Today we celebrate women and their achievements. We are all aware of the challenge’s women have faced in both their personal and working life, which is why it’s essential to raise awareness of bias, and take action against equality – especially in the workplace. This will help create an inclusive world for generations to come.
There’s still a lot of work to be done. Figures from the Employment Data (2016) for Scotland show that the employment rate for women stands at 69.2%, whilst men are significantly higher at 76.9%. Of course, we have to consider the national changes in patterns of employment in the last couple of decades. Women want to work, and so the economy is adapting by creating more part-time opportunities, for example.
Figures for women in senior roles are even more disappointing. A recent report from the Scottish Feminist Organization found that Scottish leadership positions across politics, business, the public sector, the media, culture and sport, only 27% are filled by women. This is why we feel it is important to bring some positivity to these figures by sharing a success story of our own from this company.
Aileen Dick, our Operations Director set up the Cook School Scotland back in 2008. This was a great opportunity to get insight and advice on how to become a successful female entrepreneur:
HOW WAS THE COOK SCHOOL SET UP AND WHAT MAKES IT UNIQUE?
It started off from our family run business, Braehead Foods, and there was nowhere for Chefs and Suppliers to come together for training apart from Colleges. We also allowed students to come in and use our facilities for hospitality training through the week with Chefs, and for the rest of the week, we opened up to the members of the public who wanted to learn how to cook.
WHAT WERE YOU DOING BEFORE THE COOK SCHOOL?
I was at school. I worked part-time at a Dental Centre and was planning to go to college to study Dental Nursing. When I left school, I was working for Braehead Foods until my college course started, but I got stuck into the business and never left since. I have worked in every part of the business from delivery in vans, warehouse, accounts and telesales.
WHAT DO YOU DO FOR MOTIVATION & ENCOURAGMENT?
I love food. I love going out for dinner, or staying inside with a nice meal. I have always enjoyed cooking from scratch and I always make the meals at home. Having this passion for food motivates me to make my business a success. There are days when I’m feeling down or having a bad day, but I always have people around me at home and in the workplace who will give me encouragement and support, and I think that’s important to have.
WHAT CHALLENGES HAVE YOU FACED IN THE WORKPLACE?
I have been told I’m emotional, and I’m sure a lot of women have been told this. I am emotional, but it is because I’m passionate about what I do, I want things to go right and I care.
I also feel women need to be confident and assertive to show that they mean business so they get their point across. When I used to work in deliveries, most of the Chefs were men and it was different for me. I think women sometimes feel intimidated by men, and so they need to become more confident in themselves.
HOW DID YOU FIND THE SKILLS TO START UP A BUSINESS?
I learnt a lot from my dad running Braehead Foods growing up. What also helped was getting to know all the roles within the business. I have an appreciation for every role within the company – especially the van drivers; they have one of the toughest jobs. Working whilst going to college allowed me to gather the experience that was later utilised setting up The Cook School.
IS IT DIFFICULT TO BALANCE WORK LIFE AND HOME LIFE?
I don’t think I have met any mums who can say they have a perfectly balanced work and home life. I am lucky to have my mum and husband who are there to support me with the kids. I know when I am in the office, I don’t have to worry about the kids.
WOULD YOU LIKE TO EVENTUALLY TAKE A STEP BACK FROM THE BUSINESS AND FOCUS ON FAMILY LIFE?
No, I’m happy with the way things are. There’s only so much Blippy and Tractor Ted I can watch. When I come into work, I can get my mind into action and mentally challenge myself. I would love my children to see my business, and witness the hard work it takes to run it like I had with my dad.
HOW HAS THE PANDEMIC AFFECTED THE BUSINESS AND WHAT ARE YOU DOING TO ADAPT?
As lockdown happened, I gave birth to twins, and went on maternity leave. Thankfully the team have kept the business going by undertaking training, connecting through Zoom. We then came up with the Cook @ Home classes which have been a success, and it has completely opened up our customer base to UK wide. We also have Cook School in a Box, which allows our customers to enjoy a pre-prepared meal. Again, we ship across the whole UK.
WHAT ARE YOUR PLANS WHEN THINGS GO BACK TO NORMAL, POST COVID?
We are planning to do a mixture. I cannot wait to see our kitchen in full swing again and to have customers cooking with Stuart, but we will also continue our Cook @ Home classes too. It’s excellent for corporate events where staff are scattered all across the UK and get to interact and have a night out together on our Zoom classes.
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO SOMEONE WHO IS PLANNING TO START THEIR OWN BUSINESS?
Take as much advice as possible. Try not to take criticism negatively, instead, turn it into something positive. I would be lying if I said starting and maintaining a business is easy, but if you enjoy what you do, you are more likely to make it a success.
Long gone are the days when we were expected to stay at home and look after the children, society is adapting to our ambitions, and we can be whoever we want to be. Aileen’s story is one of many successes out there, and we hope that this will encourage women of all ages to go out and take the risk; whether that is starting up a business, following a dream, or to go for the sought-after senior role. Of course, there will be obstacles, but one thing we know for sure is that we are strong, adaptable and determined to overcome them.