by Heather Angus

Exploring the progression of women in wholesale

Exploring the progression of women in wholesale

Each year we are proud to sponsor a table at the Women of the Year lunch. The lunch and awards celebrate the outstanding work of women in the UK, and is a fantastic way to acknowledge the hard work of women, in spite of numerous challenges.
Having recently sponsored and celebrated another Women of the Year lunch, our People Director, Heather Angus, sat down with us to talk through her career, her experiences as a woman in a leadership role, as well as her thoughts on how everyone can support the journey of women in wholesale and beyond.

Please could you introduce yourself and your role at Bidfood

I’m Heather Angus. I am the People & Sustainability Director for Bidcorp UK and I have worked for our company since 1998!

Why do Bidfood sponsor the Women of the Year lunch each year?

We have sponsored the Women of the Year lunch for many years now – at least 10. The lunch recognises women from all walks of life and from across the world who have achieved something remarkable whether for a charity, within a community, within business, for the environment.
Sponsoring the event is very much part of our desire as a business to be a positive force for change

What inspired you to pursue a leadership role?

I have to be honest; I never really aspired to be in a leadership role. I have always been passionate about the power of people and my goal was always to help people and businesses to see the value of working in an HR environment, to drive change.
My thinking has always been if you can help an individual to be the best that they can be and achieve their career goals, what could possibly be better than that! Once I started this journey, however, and realised how talented the individuals within my team were, the passion and belief everyone has, I knew that I wanted to be leading from the front…

How would you describe your Leadership journey? Have you faced any barriers as a woman in the industry?

HR as a career has been on a journey for many years moving away from Personnel (seen very much as fluffy and soft) to Human Resources which is looking at value add/commerciality and how to really get the best from every individual that works in a business.
Being young (well, I was when I started), female and in a department that was already felt to be fluffy was not easy. I lost count of the number of times I was called too girlie, or a judgement was made about me because I was female….I count myself as lucky however, as every time that happened it drove me even harder to prove people wrong…my resilience, determination and the backing of my great team inspired me to continue…

As a female leader, what has been the most significant barrier in your career? Have you been confronted with gender-related roadblocks?

I can’t say I have been confronted with gender related roadblocks particularly because I have achieved everything that I have wanted to achieve so far. I also don’t know what I may have achieved if I was male! I do remember worrying about maternity leave and taking time out for my children but I have had nothing but support from this business which has allowed me to keep doing the job I love whilst raising my family.

Do you believe men have a role to play in women’s progression and levelling things like the gender pay gap? How can men in leadership positions support women on this journey?

I think we all have a role to play in women’s progression and levelling things. Men and women alike should support women on this journey in terms of development journeys and mentoring. Businesses need to be open minded to introducing policies that allow women to progress and return to work having had children. Women and men alike should call out where there are inequalities to make sure that they are addressed.

What’s your favourite part about your role?

Working with my amazing team and the people within this business.

What advice would you give to women looking to advance their careers?

Don’t be too hard on yourself, don’t try to be someone you’re not and don’t think you can’t succeed because you might want to have a family or do things differently. Do take opportunities that come your way – that’s certainly what I did and do look for the art of the possible rather than all the problems that might come with it…

How does Bidfood celebrate and support women?

I think the culture at Bidfood is very open to women. We have policies to support flexible working, family life. Women can succeed in any role, take up development opportunities and win awards. I do think as an industry, we could do more to encourage women to think differently and perhaps have the confidence to come forward for roles that may not traditionally be seen as a ‘female’ role.

Why do you think businesses would benefit from having more women in leadership positions?

Talking very much from my own perspective there are two very clear benefits from having women in leadership positions; 1. We tend to be able to empathise and put ourselves in other people’s shoes, which is so important when it comes to collaboration and compromise 2. We tend to be able to see the bigger picture more clearly looking forward rather than addressing issues in the here and now.
That said I really don’t like to gender stereotype and the best leadership teams and leadership decisions in my mind come from having a balance of skills and perspectives all looking to achieve the same objective.

Which women inspire you and why?

I have always been very inspired by women who have succeeded at operating in a male dominated environment. As a history graduate I was always fascinated by Elizabeth I and her reign….and as a teenager I was always fascinated by Karren Brady, who was the youngest and first female to be Managing Director of a football club.
Today the Women’s football teams (particularly the Lionesses), Jacinda Ardern from New Zealand, Michelle Obama and many others really inspire me. Basically anyone who is not apologetic for being female but has the courage and conviction to make a success of their career and who use it to make a bigger global contribution. I should also say that there are a number of great women in our business who inspire me every day too!

How can businesses support women?

Recognise and allow for different perspectives through policies, standards, management and understanding.

Can you share a time when you felt underestimated and how you handled it?

I am my own biggest critic (I think this is an issue that many women face and I am not sure it applies in the same way to men….). Because of this I am very hard on myself but also very determined. This means that if I feel someone has underestimated me I will come out of the blocks 200% to prove them wrong.
At the start of my career as a Director, a comment was made about whether I would succeed – I was young, female, HR…..My response was I don’t intend to and won’t fail! To which the reply was: “Now I’ve seen that look in your eye and your determination I know you won’t” – and so far I’ve been proven right…

How have your experiences as a woman shaped the way you lead today?

I’m never sure whether it is my experience as a woman or my life experience that have shaped how I lead today. I’m not sure whether I should use the term ‘lucky’ but I really have never looked at an individual and thought male/female/black/white. I see Clare, Britta, Dennis, Andrew – the individual.
I really can’t explain my perspective in any different way. This has meant that I have sat in a room full of men and never thought “I’m the only woman”. What I have thought is: “Ok so that’s his agenda, what do I need to do to help shape the thinking on this subject or clearly this is an issue for him/her right now. Can I support and should I? How will this help us move towards where we should be as a business?” This very much shapes how I lead my team and how I try to work with our key stakeholders.

What was your dream job when you were a child?

My dream job was to be a stunt woman (I love sport). However, by the age of 12 I realised I was accident prone (I had already broken my arms 3 times!) so had to choose another career. I still remember to this day standing in front of my class when I was 12-13 telling everyone I wanted to work in personnel!

Lastly, what is your key advice to women on the career path?

My best piece of advice to any woman is “Be prepared to work hard, have confidence in yourself but take the time to really listen and understand what people are telling you – you can only learn and grow from this. I was once told never to allow a business or an individual to lower my professional standards. This is also something that I have strived to live by.

Thank you, Heather, for sharing your experiences and insight on supporting women in their professional careers.

Read more about the Women of the Year lunch and awards here:

Read more about how Bidfood care about our people here: Positive force for change | Sustainability | Bidfood UK

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