daughter and tell her that she can be anything she wants!
ICL is a world leader in the field of food technology and it’s women like Sonja Ziebe that are helping to drive technical innovation and help us to feed the planet. We recognize the important role that female scientists and engineers have to play in our effort to achieve the UN SDG of Zero Hunger, and we’re providing them with the support that they need to excel.
All of ICL Group’s divisions are structured to provide a flexible working environment that allows women to balance career and family commitments and achieve their true potential. This wealth of talent and expertise has the potential to transform agricultural production and the food industry and deliver lasting global food security.