Women in Wholesale 2022 conference

Women in Wholesale 2022: Be the Best You

People from across the sector came together at the Women in Wholesale conference – themed around Being the Best You – to share advice on leadership, diversity, and juggling work and home life

1. Create an inclusive environment

A common thread throughout the day was about how to make a more inclusive workforce and the various ways to do that. And one idea that kept coming up was the idea that presenting yourself as more than simply a job – regardless of your seniority – created a culture where people felt more comfortable.

Everyone is juggling priorities inside and outside of work, especially if you have younger children, and for senior managers to confidently share their own lives empowers others to feel less guarded about their own.

Booker’s Commercial Director, Sheila Gallagher spoke about the importance of making links across the company to help with this, looking at those who may need extra support or can offer it to you, which can inspire a growth mindset that can spread.

To aid that, creating networks within larger businesses can make these relationships much easier to form. Brakes’ Head of Customer Merchandising, Victoria Crouch spoke about her involvement in creating a women’s network and how they got buy in from males and the comms team to help it earn a credible status and share awareness of its benefits.

In a male-dominated industry, the importance of those alliances is even more crucial. And it’s something Henderson Foodservice Sales Director, Keira Campbell, spoke at length about in her rise through the ranks with the Northern Irish wholesaler.

Campbell also spoke passionately about being open and honest with colleagues, being respectful and consistent, to create an authentic view of yourself – providing a basis for being able to step out of your comfort zone.

2. Returning mothers are an asset

Parents returning to work is a contentious subject for many returning mums and businesses, as new parents try to find the right balance between home- and work-life balance. And it’s not an easy task.

Yet as FWD’s Head of Engagement, Lyndsey Cambridge explained, the reality is that mums coming back to work either need to be there because of the extra financial burden a little one brings, or really want to be there to regain a sense of self. Either way, that normally means they’re more motivated.

It’s a mentality many managers would benefit from taking, but unfortunately the assembled panel of Cambridge, JTI Account Executive Foave Aggar and Spar Trading Controller, Kay Button, say that’s not always how it feels. Instead, new mums returning to work find they struggle to maintain position and status because the perception is work isn’t a priority and they’re unwilling to work longer hours.

Button even spoken about that the fear of losing momentum in her career has meant she’s put off having children.

With the support of managers, there are ways to avoid this scenario. Aggar spoke about the importance of using keeping in touch days to remain part of the work environment when on maternity leave, while panel chair Mel Tucker (Head of Channel at Biotiful) says there a lot of free resources such as podcasts to help women successfully return to their professional selves.

Businesses can make life easier, though. Avoiding long conferences held abroad will make them more inclusive, whereas Button says instilling a culture where key meetings are held at convenient times and people are discouraged from emailing someone on their day off is a positive step.

3. You don’t have to manage to lead

Uspire Founding Partner Mark Francis told the audience that there are four distinct leadership styles: to coach, train (show), trust and direct (tell), but people shouldn’t identify as just one. Instead, the leadership panel chair said a manager’s style should be task specific. If a manager gets it wrong or the action doesn’t land as expected, a leader will change their style for next time.

Francis also revealed a useful tip for knowing when a manager should step in to help an employee by suggesting that if a team member can come to a solution themselves, they should be allowed the time, while a manager should only take control if the report is struggling.

The panel of Costco Business Manager Elaine Haynes, Bestway’s Category Controller Lisa-Hayne Hanson, Unitas Commercial Director Aoife Kenny, and JTI Sales Director Gemma Bateson offered lots of advice too. From being authentic and thinking about people before the task in hand, to getting to know your team to build trust, the quartet shared their experience.

But the strongest message was not to rush becoming a manager and taking the time to hone your skills and learning to be a leader without a team. It means that when the time comes, the step up isn’t so big.

4. Embracing neurodiversity could pay dividends

The neuroleadership and team development coach explained to the audience that cultivating an environment for people with differences such as autism, dyslexia, ADHD or Tourette’s could bolster resources.

The untapped potential of hiring people who are neurodiverse might not be the obvious place for businesses to find an edge, although Marina Dieck suggests it might be something to consider.

Dieck argued that finding the right roles for people could help to increase innovation and creativity, provide better insight into customer needs and encourage more effective decision making – pointing out businesses that embrace neurodiversity increase productivity by 30%.

If all sounds too good to be true, Dieck pointed out that 40% of self-made millionaires are dyslexic. Maybe she’s on to something.

5. Companies need to more to tackle the menopause

The menopause may have been a taboo in the past, but as Over the Bloody Moon Founder, Lesley Salem explained, that needs to change. And by people being more open to talking about it, businesses can put more provisions in place to support employees going through the menopause.

While 41% of people who have the menopause say their symptoms were light or not noticeable, for some it can be debilitating, with hot flushes, difficulty focusing and anxiety significantly impacting performance. And while the menopause is normally associated with people who are 50 or over, one in 10 women experience it before they turn 40.

Without the correct support – or an environment to be open about these issues – it can leave women losing confidence, resulting in more sick days, demotivated teams or even people leaving their job.

Salem points out that employers have a duty of care to help team members suffering from menopause symptoms and should introduce policies to ensure women are more comfortable to come forward.

Be the Best You Booker Brakes conference FWD Henderson Foodservice Keira Campbell Lyndsey Cambridge Sheila Gallagher Victoria Crouch wholesale Women in Wholesale