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Is foodservice ahead on gender equality?

Britain’s boardrooms need more women but the foodservice sector is well ahead on gender equality, argues CH&Co Group’s Caroline Fry.

I was interested to read the recent Lord Davies recommendations about ensuring that the boards of FTSE 350 companies are at least one-third women by 2020. It got me thinking about the past 24 years I’ve spent with CH&Co and what things have changed in that time.

The simple answer is lots, but not when it comes to women in leadership. We have always been in the fortunate position that women have played a big part in developing our business, and I think we’re stronger for this gender balance. Within my company, women now occupy the key roles of chief finance officer, finance director, human resources director and deputy CEO, so we all have power and influence on the strategy and direction of the business.

While I am pleased to see the likes of Lord Davies championing the value of women in business and promoting increased gender equality, I think foodservice is well ahead of most industries. This sector already enjoys a good gender balance with many women setting up and leading their own successful foodservice companies. Some of the largest companies in our sector are currently or have been run by women. There are also many female role models, but of course there is always room for more.

I think people should be judged fairly on merit. I made my way up the ladder by working hard and delivering on my promises within a supportive company where this was recognised and rewarded. Not all women are so lucky. Juggling career and family remains one of the largest challenges women in business face and sadly many women still feel that they have to choose between the two.

But why? It’s a big loss for business as it is for the women in question; who has better time management and skills than a busy working mum? The Benjamin Franklin quotation comes to mind: “If you want something done ask a busy person.”

There is a real value in having women at the upper levels of business, including on boards. A recent study by Grant Thornton, “Women in Business: The Value of Diversity”, showed that publicly traded companies in which only men hold executive director level positions missed out on £430 billion in investment returns over the past year. In my experience, men and women often bring different perspectives to analysis, problem solving and decision making so it stands to reason that a good gender balance can achieve greater results.

My advice for any woman in her career is simple: stay true to your principles, no matter what, and always treat people with respect. The UK has an impressive number of talented women, and I hope we continue to see these talents rewarded and businesses reaping the benefits.

Caroline Fry is deputy CEO of the CH&Co Group