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Building Courage and Resilience as a Woman in the Food Industry.

[00:00:00] Kingsly: 

Hello, and welcome to yet. In another episode of the cargorant podcast today, our guest is Amy Wilkinson. We will be talking on the topic: Building Courage and Resilience as a Woman in the Food Industry.

[00:00:08] Kingsly:

 Amy is a seasoned professional with many years of experience in the food industry.

Confidence resilience success. Amy, how do you actually instilling this quality in the people that you work with? Tell our audience about who you are and what you do.

[00:00:30] Amy: 

So, yeah, I’m a coach, so I work predominantly in the food industry. They’re a little bit outside of the food industry, but I work mainly with women within the food industry to help them to get more confident to become more assertive, to help them in their jobs, basically, and to help them throughout their careers to get the success that they want within their careers. So I work with clients on a one-to-one basis, so I will work with people and I will help.

It’s a very specialized and personalized kind of service because what means confidence to one person is different to other people. So we do a lot of understanding what’s going on in their head. What’s holding them back from being, speaking up in meetings saying what they think, that sort of thing.

[00:01:19] Amy:

And two together, we come up with strategies on how they’re going to be more confident and do what they need, to do a good job and get the recognition that they deserve to be getting in that job. And the resilience part of it is I, I really believe that those two components, so there’s the confidence in the need to have that inner confidence in yourself.

You need to display that confidence when you’re talking to suppliers, talking to customers, that sort of thing. But resilience, I think, is so important in the food industry because we know it’s tough? It’s hard work, it’s a really rewarding industry to work in. I love that feeling when you stood at sea in a supermarket or something like that, and you see somebody who’s got a product that you had a part in, getting it to the shelf, you know, it’s an amazing feeling, but the reality of it is its long hours.

There’s lots of shift work. There are phone calls at 10 o’clock in the morning because. Fucking a port somewhere, which I’m sure you know, all about all of that stuff goes on. So the resilience part of it really is about taking care of yourself and also really understanding what it is that helps you to get through those really tough times and doing more of that and less of the stuff that doesn’t help. 

So I do that on a one-to-one basis. But I also work with businesses and do group coaching on that sort of thing as well. So I will work with teams. And a lot of what I’ve been doing more recently has been product development teams were, because, because at the moment there’s a, in the UK that there’s a bit dry from all of the supermarkets to be.

Relaunching all their ranges coming out of the pandemic. So there’s a lot of pressure on those teams at the moment. So I’ve been working with teams to help them to be more confident so that they can influence better, have more meaningful conversations, but also like just get their job done and do that without getting completely and utterly frazzled to death.

[00:03:26] Kingsly: 

So, Amy, I find it very interesting that you have chosen to work with women in the food industry. And the reason I say this is because I’ve worked extensively in the fruit industry, which is closely related to yours. So tell us, why did you choose to work in the food industry?

[00:03:53] Amy: 

Yeah, well, I mean, the reason I, I work in the food industry is that it’s what I’ve always done.n So I’ve worked in the food industry for over 20 years. It’s what I know inside out. And for me, I recognize that. Part of the things that held me back in my career was related to the fact that I was a woman.

So I kind of want to make that change and help other women not go through those things. And it is a particularly male-dominated industry. I only know UK figures, but in the UK only 7% of CEOs in the food industry that is right at the top are women, it’s a tiny number. And I want to see a shift in that because I think, it is important that we have that diversity within the industry, but

[00:04:44] Kingsly:

To think that it is generally accepted, that when it comes to food, women are better than men is quite shocking that in the UK only 7% of top positions are held by women in this industry.

[00:05:00] Amy: 

Yeah. It is quite shocking. And the reality is that. There are different functions where the numbers are higher. So in things like marketing 50% of women are in leadership roles and HR at 72%, but it’s kind of like the operational roles and stuff like that. They’ve really, the figures are really low and, you know, I’ve, I’ve got quite a few theories on, on why that is.

Just on your question of how it compares to other industries. If you look at those numbers as a benchmark, it’s pretty, it’s pretty poor. But I think the issues that I see in terms of women being held back, not feeling like they can speak up in meetings, feeling like there is That they’re having to work harder than men to just standstill.

So feeling like to be able to challenge their male colleagues, they need to know absolutely everything, that happens in lots of different industries. You know, I do work with other women and I’ve worked with people that work as health professionals. I’ve worked with people that work in PR the problems are the same problems.

It’s just that they really, really concentrated in the industry. And I think it has changed. I’ve been going over 20 years now and it’s nowhere near as bad as it was, but we’re still a long way off where it needs to be.

[00:06:26] Kingsly:

 I remember a couple of years ago where I used to work and live in South Africa. And I would visit many of the growers in South Africa and I’ll speak to the leadership in this companies and I couldn’t help, but notice that I’m always talking to men. So I think you’re really onto something because the problem, even though you are focused in the UK, I think if you look around the world, the problem is a global one for women right across the world.

So the course you’re a championing that the problems that you are solving, they’ve cut across many industries and many countries around the world. So kudos to you for picking that up and actively working to change things.

[00:07:13] Amy: 

It’s funny that you say that about South Africa actually because when I knew I was coming on to talk to you, I was talking to actually a friend that is, has worked in the procurement of fruit for many years. And I kind of was asking her, what challenges do you specifically have in that international space?

Cause a lot of the clients I work with you’re just UK based and she. One of, she actually used South Africa as an example, but she was talking about the fact that as a woman it’s really difficult because culturally across the world, there were lots of differences in the level of equality that women see.

And she’s always found that a challenge that she’s felt like she’s been pushed to one side in a way that her male colleagues aren’t because, in different cultures, they’re even further behind the UK in terms of that equality and feeling like decisions get made by the old boys club, that kind of having a conversation offline and, just a little club that she’s not part of.

And I think. Her take on it, having had worked in like so solely UK based roles and then having worked internationally was that it was harder working on an international level as a woman.

[00:08:28] Kingsly: 

Yeah, I can imagine. I come from Cameroon and as an African, you know, a lot of the things that you do speak about are some of the problems that cut right across many of the countries in Africa. So I do agree with her on that.

Amy, when preparing for this call, I took a look at your LinkedIn profile and I realized that the entire career you’ve been in the food industry, right from your uni days to today. And you have now become the go-to person where women in the industry who have certain problems or challenges tend to for help if you can just like you to talk a little bit about.

Some of the problems that you may have encountered with the women you have spoken to when running your own podcast or for food sake, perhaps the one-on-one that you had. So just to highlight some of the challenges that you may have heard your women have spoken to you. So, my listeners, our audience could be able to learn from it as well.

[00:09:33] Amy: 

Yeah, I think you know, I’ve talked about it a bit. Over a day, but in terms of the, there’s definitely, I don’t think it’s necessary that there is overt sexism. I don’t think, I’m not saying that I think men are deliberately going disparage women, but I think an unconscious bias does still exist.

And you know, there are differences between the way men and women work and therefore You know, there is this feeling that a lot of the women that I work with, they do a really, really good job. And they just want to get on with the job and they take on more and more work and they get on with it and they get rewarded for being really good at the job by being given more work.

And what happens is they see the value in getting stuff done and, and think if I just get my head down and I get that stuff done, that they were. Excel. And the reality is that what ends up happening is they get overwhelmed because they’re taking on so much. And then when they’re overwhelmed, they get this, I don’t feel like I can speak up in a meeting thing going on.

[00:10:43] Amy:

So I think that happens quite a lot. So there’s kind of, it’s multifaceted, it’s kind of. We’ve taken on too much. We just want to do a really good job and we’re not very good at shouting about the fact that we’ve done a good job and I will make the generalization, but men are better at shouting about having done it.

I’ve done this and women are kind of like, I’ll just keep my head down and get it done. So I think that that plays a real part in the You know, more men getting into leadership roles and women, what holds women back from those, getting into those leadership roles. And I think the other thing is that you know, it’s horrible to say, but it’s true that there is still bullying that exists within the food industry.

I witness it every day. I talk to clients every day. You spoke to somebody this morning and that’s offered. And I’m not just saying that those bullies are male because I hadn’t experienced early on in my career where I was bullied by a female customer. But a lot of the time it can be.

Big burly men that ha you know, working operations and have been doing that for a long time and really know how to kind of bully and manipulate. And that’s, you know, it’s scary for anybody it’s scary for men and women, but actually, you can be physically terrifying to be in a room with somebody like that.

So that kind of thing still does go on. Unfortunately, and then the other thing that I see quite a bit is it’s an industry because. You know, because it involves, things like shipping, it involves You know, operations and factories and supermarkets and all of those things. It’s quite hard for those workplaces, to create any flexibility.

[00:12:27] Amy:

And this is not me saying it’s because women have babies because, okay, I’ll get on a bit of a rant about that, not just about having babies. But it is often the case that women outside of their workplace take on more. So it could be children, but it could be they’re caring for elderly parents.

You know, they, they tend to be in more kind of caregiving roles and that. Really really difficult if you’re working in a workplace where there is no flexibility of hours and that sort of thing. And for a long time, you know, before coronavirus, there was no homeworking and that sort of thing. And hopefully, that’s going to change now.

But yeah, I think, you know, there’s a myriad of different things that are going on that create those difficulties for women in food. But I guess the one that I feel like if there are men listening, that they can do something about is that allowing women’s voices to be heard. More than they are at the moment.

I think that’s the biggest thing, you know, holding back to allow women to speak because they’re not as likely to speak up straight away, but by not allowing them to speak up, there are so many diverse ideas, different points of view that aren’t getting hurt that need to be heard.

[00:13:42] Kingsly: 

Amy. I do relate with the things that you’re talking about and whatever we thought about this problem is that by not actively doing something about it, institutions, companies, or structures, perpetrating, what for a long time has been the norm. And so we all are complicit in inputting. More pressure to bear on women in the food industry, but also other industries.

So what we try to do from an Optimiz perspective is we try to balance out the ratio of men and women company. And so today, 46% of our staff are women and the positions of responsibility roles are held by women. And I think since we took the conscious decision to do that, we have had a significant reduction in overhead churn.

And overall, I think the mood in the office is way better than what it used to be. So, this problem doesn’t just concern only women. I think it concerns all of us, particularly those that are in positions with those that are capable of making a difference within these companies.

So, I commend you for choosing to speak up about, these things.

[00:15:09] Amy:

Thank you. It’s great. It’s great to hear that you’re doing all those positive things because I think there are some sites, times some hesitance. And obviously, I’ve talked to a lot of women and there’s often this feeling of, oh, we don’t kind of want to say I don’t want positive discrimination or for, for want of a better term.

I want to, I want to achieve this on my own terms. I don’t need special treatment because I’m a woman cause that’s not equality. But the reality is if we’re ever going to get any kind of equality. That has to be a bit of positive discrimination. There has to be like you say, those decisions taken to say, we are going to recruit more women.

We are going to put more women in those places of power because it’s the only way that equality will actually happen in the future because otherwise, it will just remain that the old boy.

[00:15:57] Kingsly: 

It is like before we got here, it wasn’t by chance it was structured. So efforts have to be put in place to kind of deconstruct what has been going on forever. So for us, to be able to get away from it, it also has to be structured. Things have to be put in place measures, have to be taken rules, have to be put in place.

So that, we gradually bet steeply levelled the playing field, if you like. And so for us to be able to do that, you have to kind of prop up the women, within your companies or the institutions in which you find yourself. If we, if you have to go somewhere or, or make a difference at all.

[00:16:40] Amy: 

No, take away.

[00:16:44] Kingsly:

 Unfortunately, your audience cannot see.

[00:16:47] Amy: 

That’s why I thought saying out loud. I know from my own podcast. Sometimes I have to say, we’re doing this right now. Cause we’re so excited.

[00:16:56] Kingsly: 

So, let me just deviate a little bit and talk about, the fruit industry. So, what we do at Optimiz is we help fruit exporters, but, but also, procurement staff who are sourcing fruits, from different parts of the world, to manage their claims. You put in all this work to source the right type of product, the right quality of product from different countries around the world.

And when it arrives, if at all, then this dummy. To your cargo in transit and, and this is where we come in. So, we help our customers to reduce the impact of such incidences or damage to cargo in transit on their bottom line or, business continuity, if you like, but given the similarity of our industry.

So the fruit and the food. I’d imagine that this is a problem that is also rive in your industry. So the movement of food around the world entails a very carefully orchestrated supply chain, especially concerning temperature-sensitive goods. But unfortunately, things do go wrong despite our best efforts.

And, in my industry, when they do go wrong, people are usually very concerned they worked up. So I’d like to know from, from the food industry perspective, I suspect it will be similar given, the pressures of the food industry. Have you encountered scenarios where, some of the women you’ve spoken to have been responsible for, the procurement of these goods around the world?

And if you have what has been their, their reaction in times like this but also if you haven’t, is there anything that you could say to, that there women out there who are listening to us now as to, you know, how best to react in such circumstances?

[00:18:56] Amy: 

Yeah. I have experienced it. So a few years ago I worked specifically in fruit. So and I was in a commercial role at the time. So I was selling it rather than buying it, but obviously, it’s all great integrated and, and what have you. And so I’ve had many occasions where we’ve had problems with damaged fruit or stuck in the poor, whatever lots and lots of times.

And actually, the women that I worked with, the people I worked with in procurement at the time were women. And I think an observation that I would make now, so that was many years ago is that It is, you know, it still comes back to the same things that I’ve talked about, but it is hard to get your voice heard and all of those things.

So, yeah. A lot of those women find themselves in a place where you have to be quite formidable. You kind of have to be, and I hate saying this because it’s not necessarily something I encourage that much, but act like a man a little bit more, you know to be a bit more bullish anyway than they but that’s about matching the behaviours of the people that you’re dealing with.

There’s an element of that. I think the watch out For me and in all of that, and from what I’ve seen with women in those situations because they are highly stressful. And I know because I was the commercial manager on the other end, selling it into the safe markets, giving my procurement guys a hard time because of what, whatever it happened.

So, there’s pressure, on both sides and that pressure can really build up. And that’s where they, I guess, the. What I’ve witnessed is that there is a lot of women that have kind of nailed the confidence bit because they’ve had to, because that’s the only way to kind of get on in those procurement roles.

[00:20:47] Amy:

But, where they may need to kind of. Dial-up something different to help themselves is the resilience side of things. Because often, and this, again, it’s a generalization, but often women are more emotional or, take things more, can take things more personally more invested. And I remember back in buy fruit days, I mean it’s like.

It’s like so much to talk about it, but waking up at three o’clock in the morning and worrying about some watermelons that we’re stuck somewhere or whatever, because I was really invested and I can remember talking to a factory manager at the time saying, it doesn’t keep stuff, keep you up at night.

And he was male and he was like, no, it’s just fruit and apart, we don’t, I’m not worrying about it when I’ve got a home. And I think as women, we can often be more emotionally invested and you couldn’t control that in the conversations that you’re having. If you need to, it’s not about, that you might blow your top.

[00:21:46] Amy:

Or whatever. My biggest concern for women and in those situations is how they manage that for themselves so that the stress doesn’t build up and lead to burnout effectively. The reason I say that is because I did this was 10 years ago, but I burned out when I was working in fruit, it was particularly stressful.

And it’s about being able to take care of yourself. And recognize when the stress is getting too much and, and putting things in place to allow yourself to de-stress, you know, waste so, I guess my advice is, is more about taking care of yourself than it is about, you know, how you have those conversations.

Because I think if you’re in that role, you know how to have those conversations, you know how to handle it, but it’s more about managing yourself and not letting it get to the point where stress overtake.

[00:22:39] Kingsly: 

All right. Sorry to hear that. You, you went through that, that you know, that period in your career, Justin, just before I let you go.

We have been booking throughout this session, you know particularly about professionals that are built in the career. And I would like us to, to big things right down a little. So you studied need and was its procurement?

[00:23:03] Amy:

I studied food and nutrition. So it was, it was kind of a food science degree. So I don’t know how I ended up here from food science

[00:23:11] Kingsly: 

Right. That is exactly what my question is so looking at the carrier you have always been around food. With the experience that you have and what you’re doing today. So to the younger women, the younger girls out there that are trying to make sense of basically what they do in university or maybe about the graduate from university.

And I’m not yet aware of what are the options out there. What will you do, what would be your advice to them? And for those that have that name, do.

[00:23:45] Amy: 

Yeah, it’s a real passion of mine. Actually. I’ve got, I’m speaking at an event later 20 years about, to people that are doing food degrees, because I always knew I wanted to work with food.

I originally wanted to be a chef. I decided that that was too much like hard work, the shifts and all of that didn’t realize that that actually goes on in manufacturing anyway. And I think, wish I’d know more than about what I wanted to do. So I kind of just did a generic, it was kind of food, nutrition, kind of a generic kind of degree.

And there wasn’t much in the way of careers advice back then. And I think what I would say to people and I do get, I’ve got quite a few followers on LinkedIn and stuff that are still students is that trying to really understand the asset, which is hard when you’re young, but really understand the different roles that exist within the feed industry.

Cause I had no clue. I ended up on a technical graduate scheme because I’d done a science degree. Actually, for the majority of my career, I worked in sales and marketing roles because it turned out that’s what I enjoy doing. So spend some time to really think about what it is that you enjoy doing on a day-to-day basis.

[00:25:35] Amy: 

When I look back now I didn’t know it was sales, but I enjoy talking to people and, you know, building those long-term relationships and friendships as they were back then. And that’s a big part of account management and stuff like that. So really kind of trying to understand those things, but gather as much information as you can, you know, do go to those careers fairs.

There are lots of online events now, to explain more about what happens in the food industry. Listen to our podcast. Because we talk about lots of the different roles within the industry because I think that’s. Really helpful when I look back and the modules I did at university on product development, and then I worked in product development for eight years and it wasn’t the reality of what and the other thing I would say if you are at university or whatever, if you get the opportunity to do industrial placements or work experience, do that because.

Understanding the real world of what goes on. We’ll give you a better idea of what it is that you want to do.

[00:26:04] Kingsly: 

Fantastic. Yeah, you have a really strong passion for the food industry and you’re very knowledgeable. You started off by telling us about who you are and your experience in the industry.

And you conclude by telling the students who are listening to our podcast today on, how you get yourself into the coolant show, how you being by yourself. So thank you very much, Amy, for taking the time today. This has been fantastic. I really enjoyed it. I hope you did. And I’m looking forward to another session with you.

[00:26:32] Amy: 

Hmm. Thank you very much. It’s been great. Thank you for having me

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