Five inspiring lessons on transformation from the 2021 Meat Business Women conference

June 2, 2021 By

This year’s Meat Business Women conference was a conference like no other.

The biggest online conference we’ve ever hosted, with more than 250 delegates attending from across the UK and Ireland, it featured keynotes from industry leaders including KFC CEO Anthony Lowings and Co-op Food CEO Jo Whitfield as well as a thought-provoking processor CEO panel chaired by M&S trading director Katharine Haenelt featuring Ranjit Singh of 2 Sisters Food Group, Di Walker of Eight Fifty Food Group and Gerry Maguire of Linden Foods.

We also got plenty of lessons and inspiration from outside the meat industry thanks to speakers such as ABB’s Heidi Robertson and Squiggly Career author Sarah Ellis.

Plus, we launched our ground-breaking ‘She Looks Like Me’ campaign, which showcases the breadth of roles in the meat industry and aims to encourage more women to pursue a career in our sector. (To get involved, download our free digital toolkit here.)

Throughout, our conference focused on one key topic: transformation. At a time of unprecedented change, how can we embrace change and transform our industry, our businesses and our careers in positive ways?

Here are five key lessons on transformation shared by our keynote speakers and panellists.

Know who you are and what you stand for

When everything around you is changing rapidly, a clear sense of your own values helps you steer the course. This message came through loud and clear during our conference.

Heidi Robertson, corporate head of diversity & inclusion and employer brand at ABB, encouraged us to ask: ‘Who am I and what difference can I make?’

This can feel a little abstract, so it’s worth exploring more concrete questions. For example, ‘What do I treasure?’ is a great question to unearth our values, Heidi told us, as it helps to connect us with what truly motivates us.

Knowing our values also helps us stay accountable. Once you’ve put your finger on what you treasure, think about how you can “measure what you treasure” to keep you focused on your goals, Heidi said.

The importance of knowing yourself was also highlighted by KFC global CEO Tony Lowings in his keynote address.

To develop staff and create an inclusive workplace, KFC puts a lot of emphasis on teaching about character and understanding yourself, he explained. That’s because fear and pride drive a lot of behaviour in the workplace, Tony said, and senior leaders are not immune.

Anyone who is serious about transforming their career, or their workplace, must therefore start by understanding themselves first. As Tony put it: “You need to understand yourself before you can understand others.”

Be OK with making mistakes

If you never slip up, you’re probably not stretching yourself enough. Several of the senior leaders who spoke at our conference made this point.

It’s a mindset that can be hard to embrace, however. After all, none of us enjoys getting things wrong.

A good way to push yourself to become more comfortable with failure is to get into the habit of admitting when you don’t know something. Tony at KFC in particular encouraged us to be OK with saying we don’t know and work with others to find a solution collaboratively.

“People who can admit that they’re wrong are incredibly powerful executives,” he said.

When we do make mistakes, what matters is that we reflect honestly and identify lessons for the future.

Find your people

It famously takes a village to raise a child, and it takes a network to build a career. Don’t be tempted to think you have to do it all by yourself. Being focused on your goals doesn’t mean you have to be a lone wolf.

Far from blunting your ambition, connecting and networking with others will super-charge your career.

‘Where are your allies?’ is a really important question to ask, Ali Jones, customer and community director at Co-op Food, pointed out.

A strong network not only allows you to bounce off ideas and ensures you’re not alone for the ride; it will also protect and support you when imposter syndrome strikes.

Practise compassion and empathy every day

The senior leaders at our conference agreed: having a great, inclusive work culture delivers better business results and better business outcomes.

Strong interpersonal skills and the ability to show compassion for the stories and experiences of others, no matter their background or identity, have never been more important.

The days of the ego-driven, hard-nosed executive are numbered. Tomorrow’s leaders will be those who are open, honest and vulnerable, Tony at KFC told us.

A key skill to practise in this context is active listening. Sarah Ellis, co-author of The Squiggly Career and co-founder of Amazing If, introduced us to a number of powerful listening tools and strategies, including how to track, measure and score interactions.

Better listening skills can be truly transformative for your career and personal development, Sarah explained. They enable us to be in the moment, really hear what others are saying and connect with them on a deeper level.

Above all, be yourself

If there is one word that sums up the advice of the senior leaders at our conference, it’s this: authenticity.

“Your biggest strength is your personality,” Co-op Food CEO Jo Whitfield said in her keynote address.

She wasn’t the only one to stress the importance of embracing your authentic self. All our speakers agreed: to be a transformational leader, you have to be yourself.

Embracing who you are even applies when picking role models. Rather than copying someone else’s leadership style, choose lots of role models, cherry-pick the best bits of what they’re doing and then put your own spin on them.

That way, you’ll become the best version of yourself and not a second-rate version of someone else.

Feeling inspired? Join us at our next event

Meat Business Women conferences are open to both members and non-members. Our next event takes place on Thursday, 7 October and tickets will be available via meatbusinesswomen.org

We also offer monthly masterclasses to members, which you can book here.