Celebrating International Women’s Day

Today, 8th March 2024, women all over the world are celebrating and raising awareness of International Women’s Day, with this year’s theme: #InspireInclusion. To help add to the celebrations, we spoke to six furnishing industry women who share their respective thoughts on what International Women’s Day means to them and the industry.

Featuring this year includes Tara Corcoran – Senior Manager at Linthorpe Beds, Nichola Bell – Sales Director at Alpha Designs, Mandy Brown – owner and MD of Harrison & Brown, Carole Nolan – National Sales Controller at Maze, Stephanie Yule – People and Customer Experience Director at Hypnos and Venessa Hodgson, Managing Director at HSL.

What progress have you seen on women and gender equality in the furnishing industry?

Tara Corcoran: “In recent years, significant strides have been made in promoting women and gender equality in the furnishing industry. I feel companies are increasing diversity and inclusion with equal opportunities for women in leadership roles. There is a number of businesses which are now implementing policies that support work life balance.”

Nichola Bell: “When I joined the industry 17 years ago, I didn’t come across many female sales reps/agents, gladly this has certainly changed over the years. Many buyers for high street groups now tend to be female, however many of the traditional upholstery manufacturers are still light on the female leadership side but perhaps that will change too. I am optimistic that the inequality in gender pay is being addressed also.”

Mandy Brown: “There is evidence of the male bias in the industry shifting, women are more accepted now and their voices can be heard. When women make up 50% of the population and probably a stronger bias in the decision making of interior design/furnishings it makes sense to have a stronger gender equality.”

Carole Nolan: “Over the years there has been some progress, but the industry itself currently remains male dominated, though as new generations grow in these businesses, I see a more level attitude towards women in the workplace and more women in senior positions. The old ‘’Boy’s Club’’ culture is still there in some companies, in particular how they are towards female staff but thankfully it is becoming less prevalent.”

Stephanie Yule: “Certainly, in the years that I have been in the industry we see far more women in practical and managerial roles, from our newly formed Senior Management team where we are 50% female, to those that would previously been viewed as traditional male occupations. For example in the last two years at Hypnos we have increased our female mattress makers by approximately 15%, this is a role that was traditionally male dominated with women focussed mainly in our cut and sew areas. There are truly no roles within the business that women cannot do.”

Venessa Hodgson: “Whilst it remains a male dominated industry, women are making more headway particularly in senior, decision-making roles; as an example, I have been with HSL for 10 years and it has gone from one female board member to females now representing 50% of the board. I’ve also visited a few furniture factories of late where women have been much more prevalent on the manufacturing side which is great to see. Our Head of Manufacturing is female. Charlotte Ackroyd has grown with our business over the years from being on the shopfloor to now being one of the best and most inspirational female leaders I’ve ever come across.  She leads a predominantly male led work-force and does so with respect, empathy, strength, skill and vision.”

How does the company you work for implement women progression in the workplace?

Tara Corcoran: “The company I work for is a trailblazer in promoting women’s progression in the workplace. Their commitment to gender equality is evident in the balanced representation across all levels of management. From top directors to senior management and store managers, they have achieved an even split, ensuring that women are well-represented in leadership roles. This approach reflects a genuine commitment to fostering diversity and inclusion. We actively cultivate an environment that values and supports the professional growth of women, providing equal opportunities for leadership and success. This commitment is ingrained in our company culture, contributing to a more dynamic and inclusive workplace for everyone.”

Nichola Bell: “Alpha Designs may be one of the few manufacturers to have more female representation than most perhaps. With over 50% of the senior management team being female, including MD, Sales Director and Factory Manager.”

Mandy Brown: “Women should be given the same opportunities as men in the workplace and we have an equal opportunities policy that reflects this. We ensure that new roles are written in a way that appeals to all people, advertised to attract a broad diverse applicant base and our recruitment practices allow for all to attend and give their best on the day. I encourage everyone to have a voice in the business and this helps women to feel opportunities are available.”

Carole Nolan: “At Maze, there is an equal number of women and men at both senior and mid-level management, everyone is treated equally, and progression is always encouraged for everyone regardless of their gender.”

Stephanie Yule: “We believe in equal levels of opportunity for everyone. If you are qualified for a role and are the best person for it then you should be the one doing it. We make no special concessions for women in the workplace as we firmly believe that we should treat everybody equally, including women, but there is absolutely no blockage to promotion within Hypnos, whatever your sex.”

Venessa Hodgson: “We don’t have a gender-based career development approach – that would feel wrong and certainly not aligned to our cultures and values. Gender shouldn’t define you, nor should it define your future nor your opportunities; I am proud to say that HSL takes a very fair and balanced approach, encouraging all colleague’s male or female, regardless of their position in our business, to be the best versions of themselves and achieve without limits.”

Why do we need more women in leadership?

Tara Corcoran: “Diverse perspectives and leadership styles create a dynamic blend, sparking innovation, collaboration, and success.”

Nichola Bell: “I have experienced many a “male dominated” board room situation, seen the imbalance and the effects of it. I think it is important to have a balanced mix of both genders in leadership positions. Both genders bring very different skills and points of view which make for a more holistic leadership technique and direction. It’s a shame we are even having to have these conversations in 2024 surely?”

Mandy Brown: “We need more diversity in leadership! Diversity and equality in leadership creates a sense of belonging for teams and listening to minorities. If the minority is women, then yes, we need more women in leadership roles.”

Carole Nolan: “To close the gender and equality gap. To bring diversity of perspective and values to the table. To teach our younger generations so we can finally have equal opportunities for everyone and make business fair.”

Stephanie Yule: “It’s more important to have a balance than any bias to one gender, group, background or type. It’s important that any leadership team is made up of a mix of personalities and outlooks to ensure that a variety of opinions and thought processes influence decisions made at the top level.  Empathy is important in leadership and a leadership team made up of a balance of people with a variety of outlooks is more likely to be successful.”

Venessa Hodgson: “All sectors would benefit from a good gender balance, particularly at senior management and board level; it encourages diversity of thought and brings with it a wealth of experience, skill and perspective, thus enabling businesses to make better decisions and importantly, helping to shape a better culture and enhancing colleague engagement.”

Share a women’s empowerment moment that inspired you.

Tara Corcoran: “One inspiring women’s empowerment moment for me was when I recently took part in a Women in Furniture workshop. Witnessing women from diverse aspects of the business world coming together was truly a proud and empowering moment. The exchange of ideas, collaboration, and shared enthusiasm showcased the strength that arises when women unite to uplift and empower one another. It’s not just a workshop; it’s a powerful testament to the impact women can make when they stand together and support each other’s success.”

Nichola Bell: “Less of a moment, but there is no greater feeling than, when in a male business environment, I am listened to, my opinion respected and my skill acknowledged. The respect flows both ways then.”

Mandy Brown: “I can confidently say my daughter, at 19 she created a business idea and started her own successful business, then moved to London. She put herself through university finishing with a First-class honours degree! She spent seven months travelling (should have been three but Covid changed that), on her return she started working for The Blue Cross and has studied as a veterinary nurse. She will qualify soon – she knew what she wanted and went for it!”

Carole Nolan: “Marie Curie, who was the first woman to win a Nobel Prize and the first scientist to ever win two. She discovered Radium and Polonium and changed the world with her technique for radiation therapy which is used to shrink tumours and destroy cancer cells. One famous quote of hers always resonated with me being a working mother of five: “I have frequently been questioned, especially by women, of how I can reconcile family life with a scientific career, Well, it has not been easy”.”

Stephanie Yule: “My mum remains the biggest inspiration to me in terms of women’s empowerment. I was brought up in a household where both of my parents worked, which was quite unusual when I was younger, and where responsibilities for the household and children were shared. It instilled in me a great belief that women could do whatever they wanted to in the world and continues to drive me today. I also hope that I am showing the same to my sons who see me working hard to be successful in the workplace balancing it with spending quality time with them, as a rugby coach, and enjoying a full life.”

Venessa Hodgson: “I attended a female leadership conference last year in London which was attended by a group of African tribal women. All of the women were incredible, ranging from scientists, doctors and political leaders – the equality issues they face in their personal and professional lives were utterly astonishing, yet they overcame adversity in the most spectacular way. Their strength, positivity and resolve was both humbling and inspiring to say the very least.”

What does International Women’s Day mean to you and what’s International Women’s Day message?

Tara Corcoran: “International Women’s Day is a celebration of strength, resilience, and the remarkable achievements of women worldwide. On this special day, let’s applaud the progress we’ve made and pledge to continue championing equality. To all women, your dedication and success inspire us to break barriers, uplift each other, and create a future where every woman’s potential knows no bounds. Happy International Women’s Day!”

Nichola Bell: “I am very privileged to live in a first world country, and although gender equality in business in my opinion is just archaic and unnecessary, it is the young vulnerable girls of poorer nations that are denied a future through lack of education and opportunity (for a multitude of complex reasons) that is heartbreaking. This surely should be a world focus not only on International Women’s Day. Girls don’t need a voice, they have one, just give them the opportunity to use it.”

Mandy Brown: “I do like to celebrate International Women’s Day and admire the incredible women in my life! My International Women’s Day message would be, you can be whoever you want to be and achieve whatever you want to achieve. Hard work and perseverance will pay off, keep at it and never be afraid to ask for help!”

Carole Nolan: “It is an important day to recognise the achievements of women and to promote gender equality. My message is something I say to my daughters, “be proud of who you are, and try to make a difference. Kindness costs nothing”.”

Stephanie Yule: “It is an opportunity to celebrate the achievements of women across history who have contributed to the fight for equality and the chance to remind women and girls everywhere that they should never settle for less and should be exactly who and what they want to be.”

Venessa Hodgson: “In all honesty it saddens me deeply that in 2024 the world still needs to recognise women and their phenomenal value and contribution in society through IWD. Women inspire me every day of every year; the world can’t function properly without gender equality, and in the words of UN Women “invest in women and accelerate progress.”

www.internationalwomensday.com

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