In a world where women are still campaigning for gender parity in the workplace, leading global hygiene company SCA – which manufactures household brands including TENA, Bodyform, Plenty, Velvet and Cushelle – is proud that half of its UK senior management team in the UK Consumer Goods Business Unit are female, making it a trailblazer in the British FMCG industry. 
 
This follows SCA’s innovative sponsorship of the only all-female team in the 2014-5 Volvo Ocean Race, which demonstrated the company’s commitment to empowering women to a global audience alongside the necessity of promoting gender parity. 
 
Ahead of International Women’s Day which takes place on March 8 2016, SCA Sales Director, Thea Roberts, shares her reflections on how women can overcome obstacles and succeed a little closer to home – in the workplace.   
 
What was your first job?
I worked in a department store in the school holidays, selling jewellery in a concession, so my career in sales started then. The area manager must have spotted some potential and asked me to stay permanently but at only 17 I decided that University was the right next step for me. I really enjoyed the buzz of selling something to someone that made them feel good and it was great fun helping them try things on and select something that they loved.
 
When did you join SCA?
I joined SCA from Mars UK on Feb 9th 2009 as a Sales Director for Consumer Tissue.
 
How did you come to be in your current role at SCA?
I was in my twelfth year at Mars and wasn’t looking for a move externally. However, when I was contacted about the role at SCA, what I heard piqued my interest and I was further drawn to the company the more that I found out about it. I met some of the people there and I liked the culture. It was a risk to leave a business that I’d enjoyed for such a long period of time, but I felt it was a calculated one, as I could see the opportunities and chances to develop at SCA both for myself and my team. So, I made the leap and have loved every moment!
 
Can you talk us through your day-to-day role at SCA?
I have a broad mix of internal and external customers that I need to provide a service to, the priority of which is my external customers, the UK’s retailers. I try to connect with our customers as a brand ambassador and demonstrate how SCA can add value to their business. Internally, my focus is to navigate the business through commercial waters whilst developing the sales team to ensure we are fit for the future. My day is varied and every changing. I work hard to be proactive and organised but need be flexible so that I can respond to ambiguity and change, which is plentiful!
 
What is the most important lesson you’ve learnt while working at SCA?
SCA is a great business and I am passionate about helping us become even better – but I’ve learnt that it’s necessary to pick your battles. It’s essential to prioritise what’s important and focus on that rather than trying to do everything well.
 
What makes SCA different in terms of gender parity? 
Statistically, SCA can be very proud that within the UK Consumer Goods Business Unit, 50% of the senior management team are women and I think that is unusual in FMCG. Functionally, at all levels, I still think that there is more work to do regarding where parity amongst particular functions. For example in Sales, the commercial world can be quite combative, something that would traditionally be seen as quite a masculine trait. But I see no reason at all why women can’t excel in these kinds of roles and indeed many do.
 
Why would you encourage women to work at SCA?
I would encourage anyone to work at SCA, not just women. We have a fabulous culture and there are opportunities to develop your career here. I would say that there are a lot of successful women within SCA at all levels and as such, any women joining SCA would be surrounded by great female role models.
 
What does SCA do to promote women working in the organisation?
We are a very balanced organisation already and encourage diversity across the group. From a personal perspective in 2015, I organised a “Women in Business” forum internally, which was created to encourage female networking, idea sharing and the opportunity to hear from invited speakers from the world of business that had succeeded in and excelled in their fields.
 
What advice would you have for girls and women looking to succeed in the workplace? 
I think that the biggest paradigm shift in my own development  that gave me the platform to succeed, was understanding my own strengths and believing in myself – and not needing someone else to tell me what I was and wasn’t good at. So, I would say to all women (and men) – develop your inner confidence. I think that comes from knowing yourself and what you are good at. Understanding your own limitations. Listening to your inner voice and challenging those demons that can be self-limiting– conquer these and you can do anything.
 
What do you think the number one thing holding back women in the workplace is?
I think that’s potentially two fold. Businesses have perhaps subconsciously sent the message that in order to succeed at high level you must sacrifice something in your personal life or goals. It’s also possible that as women, we have subconsciously accepted that situation as a “truth” and perhaps don’t challenge it enough.  Imagine a world where it is possible to have success and achieve high levels goals in our personal and professional lives – that’s what we should all strive for – imagine what we could we achieve if we knew we could reach our personal best an still have a balanced life?
 
How important do you think International Women’s Day is in conveying messages about gender equality?
This is the first time that I’ve head of International Women’s Day and I very much welcome anything that starts the dialogue about gender parity between colleagues or friends, be they male or female. Disparity of any kind has no place in the workplace and anything that helps us re-assess whether we are being the best we can be – regardless of gender or anything else – is a good thing.
 
Who is your female role model? 
I have a big interest in sport, so I look to sport in particular for role models. There are several amazing females in sport and I’m particularly inspired by Mary King, who in her 50’s, still completes at in equestrian 3 day eventing – a high risk sport in arguably a “man’s world”.  To be successful in that field means overcoming the ultimate confidence issues, as getting it wrong can have disastrous consequences.  In that sport, managing the inner voice and inner demons is critical and that has a very transferable application in business.
 
Read more at http://www.sca.com/en/uk/Media/Blog/ and join the conversation on Twitter using the hashtag #PledgeForParity.
 

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