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‘Pop!’ Goes the Glass Ceiling

Wednesday, August 31, 2022
filed under: News

Lacey Zahradka and family
Lacey Zahradka with husband Codie and children Ryker, Charlie and Millie
Lacey Zahradka has spent her career shattering glass ceilings.  Her first job after graduating from North Dakota State University in 2010 was as a merchandiser for ADM’s canola crush plant at Velva, N.D.  Two years later, she moved to ADM’s multi-commodity oilseed processing facility at Enderlin, N.D.  She’s held various roles there since and is currently the assistant commercial manager.
        “The trading roles and manager roles are all very male dominated,” Zahradka says.  “I remember six or seven years ago, on one of our conference calls, I was the only woman out of 15 people on the call.  Now, there’s three or four of us who speak on those calls.  Over the last few years, there has been a more concerted effort to get more women in leadership roles within the company.  Strides are being made, and it’s great because women have a lot to offer this industry.”
        Now, Zahradka has become the first woman to ever serve on the National Sunflower Association’s Board of Directors in its 41-year history.  She replaced David Douglas, who took a different job within ADM.
        “When I found out I was the first woman on the board, I was like, ‘Glass ceiling shattered!’  I am excited about the opportunities ahead,” Zahradka says.  “I’ve been working in Enderlin for about 10 years, and I’ve had a lot of experience with the sunflower industry.  In the past few years, I had expressed that I’d like to further develop my leadership skills in this industry, so when there was an opening, I put my name in the hat.”
        Zahradka isn’t wasting any time making her place on the board count.  At her first meeting in June, she was elected NSA?secretary/treasurer.  “The gentleman I replaced (Douglas) was the previous secretary/treasurer, so everyone kind of stared at me a little blankly and I just said, ‘Well if he can do it, so can I.’ ”
         She has other goals she’d like to accomplish during her maximum 12-year tenure on the NSA Board of Directors.
        “As an oilseed processor, you always want to see higher oil yields and that type of thing.  I’d also like to see more women on the board,” Zahradka explains.  “I think the NSA does great work when it comes to solving problems in the sunflower industry.  The sunflower industry is pretty small compared to other crops, so I think on a board like this you feel the direct impact. ?Whether it’s farm bill legislation or seed variety, the farmers are going to feel the impacts of those changes.”
        Zahradka is no stranger to sunflower.  Besides working in the industry for a decade, she grew up around the crop.  Sunflower was a regular part of the crop rotation on her family’s farm near Reynolds, N.D.  Her dad also grew soybeans, corn, wheat and edible beans and raised cattle.
        But as important as agriculture was to her upbringing, it was not a career she ever imagined she’d pursue.
        “I went to NDSU after high school, but I did not know what I was going to do when I started college,” she recalls. “I flopped around a lot, and I think I had about five different majors — everything from teaching to accounting.  It was a little of a discovery path.”
        That path led her home every summer, where she worked for the local aerial applicator.  She enjoyed helping with office work and, after a couple of summers, started researching different agriculture degrees.  She finally settled on an agribusiness degree.
        “Even in college, I was in a very male-dominated program. There were maybe two or three women in my classes, compared to 15 or 16 men.  It was very, very one-sided,” she observes.
        Zahradka never let that stop her, and hopes now as a manager and a NSA board member she might be able to use her experience to help other young women in similar situations.
        “I’ve had a great career so far, and I work for a company that is very supportive of women in this industry,”?she affirms.  “I look forward to mentoring them.  As I get older, I try to make it a priority to find the young women merchandisers and let them know they have someone to talk to who has been there and done that.
        “I have three kids; I’ve been through the maternity leaves and coming back to work and all those different emotions.  One of my goals is to be a mentor so hopefully we can encourage more women to take jobs like mine.”
        Zahradka credits the training ADM provided when she started for connecting her to her long-time mentor in the business.
        “When you’re a new hire you spend several weeks visiting all the plants. When I started, that included a stop in Red Wing, Minn.  There was a female manager there, and to this day, even though she’s retired now, she is a role model to me.  She was very good about taking women under her wing and being a sounding board and helping us develop in our careers.  I always consider myself fortunate to have her because I did talk to her about a lot of things.  She was always my champion and always supported me.”
        As a wife and mother, Zahradka seeks to be that mentor to other young merchandisers as well as to her own daughter. 
        Lacey and her husband, Codie, have three children: Millie, 6; Ryker, 4, and Charlie, 18 months. Millie is her lone daughter and already is impressed by her mom’s accomplishments.  “When I was getting ready for this interview, she asked me what I was doing.  I told her I was being interviewed because I am the first woman on this board. She replied, ‘Well, that’s kind of cool.’  I just smiled because she’s right.  It is kind of cool.
        “I hope she’s independent and knows there are no barriers for her.  We’ve already talked about that.  In Kindred, where we live, we have a really nice baseball field and a softball field that isn’t as nice.  We drive by the baseball field every day, and one day she declared, ‘I’m going to play there one day.’  I just told her, ‘Yes you are,’ ” Zahradka remarks.                                                          
          “The possibilities for her are endless, and I hope she realizes that when she sees me doing things that a few years ago may have seemed impossible — like serving on the NSA Board of Directors.  Look at me now!” — Jody Kerzman
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