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Star Women panel talks leadership, mentorship and finding your voice

The importance of camaraderie, listening and promoting wellness at work were also discussed by this year's esteemed panellists

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“I may not be the loudest person in the room, but I know I can put together a great plan,” said Carolyn Hungate, a self-proclaimed introvert who was encouraged by a former manager to focus on her strengths: planning and organizing.

“That’s a leadership skill, use that,” the manager told her. And she did. Today Hungate is marketing manager and category team lead at The Clorox Company–and a 2019 Star Women in Grocery award winner.

Hungate and five of this year’s winners discussed some of the lessons they’ve learned throughout their careers during a panel session at the 8th annual Star Women in Grocery breakfast and conference hosted by Canadian Grocer in Toronto on Sept. 18.

Moderated by Tony Chapman, the panel also included Sophie Ruel, vice-president, commercial strategies at Agropur; Heidi Ferriman, vice-president, people & communications at Save-On-Foods; Anna Kolakowski, vice-president, merchandising, grocery for Super C Metro Richelieu Inc.; Tanja Fraser, director of sales at UNFI; and Jana Sobey, vice-president of merchandising, community, Thrifty Foods and Field at Sobeys.

Introvert or not, finding one’s voice in a work environment is an important challenge to overcome and a skill that can be developed over time. When asked what piece of career advice she would give her younger self, Ruel said: “Find your voice and speak up.”

“When you’re in situations where you’re in a group setting and you have the opportunity to speak your mind,” you should do so, she said; and understand you’ve earned a place at the boardroom table because your colleagues trust you and there’s value in what you say.

The topic of mentorship and camaraderie was peppered throughout the 45-minute session. When starting a new job, Ruel advised employees to make themselves visible and “surround themselves with coaches.”

Internal mentorship programs can make for a happier work environment and provide guidance for those who are seeking it, said Ferriman. “People with mentors come away with this fire under them, they’re excited and I think mentor programs can really benefit a company,” she said.

“If you build strong relationships as colleagues it helps you as they become leaders,” added Kolakowski. “There’s a sense of credibility you have with your teams.”

The industry is fraught with change, pressures are mounting, work-related stress is on the rise, and with it, concerns over mental health–“We’re seeing almost epidemic levels of mental health issues,” noted Chapman. But how do you move the needle?

It’s up to the employer to drive change and to “listen more than you talk,” said Ferriman, whose company, Save-On-Foods, promotes the importance of physical activity and self-care. “I think as leaders we have a responsibility to look after our people and that’s a big responsibility.”

Click here to see the full list and bios of the 2019 Star Women in Grocery winners.

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