Helen Munday, FDF

How did you get to where you are today?

I have been very lucky to work in organisations over my 30 years in the food industry that have been very supportive of women. I have never at any point felt that opportunities have not been as open to me as to male colleagues, from my early career and subsequent 20 years with Mars, through to my roles at the Food and Drink Federation. It was maybe initially luck that I chose these organisations, but I also think you make your own luck. So I have always wanted to model the way for other women in the organisations in which I have worked.

Tell us what lessons you’ve learnt in your pathway. 

I’ve found it really helpful not to always look for the next role being what might be considered a promotion.  Over my career, I have made a number of moves that were very helpful to building my knowledge and perspective on the food and drink sector. They were definitely not promotions in the classical way of thinking of such things, but they have meant that the next time I have moved ‘up’ my knowledge base has been there, ahead of needing it!

How has being female affected your work, for better or for worse? 

In my experience, women are much more likely to think about what they can’t do, rather than what they can do. They tend to be much more worried about being ‘found out’ for lacking expertise!  I think this has sometimes held me back, as I may not be so willing to ‘sell myself’ as a male colleague. So if you can’t beat them, join them, or, just recognise you are probably just as good as your male colleagues, but they are less likely to worry about ‘learning on their feet’ than you are!

What challenges have you faced in your career?  

Like most people I have faced setbacks in my career, but many years ago I was given some excellent advice by a very good work friend. The advice was that it is how you respond to these setbacks that can mark you out from others. So if you get knocked back (e.g. not getting a job you applied for) just recognise that people will be watching to see how you respond. Mentally get back up, dust yourself off, put on your best confident face and look the world in the eye again!

What advice do you have for women aiming for a position of leadership or an expert in their field?

As you become more senior in an organisation, it often means that you have to become more of a ‘generalist’ and your particular specialism can seem less relevant. But it is incredibly important both to maintain your specialist knowledge (because it is part of who you are, and it just might come in useful once in a while!) but also to become very proficient at picking up the salient points on other areas you will need to understand to facilitate decision making. It is also important to consider the soft skills of management and leadership to be as vital as any of your technical skills. And my over-riding motto – ‘seek first to understand …..’