Thirty-four per cent of women in the UK work in the food industry according to Improve, the food and drink sector skills council but relatively few hold top management positions.
The Financial Mail’s ‘Breaking the Mould’ career conference held in London last week gathered over 400 16- to 18-year-old girls from all over the country. Its aim was to inspire young women to consider working in the food and drink industry.
The focus of this year’s edition was on science and technology. Trained female scientists are under represented in the sector, according to the Food and Drink Federation (FDF).
The FDF, which supported the event, also held a panel session with influential women in the food and drink industry.
One of the panellists, Helen Mundy, director of scientific and regulatory affairs at Coca-Cola, told FoodNavigator.com: “It’s very exciting to be invited to something like that. It feels like some acknowledgement of the role that women can have in being in the food industry”.
When it comes to redressing gender balance in the food sector, Mundy said it has to be more of an evolution than a revolution. There is no quick fix, but change will come about bit by bit.
She also pointed out that people do not see the innovation behind a food product the same way they do for high tech products.
“As a business we are constantly innovating, constantly progressing our product portfolio to meet the needs of consumers. And I think sometimes when it’s high tech companies, when it’s the new iPad or whatever product it might be, people see that as being real innovation but sometimes in food and drink, it doesn’t hit people”.
The FDF is already taking steps to tackle this misconception - and others. It published a booklet called ‘Busting the Myths’. It counters the assumptions that youth may have about working in the industry, such as low pay or poor career prospects.
A challenging industry
Another panellist, Cheryl Bouchier, recipe developer at Dorset Cereals, admitted that she entered the industry by chance. After an accident that prevented her from taking her A-levels, she took a job in the laboratory where she was encouraged to obtain a qualification as a chemist - as well as studying for her A-levels at evening classes.
“I enjoy the creativity and also there is nothing better than being in a supermarket and watching someone put your product in their basket,” said Bouchier.
Both Mundy and Bouchier said they are driven to work in the food industry by its diversity, and constantly evolving jobs.
“It’s a very progressive industry and innovative because it’s highly competitive. It’s interesting for the future and it needs good young people to come to the industry,” said Mundy.
None of the panellists felt that being a woman was an obstacle to pursuing their career.
“Product development is probably the more female orientated part of the industry anyway, but no I’ve never found it to be a problem being a woman,” said Bouchier.
In some areas of the industry, however, jobs are typically held by men (board members) whereas in R&D the representation of women remains strong.
“Most of the buying decisions in the home are made by women therefore having women in senior positions within the food industry means that the needs of women as consumers are understood,” said Mundy.
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