An insight into the journey of a self-made woman.
The Food and Drink industry is one of the largest sectors in Scotland. It employs 47,000 people (26% of the Scottish manufacturing workforce) and it is estimated that the industry will need 41,900 new recruits by 2029.
Diageo is a key player in the industry accounting for 10% of all UK food and drink exports. The company has been recognised in the 2022 Bloomberg Gender-Equality Index (GEI) – tracking the performance of public companies committed to disclosing their efforts to support gender equality through policy development, representation, and transparency.
This February, we spoke with Sara Cooper who works in manufacturing at Diageo. Sara is based in Leven, Scotland, and currently holds the position of Packaging Team Leader. We spoke about her role, what a typical day looks like, and how she managed to move her way up over the years. She discusses how her mindset, determination, and eagerness to learn, along side a supportive working environment, have been crucial factors to driving her career progression.
How did you enter the Food & Drinks industry? And why did you choose to work at Diageo?
I first applied for a role with Diageo via their careers website. The role was more system and admin based which fitted with my previous experience. I decided to work there because Diageo has always been known as a great place to work with great benefits and opportunities. We produce so many big brands – it makes you proud to be a part of it!
You work in manufacturing. If you had to choose one word to describe it, what would it be?
Complex – every day is different which is the best way to learn.
Has your perception of the industry changed since you started working?
Engagement, ownership, and autonomy have changed over the years as management are no longer solely responsible for making decisions and overseeing operations, with much of this now coming from the shop floor up. This creates a sense of pride that can be felt at all levels and it has the benefit of leveraging everyone’s unique skills.
Can you describe your current role and what a typical day looks like?
In my current role, I am responsible for two of our packaging line teams at Leven. First and foremost my main responsibility is to ensure that everyone goes home safe every day. Health and Safety is an embedded culture for all employees at Diageo, and we all have responsibility to ensure procedures are followed. Another important aspect of my role is to ensure we deliver customer demands to a high standard, as this is an essential driver for performance.
A typical day in the role will involve daily tier meetings and coaching with my teams, engaging with stakeholders from other departments such as Line & material planning, Engineering, our Quality teams and Health & Safety representatives. I review the line performance with the equipment owners, carry out root cause sessions to address any issues we may have had and look at potential means we can improve our processes and ways of working.
The role can vary in a day from proactive to reactive work which is what I really enjoy – it’s a fast paced environment and I’m always learning something new!
In the past few years, you have had different roles within the business. How did this experience contribute to your career development?
My previous roles have been focussed on the set up, development and deployment of our products. It has helped me create a wide network of different stakeholders across the business. This also gave me a better understanding of the end to end process which can now be applied in my current role.
Do you find it difficult to accommodate work-life balance and caring responsibilities?
Diageo have a passion about people’s wellbeing and one of the great benefits on offer is flexible working – making it possible to accommodate a work-life balance. Another great benefit that was introduced in 2020 is the Equal Parental Leave policy, offering men as well as women 6 months fully paid parental leave with their family, leading the way on inclusion!
What are you the proudest of when reflecting on your professional career?
I am proud of my development and my growth within the business, starting with no manufacturing experience or qualifications but using the tools, processes, and learning from great coaches have all supported this growth.
I am extremely proud to be part of the manufacturing process – seeing our finished products on the shelves or in bars gives me a real sense of satisfaction!
What advice would you give to women who are looking to pursue a career in manufacturing but are not quite sure if this is the right move for them?
Go for it! Manufacturing has came a long way over the years, I think it used to be perceived as a male dominated sector however that’s no longer the case. Diageo champions inclusion and diversity and is focussed on maintaining their values for all employees. The Diageo website is a great platform of information for anyone considering this move.
At Equate Scotland, we work closely with employers to help with the attraction, retaining and progression of women in STEM. What do you think is critical, within the workplace, to enhance women’s career progression?
Equal opportunities for everyone and workshops providing information on the latest ambitions, strategies and learning options. For example, Diageo provides My Learning Hub which supports further skill growth and regularly hosts global webinars on useful topics to take learnings from.
Anything else you would like to add?
I would highly recommend Diageo as a place to work for everyone! The diverse culture and strive to be world leading in this area is clear to see. Everyone is made to feel like Diageo is their home.
Sara Cooper, Packaging Team Leader, Diageo
Global leader in beverage alcohol with an outstanding collection of brands across spirits and beer. We produce an outstanding collection of over 200 brands – old and new, large and small, global and local – that are enjoyed in more than 180 countries around the world. We have 27,650 talented people working together to grow our business and nurture our brands. We are committed to their professional and personal development, and ensuring that Diageo is a great place to work. We have a diverse and vibrant workforce. We look for people with a wide variety of personalities, experiences and perspectives to create a stimulating and rewarding working environment where everyone can flourish.
To find out more: https://www.diageo.com/en/our-business/who-we-are/
If you want to learn more about Supply and Manufacturing opportunities at Diageo, visit https://www.diageo.com/en/careers/ or get in touch with Alice at www.linkedin.com/in/alice-schirone for an informal chat.