Amy Abouelenein: Serving the world by making food people love

Written by Greg Breining

If Amy Abouelenein’s experience is any indication, women excel in engineering fields when they work for institutions that value having women in their workforce and place them in key positions.

At General Mills, “there are a lot of benefits that are not specific to women, but I think in terms of creating an environment where women feel like they can do their job as an employee and do their job as a mom or spouse or daughter—we have programs in place to support those needs,” Abouelenein said. In her function, Innovation, Technology and Quality, women slightly outnumber men. “I think a lot of it has to do with senior leadership’s commitment to advancing and maintaining women in our organization and trying to understand what is necessary to retain women in the workplace,” she said.

When she was a chemical engineering student, she interviewed with companies of all kinds.

“What I liked about General Mills is that it had brands I was familiar with. I grew up eating products like Betty Crocker cakes, Yoplait yogurt, and Lucky Charms. I interviewed in a lot of different industries, but the one I felt the most passion about was food,” Abouelenein said.

General Mills is where she went after graduation in 1989. Taking advantage of General Mills’ continuing education program, Abouelenein returned to school one year later to get an M.B.A. at the University of Minnesota Carlson School of Management. “I thought with an M.B.A. I would be a more effective business leader,” she said.

General Mills has a culture and programs that make it easier for a mother like Abouelenein to excel—mentoring programs, women networking groups, flex-work arrangements, extended maternity leave, phase-back-to-work, and on-site daycare. The company, she said, looks “for opportunities to retain women by giving them ways to develop and be challenged by doing different assignments.”

Retaining women is important. “We always want to make sure that we are living our ‘consumer-first strategy,’” Abouelenein said. “To do that, we have to have empathy for our consumer base. Women (and moms) are primary shoppers. So we have to have people who are working on our businesses and brands who are that consumer, right?”

Abouelenein said there are many reasons for companies to hire more women. “I think women have a lot to offer in terms of their skill sets, their knowledge, and their ability to look at problems from a different point of view,” she said. “Women make great scientists, great researchers, and great business leaders.”

Abouelenein recommends young women in engineering learn as much as possible about different opportunities in a company.

“Be curious,” she said. “The first few years are where you build your technical foundation—learning about the business, learning the technologies, and having an impact. At General Mills in particular, we encourage people to try different types of roles, to really figure out where their passion lies.”