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Women's work

With today marking International Women’s Day, we’re celebrating working women’s achievements by shining the spotlight on three successful females who firmly believe gender has not created a barrier to their career progression

Victoria Hopkins

As the MD at Hopkins, one of the leading British range manufacturers, Victoria Hopkins joined the family business at the age of 22, initially just to provide cover for a few weeks. She has an early memory of being told by her grandfather, who founded the business in 1957, that she would never work there – it was no place for a woman - and if she wanted to go into business he would open her a tea shop. Coming from a very long line of males, Victoria was the first girl to be born in five generations of the Hopkins family and the only girl out of seven grandchildren, yet she is the one who’s running the business, with all her cousins having professions outside the industry.

Was gender an issue when you started in the industry?

If it ever was an issue, I was blissfully unaware. Over the years there has occasionally been the odd comment or assumption that I’m the receptionist or ‘lady from accounts’, but I’ve just laughed it off. I’ve always believed in my own capabilities and have a very strong and determined mindset. I genuinely believe that success is borne out of the ability to do your job, not your gender.  

People are usually surprised when I tell them I’m the managing director of an engineering company, but actually that gives me a sense of pride because in a small way I’m challenging the stereotype.

Have you noticed a change in attitudes towards women in your workplace today compared to when you started?

Yes, absolutely. Women are more accepted and have changed the dynamic of our business. There are a lot more women who work in the business today than they did when I first started, and they hold a variety of roles. We recently had female member of staff who was working in an administration position apply for a role in the drawing office. She had no previous technical experience but she shone in her interview and got the job. All the men she works with have welcomed her into the department and go out of their way to help her. That wouldn’t have happened 20 years ago!   

What are the challenges facing women in the industry today?

I separated from my daughter’s father when she was six months old and spent nearly 10 years as a single mum. Single motherhood and running a business has been an incredible challenge and extremely tough at times, however, because of the issues I’ve faced over the years being a working mum, I absolutely get the need for flexibility and ensuring that my staff get a work-life balance. I’ve been lucky that I have a strong support network and that has helped with childcare if I’ve had to work away or had to work long hours.

Apart from that, I only see opportunities. The barriers to success that may have existed for women in the past just don’t seem to be there anymore - they're just perceived to be there.

Has your gender helped or prevented you from achieving or do you think it’s had little impact? 

That’s a difficult question to answer. I think in some ways it may have helped because I bring a softer side to the business but, at the same time, I’m a very strong character so I couldn’t be sure whether that’s gender or personality. Either way, my gender certainly hasn’t prevented me from achieving my goals.

How have other women treated you in the workplace? 

As an equal – because that’s what I am. I may be the boss but ultimately we are a team. I hope that I’m a good role model for what women can achieve and in some small way can inspire them to pursue their own personal goals.    

What’s your advice to women starting out in the industry today?

Go for it! Get a good support network (personally and professionally). Don’t let what you don’t know scare you – the best way to learn is through experience, good and bad. You will have knock backs, but pick yourself up, dust yourself down, smile and try again. Have a strong vision and the determination to make things happen. But, most importantly, don’t forget to look after your own wellbeing.      

Do you see more women coming in to the industry today?

Yes, I see a lot more women being promoted to leadership roles or starting very successful businesses. I also think it’s very important to give recognition to our peers - perhaps there is an opportunity for our industry to recognise the fantastic female talent that’s out there and celebrate their success.  

What’s the secret to being a successful woman in the workplace?

For me, success is founded on risk taking, confidence, determination, professionalism and respect for others.

Caroline Murphy

As a director of the five strong fish and chip shop chain Wetherby Whaler, Caroline Murphy has grown up with fish and chips as part of her DNA. Her earliest memories are watching her parents - Phillip and Janine Murphy, the founders of the Wetherby Whaler Group - in their shop in Tadcaster. Working alongside her dad in the shop from the age of twelve, the chance to grow the Wetherby Whaler brand coincided with the year Caroline left university. Although she never intended to enter the family business, she had the opportunity to take a pivotal role in developing a destination format on a ring road location in York. This turned out to be so successful that it resulted in the opening of a fourth branch in Wakefield three years later. It was at this point that Caroline was firmly entrenched in the business.

Was gender an issue when you started in the industry?

I have grown up with a strong mother, who was a key partner to my father in developing the business. As an equal partner and a role model in the company, she set the stage of gender equality, which transcended the culture of the business. As a result, it was a seamless transition for me.

In fact, as a 15-year-old, I remember our Wetherby branch being run by four strong females, with our now senior manager and integral member of the team, Mark Savage, always on his best behaviour!

Have you noticed a change in attitudes towards women in your workplace today compared to when you started?

Yes, absolutely and I think it’s timely to remember Briar Wilkinson, who went out of her way to recognise young talented people in the fish and chip industry, regardless of gender. As a result, she became a strong role model for all young, talented individuals.

I am also relishing my new role at the NFFF, which now has two females sitting on the Board, and this makes it possible to have an influence across the whole of the industry, as well as the Wetherby Whaler!

What are the challenges facing women in the industry?

By its nature, our industry has some inherent challenges and always will. For example, the unsociable hours and the physical nature of the business. However, there is definitely a focus on recruiting committed, talented and trustworthy individuals, regardless of their gender.

Has your gender helped or prevented you from achieving or do you think it’s had little impact?

Our business is as gender neutral as it’s always been. In fact, my sister and I are in full time director roles running the day-to-day operation of the business. Two-thirds of our senior management team are women, and I have seen an increasing number of women taking on management roles.

How have other women treated you in the workplace?


What’s your advice to women starting out in the industry?

Don’t let anyone or anything act as a barrier to what you want to achieve. There are many opportunities within the fish and chip industry for everyone.

Do you see more women coming in to the industry today?

Absolutely. Again this is demonstrated not only by the number of females we have working for us across the board but those making their up to senior management level.

What’s the secret to being a successful woman in the workplace?

Hard work, dedication, being proud of the industry we work in and wanting to constantly learn and develop.

Magda Ilioiu

Age just 23, Magda came to Scotland two years ago from Romania to work at The Real Food Cafe in Tyndrum, Perthshire. With a passion and an interest in the industry, she had never worked in a kitchen before. However, she saw this as a great opportunity to learn new skills and to show that women can manage the pressures associated with working in the kitchen just as well as men. This year, she proved this by coming second in the Drywite Young Fish Frier of the Year Competition.

Was gender an issue when you started in the industry?

Although I had some doubts in the beginning, with good training and education and lots of hard work and practice, I realised that I actually can do it and that I’m quite good. You need to be very focused and not allow yourself to panic when it is busy. I think that women may have an advantage because as well as caring about the quality of our food, we are often more organised.                                                


What would you say are the main challenges facing women at present in the industry

I think the biggest issue for women in our industry is the effort that you need to put every day to be seen to do as well. Also, men are naturally stronger and need less help with tasks which may require more strength. But this is not a disadvantage for me at The Real Food Café, because I feel I can ask for help at any time.    


Do you see more women coming in to the industry today?

Yes, I do and I think it is good that more women are coming into the industry. We are becoming more confident and independent, and are capable of holding our own in all situations. I believe that I have the same opportunities as my male colleagues and I certainly don’t think anyone is better than me just because they are male. I am now proud to say that I actually have some very good skills. In some areas I have developed skills that allow me to lead and help my colleagues, both male and female. I am sure that if you really want to achieve something, with hard work you definitely can, for sure.

What’s the secret to being a successful woman in the workplace?

Putting in hard work and passion every day. I’m really proud of what I’ve achieved so far. I’ve become the second best young fish frier in UK in a very short time - and you could say I’m the current number one female fish frier. When I came here in 2016 I knew nothing but, with a lot of hard work, I now have good skills and knowledge, and my colleagues respect me.

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