28 May 2024
by Meat Business Women

Hilton Food Group, PizzaExpress & Morrisons leaders champion gender balance and networking at Meat Business Women Conference

Key takeouts from our UK & Ireland conference

Over 180 attendees gathered at NatWest, Bishopsgate in London (May, 22) for the Meat Business Women UK & Ireland Conference: The Power of Us. Steve Murrells, CEO, Hilton Food Group, Ruth McDonald, Corporate Services Director, Morrisons and Jane Treasure, Food & Beverage Director, PizzaExpress opened the day, addressing delegates on the latest industry trends, personal insights in their career journeys and how we can go further to achieve gender balance in the industry.

The conference also saw a new campaign launched: The Power of Us. Meat Businness Women's recent global research found that diversity and inclusion are crucial in ensuring workplaces thrive. The 2023 Gender Representation Report found that 53% of people working in the meat industry think that inclusion has moved up the agenda, but there is more to be done in this space.

The campaign calls on everyone, regardless of gender, age, race or background to work together to bring about positive change in gender inclusion. Its on each of us to step up, play our part and support one another to make collective change. 

Find out more about the campaign here and download the Inclusion Allyship toolkit here.

The conference began with a market update from Matthew Stoughton-Harris, IGD, in the wake of post-pandemic consumer behaviour across retail and foodservice. Following that, keynote speaker Steve Murrells spoke about his journey as CEO of Co-Op, and how people are the best asset to any business. He shared more the key skills needed to attain a senior leadership role. He championed the idea of building a solid, varied network as well as the idea of and turning self-doubt into self-awareness.

Ruth McDonald, Morrisons, spoke about dealing with the pressures of a fast-paced industry. Her session focussed on the idea that it’s not a weakness to recognise that dealing with day-to-day pressures within the food industry can be a real challenge and can mean time out to recharge batteries is essential to a healthy balance. McDonald also spoke about the benefits a non-linear career could bring delegates in terms of varied knowledge and business understanding. Summarising, McDonald spoke about the importance of lifting and supporting colleagues as a collective, referencing the conference theme ‘The Power of Us.’

Jane Treasure, PizzaExpress, covered the importance of innovation, particularly in a time where costs are tight and businesses and products are being rationalised. Similarly to Steve Murrells, Treasure emphasised the importance of a strong network for career development and support.

The conference played host to a panel of leaders from outside the food industry in order to share best practise across sectors on how to influence positive change on gender representation and empowering female talent. Key insights from the panel included the importance of focusing on the end goal, in the face of adversity, as well as a look into key initiatives that have been set up to empower and enable women in the workplace, for example fertility, parental and menopause initiatives.

The panel comprised of Zara Mohammed, the first female, first Scot and youngest Secretary-General of the Muslim Council of Britain, alongside Tiffanie Darke, Interim CEO of Smartworks Charity, Angela Owen OBE, Founder of Women in Defence UK and Sharniya Ferdinand, Enterprise Community Strategy Director at NatWest.

In response to global research undertaken by Meat Business Women in 2023, which found that the number of women at senior levels is improving, but change is stagnant at more junior levels, an  ‘Allyship in Action’ panel explored the significance of supporting, mentoring and sponsoring women to help shift the dial on gender balance.

The message from the panel was clear: Everyone has a responsibility to work towards a more diverse, inclusive industry and we must all think about what impact we can make, underpinning the theme of the conference ‘The Power of Us.’ As a result of the panel, Meat Business Women has launched an Inclusion Allyship Toolkit which provides a guide to understanding allyship and a proactive checklist to encourage allyship. Download yours here.

Reflecting on the conference, Global Chair and Founder Laura Ryan says “This is our third year selling out NatWest’s conference centre, and what a fantastic day it’s been. There have been so many insightful, open conversations today and it’s so encouraging to see men and women from across or partners and wider community in the room coming together to make positive change on gender balance. We’re grateful for the support of our partners and sponsors and are proud to continue working with them and their employees to drive solutions to these issues.”

The conference was sponsored by MSD Animal Health, with support from Sealed Air, IGD and MorePeople.

The next in-person event will take place on July, 11 at Stamford and will feature Ruth Edge, Head of Sustainability at KFC UK & Ireland, Karen O’Connor, Meat Fish and Poultry Category Director at Sainsbury’s and Andrew Richards, Commercial Director Retail Europe at Pilgrim’s Europe, alongside the opportunity to network and two personal development workshop from Coach Deborah Ogden. Details available at meatbusinesswomen.org