Women ‘Progress to Success’ at WiW 2018 Conference

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Being braver in business, communicating with impact and understanding unconscious bias were all subjects tackled at this year’s Women in Wholesale (WiW) conference under the theme of Progress to Success.

Held in London on 11th September, the event saw around 200 women and men listen to speakers and take part in panel discussions with senior industry figures designed to inform and empower women to be bolder and better in their chosen careers.

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Wholesale perspectives

Kicking off the day was Pricecheck’s joint managing director Debbie Harrison, who has helped take the company from a £17m turnover in 2007 to an impressive £73m today. Throughout her personal journey, which included juggling a young family as a single mum, she highlighted the desire of women to be perfectionists. “Women tend to want to prove themselves.

This can hinder growth and hold a business back,” she said, adding that delegation is positively encouraged at Pricecheck.

Meanwhile IGD senior analyst Patrick Mitchell-Fox reflected on a year that has seen the wholesale landscape radically alter. “Wholesale has gone through a revolution and my head is still spinning,” he said.

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Highlighting the Tesco-Booker takeover and the most recent proposed deal between Landmark and Today’s Group, he emphasised the need for wholesalers to understand the changing nature of convenience. Looking ahead, he predicted symbol groups would grow to 40% of the market by 2023.

Building on the theme of the customer, HIM’s Jill Livesey emphasised that when it came to priorities for wholesalers, customer demand featured low on the list. Understanding that customers are more complex and diverse than stereotypes suggest, is key to adapting and tailoring the offer, she said.

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Effective Communication

Communicating with impact was a theme addressed several times throughout the day, not least during a panel discussion led by the FWD’s chief executive officer James Bielby. Parfett’s head office trader, Nathalie Campbell, elaborated the importance of being prepared. “If you have to approach a sensitive situation, you need to prepare,” she said.

Meanwhile, Coca Cola’s associate director, field sales wholesale, Laura McKechnie, highlighted the importance of tailoring your message to different audiences. “It’s easy to be one dimensional when you first start out but adaptability of the message is key for different audiences,” she said.

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Head of operations Sedat Kaan Hendekli revealed how JJ Foodservice’s “Women in the Warehouse” campaign has taken female representation on the depot floor from 0% to 17%.

This, he said, has changed the way, staff communicate with each other, citing women as a positive influence in terms of attendance and attention to detail. Whereas the proposal was met with resistance initially, he said, “Warehouse supervisors are actively looking for women now.”

Tackling unconscious bias

Following on from research carried out by HIM on behalf of Women in Wholesale in April, which revealed a lack of knowledge in the sector around unconscious bias, Bolt Learning’s chief executive officer Tamlin Roberts explained its pitfalls.

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From confirmation bias, where people are drawn to hiring people who reflect themselves, to anchor bias, whereby one piece of information is relied on when making a judgment, he stressed it was not to a business’ benefit.

By being aware of unconscious bias and pausing before we let our “chimp brain” take over, he said, employers could make better choices and enhance diversity.

“Teams made up of the same people don’t perform as well as a team from different backgrounds. It is estimated they under-perform by as much as 30%,” he said.

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Bravery in business

Dominating the sessions throughout was the challenges of addressing self-confidence. Resonating with much of the audience was Hazel Detsiny, managing director at Unilever’s Food Solutions who introduced “impostor syndrome”: the belief that you are inadequate and about to be “found out” at work at any moment – a phenomena she revealed 80% of people suffer from.

“Be prepared” and “be your best friend in your head,” she advised. “The thing about impostor syndrome is it’s a syndrome. It’s not true,” she added.

Meanwhile Confex’s Tom Gittins picked out quotes by a series of notable people from actress Audrey Hepburn to US football team coach Abby Wambach covering subjects such as perseverance and motivation, before ending on a clip from the film Dead Poet’s Society with the message, “seize the day”.

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This was added to during an insightful panel discussion hosted by Country Range’s managing director Coral Rose, that featured perspectives on “The Essential Habits of Confident People,” featuring Tulip Food Solution’s commercial director Clare Bocking, Unilever’s Hazel Detsiny, Spar managing director Debbie Robinson and Bidfood’s head of insight and customer experience, Sarah Whiddett.

“The thing that you might be good at, be brilliant at. It will get you through,” said Spar managing director Debbie Robinson, adding that the responsibility for success rested with every individual.

Concluding the day was Heather Melville OBE, currently head of business inclusion initiatives, commercial and private banking at RBS who walked the audience through her experience of making it in a man’s world. From her first job in banking to meeting her heroes Oprah Winfrey and Michelle Obama, her personal journey has been filled with challenges and successes.

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“Women need to understand what their value is,” she said, adding that seeking out mentors, surrounding yourself with trusted people, and being clear about what you want, all add to increased self-confidence for women in business.

The day was rounded off with a drinks reception and ‘extended networking’ at local bar, Be At One.

The next WiW conference will be held on October 10th 2019. 



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