JO WHITFIELD co-op web

Jo Whitfield, CEO of The co-op, was one of the talented women mentioned this year

Women in food and drink have been celebrated as positive role models in Cranfield University’s 100 Women to Watch report.

The list, which features those in non-executive director roles across a range of industries, was fast becoming a respected reference point, said a spokesman for Cranfield University. Six of the women featured in last year’s list have taken on executive roles since.

Among the FMCG high flyers recognised this year were Jo Whitfield, CEO of Co-op Food, Kristin Wolfe, legal and corporate affairs director for Molson Coors UK & Ireland, and Lisa Attenborough, director of UK communications at Arla.

“It’s fantastic to be named in this list alongside so many talented women,” said Whitfield told The Grocer. “There is growing recognition of the role women can play throughout the retail sector and I’m proud that we are spearheading such forward thinking.”

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Attenborough, who previously held roles at Premier Foods and Marks & Spencer, said she had “often been inspired” by the other women recognised on the Women to Watch list.

“I see the benefits of diversity every day when different perspectives and experiences come together,” she said.

“And this isn’t just in the food production sector. According to Defra, there have been significant increases in the number of female farmers too. It’s crucial that women don’t just have the opportunities, but also the confidence to advance their careers beyond middle management.”

Wolfe, who has worked in the beer industry for more than 27 years in both the UK and US, added she had seen “real progress” in the number of women attracted to brewing and succeeding in key leadership roles.

“At Molson Coors’ UK operations, women hold key posts – including our vice president of supply chain and senior beer sommelier – which are central to our First Choice for Customers and Consumer agenda. Despite its traditional heritage, brewing today is a modern and progressive industry and we are fortunate to have so many talented female leaders and rising stars here in Burton-upon-Trent,” she said.

Spirits specialist Diageo, which is among the FTSE 100 companies with the highest number of women at the most senior levels, was also well represented this year, with the company’s HR director Mairéad Nayager and chief marketing and innovation officer Syl Saller both earning a mention.

“Diversity helps ensure a better, more balanced conversation in the boardroom. The impact that senior women as role models have on other women in the organisation is enormous, enabling them to believe ‘I can do that’,” said Saller.

She commended Cranfield for recognising and celebrating the value of female role models, emphasising talent as the key driver behind success.