International Women’s Day: Women in British Manufacturing

Linda Barrie, Founder of Choc Affair based in York, North Yorkshire

According to research performed by Statista, British manufacturers make up 17.41% of the UK economy, however, when it is further investigated, it becomes evident that there is a huge gender imbalance in those working within the sector. Reports suggest that the average UK manufacturing company is made up of 85% men and 15% women, however, here at Choc Affair, the figures are vastly different with 65% of the team being/identifying as female and 36% being/identifying as male.

Today we talk to our founder, Linda Barrie about International Women’s Day, what it means to her and why more women should consider careers in the manufacturing industry.

What does International Women’s Day mean to you?

Linda: It’s great to stop and think about women around the world as well as those on my doorstep.  I realise when I look at other women’s challenges and situations just how blessed I am, and how proud I feel about the women I work with, as well as the other women in my life – I come from a family of strong women – I have two beautiful daughters, an amazing mother, and an aunt who still teaches Yoga at the age of 82.  I also have the privilege of being involved in a charity in Uganda where we have the most amazing woman running the project  – I really can reflect on some amazing women internationally!

What values do you have in business and why are they important to you?

Linda: For me, the most important thing is to really grasp the value of our relationships with one another:  from our team of great people working together to our customers and our suppliers, it is so important to be respectful, and to cultivate a relationship of trust and openness. If we make a mistake, we admit it, say sorry, learn from it and move forwards. 

What do you enjoy about working in the British Chocolate Making Industry?

Linda: Well, what is not to enjoy! I have samples galore of delicious chocolate in my office to enjoy all day every day, all in the name of work! Seriously though it is a fantastic industry to be a part of – the people I’ve worked with and met along the way have never been anything other than incredibly friendly and helpful – we all happily refer to one another if there’s something we aren’t able to help with. Then of course there is the product itself, from cocoa growers to our retailers I have had the pleasure of meeting some great people-  what’s not to love!

What benefits do you think a more gender-balanced team brings to the manufacturing industry? 

Linda: In life generally, I feel that women are more about the relationships and the feeling of where they work rather than purely being task orientated – if that emotional connection isn’t there then they often won’t stay in a role. I believe this need for  connection brings warmth to a workplace and creates a much more positive experience for the entire team. There’s a risk of viewing this desire for an emotional connection as a sign of weakness, but I think it is exactly the opposite – seeking an emotional connection requires strength as there’s always an element of risk within it. We have a team of women, with strong emotional connections who are very supportive of one another – a quality which balances the requirements of the business with the needs of one another and all I can say is how well it works.

Why do you think there is currently a gender gap within the manufacturing sector and what do you think businesses can do to change this?

Linda: I think historically manufacturing has been viewed as being a very masculine industry and that takes time to overcome, in the same way that associated college courses for engineering, electronics etc are still heavily male subscribed.  I can only say from my experience and observations,  that often women need to juggle work and family, and by offering flexible working hours etc, we’ve been able to appeal to more ladies, as we can fit in around their family commitments. Further to this by encouraging training for qualifications we’ve managed to attract and keep some great younger women and our aim is to keep encouraging them to develop their skills through training to be able to grow them within the business.

What do you have planned for the year ahead in business?

Linda: Well, one thing I’ve learned over the years is that we can’t stand still and rest on our laurels. This last 24 months, especially, has shown that life can change in a heartbeat, that to survive we need to be able to adapt quickly. We’ve been lucky to have got through and we’ve been bringing out new products to appeal to a wider market to keep us relevant and interesting. I’ve now got to build on that, improve, hone and tweak so our range is constantly evolving and improving.  Our communication with our supporters and customers has to become better and better,  we must continue to listen to them and actually ask them what they would like next. So I suppose the answer to your question is that this next year is all about continuing to evolve and adapt. Oh, and I’m now part of a small team who have launched a charitable chocolate brand, created for the sole purpose of employing those who find it difficult to access employment due to struggling with addictions and subsequent life choices – It’s looking like another busy year ahead!

To find out more about the Choc Affair team, their story and values in business, click here.