Better Wholesaling: You are one of the few women at the top in the industry. Why do you think the industry hasn’t attracted women in the past and is that changing?
Coral Rose: Wholesale isn’t seen as a particularly sexy industry to begin with compared to the bright lights of retail. I think that is just down to a lack of insight about the industry and the opportunities that are available. There are definitely more women involved in the industry although I still think this is coming more from suppliers i.e. women in senior positions within the major branded businesses who have responsibility for the wholesale channel. The presence of women within wholesale businesses is a slower burn. The industry was definitely more sexist when I first joined, but there has been a definite shift away from this which will in turn make it more attractive.
BW: What attracted you to the industry?
CR: I came into foodservice as my first job after university in a marketing role, so it was the marketing discipline rather than the foodservice industry that attracted me. I had previous experience within retail, however, I soon realised that foodservice is much more about the people than the organisations they work for which made it far more interesting. Also, we are dealing with food…what’s not to get excited about!
BW: What challenges or obstacles have you come up against to get to where you have and how have you overcome them?
CR: I’ve had to work incredibly hard and have been in the industry now for 23 years. Whereas guys I know in the industry have a bit of an ‘old boys network’, that doesn’t exist for women and so it’s not a case of being able to use connections, but sheer hard work that brings success.
I still come across misogynists in my current role and you need to learn to be thick skinned and remember they are the minority. The main challenge I’ve had to overcome is being a mum to three kids and it has always been and continues to be a challenge to balance that with my career. In my early career I had a supportive employer and I also have a very understanding and supportive husband.
BW: As one of the few at the top, do you think gender matters?
CR: At the end of the day, the most important thing is how well you can do the job, not whether you are male or female.
BW: How important is having good female role models?
CR: It is critical to have senior women acting as role models demonstrating that you don’t have to act in a particular way in order to achieve success but just be confident in your own ability. They should be encouraged to share successes and frustrations to provide a pragmatic but supportive experience.
BW: How does having women on the board change the dynamic of a company? Is it largely positive?
CR: Men and women think differently and it’s beneficial to have a mix in order to achieve a balanced view. The dynamic of our board has certainly changed since I became managing director, very much for the positive (I’m sure the whole board would agree!).
BW: What needs to be done to attract more women into the industry and retain them?
CR: The wholesale industry could benefit from some positive PR which in turn would generate interest. This could then be built on by sharing stories of successful women and roles that are available. Return to work incentives certainly help, along with offering mentoring schemes or buddying up with other businesses to provide a forum for women to share concerns and experiences and receive practical advice. Women also have a big role to play themselves and need to step up to ensure they are considered for senior roles. Men are very good at selling themselves and women need to get better at doing this.
BW: How important is evolving men’s working practices? For example, promoting shared childcare leave?
CR: Evolving men’s working practices in this way enables ‘duties’ most commonly associated with women to be shared between parents which gives more choice to both men and women.
BW: Are there any examples of best practice you’ve come across in promoting, supporting and training women that you’ve been really impressed by?
CR: I’m really impressed with the Women in Wholesale initiative that Elit has created and I am sure this is the start of a great journey.