Women in Agriculture: Shaunta McDowell

If anyone can attest to the opportunities available for women in the agriculture industry, it is Shaunta McDowell. Beginning her career at Sanderson Farms at only 18 years old as an hourly employee working on the deboning line, McDowell has faced her fair share of adversity in life, but she has never let that stop her from achieving success.

For McDowell, success was particularly hard fought as she was not afforded the opportunities many of us take for granted during childhood. She had overcome poverty, foster care, parents abusing drugs and alcohol, and challenging family dynamics all before the age of 18, and she was determined not to let any of those unfortunate circumstances define her life.

“To come from poverty, from catching a ride to get to work because I didn’t have a car to riding on a corporate jet for my first plane ride, having these opportunities afforded to me has literally changed my life,” said McDowell. “From not knowing where you are going and being in foster care, to being a homeowner at the age of 19. Sanderson Farms has been a game changer in my life. Don’t ever let someone limit you and tell you that you can’t do it, I’m proof that it can be done.”

After over 26 years of working in the poultry industry, McDowell has worked her way up from line operator to line lead to supervisor, advanced trainee and now superintendent in the company’s Hammond, Louisiana processing facility. Today, she puts all of that experience to work by serving as a mentor in Sanderson Farms’ corporate mentoring program and as an active member of the company’s diversity and inclusion steering committee.

“Life is challenging and we all go through many different situations, but having a mentor to guide you in the right direction can be life-changing,” said McDowell. “No matter what your situation is, you can be whatever you want to be in life.”

After achieving success in her own career, McDowell set out to pave a path for others to follow by empowering them to achieve their own definitions of success. “I always believe in paying it forward, always helping the next person,” said McDowell. “Everything that I have accomplished is only because I’ve helped someone else. It’s not because I was so great at something, it’s because I wanted to help someone.”

Not only has McDowell paved a way for employees to follow in her footsteps, but she has also blazed a trail for family members like her daughter to pursue success in the poultry industry. “We knew that she would pursue a career in agriculture since she was five years old,” said McDowell. “She showed leadership skills early on, and an interest in Sanderson Farms. Since then, I am amazed at how she has grown as an individual and with the company.”

As a superintendent, McDowell focuses on helping her employees succeed by managing them the way she would want to be treated. “Employees like consistency, and they want to be treated fairly,” said McDowell. “I spend most of my days coaching and developing employees and supervisors. I want to create an environment where people want to come to work.”

To date, McDowell has authored two published books, one titled “Processing Chickens While Producing Winners” and another titled “Letting Go,” which she is now adapting to a screenplay dramatizing the challenges she overcame during childhood. The former was composed to assist supervisors in being good managers of people in the poultry industry. “We’re in a people business, and the employees are as much this company as anybody else,” said McDowell.

McDowell’s strategy is simple, always come with a “in it to win it” mentality each day that you come to work. “There is a formula to success, come prepared, learn the process, learn the people, and learn the policies and procedures,” said McDowell. “Take everything in and be consistent and persistent about what you do.”