In the third of our Profiles in Leadership, where we highlight women who are playing a key leadership role in the grocery retail and associated sectors, Checkout talks to Lorraine Butler, managing director, CMP Ireland.
Lorraine joined eircom, now eir Business, in 2002 as an Account Manager for business customers. She remained with the company for 14 years, steadily progressing up the career ladder until she was leading the entire eir Business customer unit as Director of Business, Enterprise and Government Markets.
“My team designed, sold and implemented the IT and telecoms infrastructure that underpins business operations for many Irish business and government bodies today,” she says.
“My time in eir Business allowed me to do what I love most – working with customers to help them grow their business. eir was a brilliant organisation that gave me an amazing career and opportunity.”
While her own career has never been blighted by gender challenges, Lorraine noticed early on in her working life that many of her colleagues and customers were having difficulties.
“In my first role as a Director, I was the only female on the board and this reflected the business landscape that my customers were working in, with most senior roles being carried out by men,” she said.
“I decided to set up the eir Women in Business Network with a colleague Alice Tolan, and with sponsorship from the now CEO of eir, Carolan Lennon. Our eir Business Diversity Group was open to men and women and we worked to create awareness of the benefit of a gender balanced workforce. My own management team had a 50/50 gender split where people were appointed by merit, but with a conscious effort to create a more balanced and inclusive playing field.”
Leaving eir was a difficult decision, but Lorraine says that she couldn’t pass on the opportunity to run the Irish arm of a global organisation.
“CPM provide sales and service teams for some of the world’s largest brands, both in Ireland and globally,” she added.
“Growing sales for our clients is what we do and we work in partnership with our clients to do this. We operate a ‘people supported by technology philosophy,’ so developing best in class sales technology is always on our agenda.
"For example, our most recent innovation, Shopt, is a digital sales representative, the first of its kind in the Irish market, that allows retailers and brands communicate to retail owners messages that would otherwise be communicated in person by a sales rep. Local retailers are rewarded for taking up offers on the app via cash rewards, similar to premia/free stock that a physical sales rep may provide.”
Looking back on her career to date, Lorraine cites three rather impressive milestones.
“Securing my first directorship role was a big personal milestone and it was a role that I didn’t believe I was ready for when it arrived,” she said.
“I was a couple of layers below director level with a sense that I could apply for a directorship role in, maybe, five years, so I will always be thankful to my managing director Ronan Kneafsey for seeing my potential before I did and giving me the opportunity. I was the only woman on the board and, at 29, I was significantly younger than my colleagues, but our team learned and grew together and achieved some amazing success.”
Meeting Sharon Yourell Lawlor, Frances Higgins and Paula Conlon and setting up Todays Women in Grocery (TWIG) was another major career milestone that also helped Lorraine to get to know the retail industry.
“These amazing women, together with our TWIG committee, who have since grown to include other amazing women, have been a huge support while I built up the CPM Ireland business,” she said.
And after four years in CPM, Lorraine won the CEO of the Year award at the Image Business Awards.
“That was a really proud moment for me as it recognised that the business was moving in the right direction,” she added.
When it comes to the women in business that Lorraine most admires, she cites Carolan Lennon, CEO of eir, Louise Phelan, ex CEO of PayPal, and Debbie Byrne in An Post, as well as TWIG leaders such as Sharon Buckley, Suzanne Weldon, and Kari Daniels, “whose support for gender balance is inspiring and gives confidence to those rising through the ranks that success is possible.”
She advises young women who are keen to advance in their careers to keep an open mind about all opportunities that come their way. “The path up the ladder is not always straight forward and sometimes you have to take a sideways step before stepping up,” she said.
“Building a network of people that you can learn with and from is crucial on this journey. And remember, ‘you are always being interviewed,’ so always make a good impression, ensuring that you have sponsors speaking positively about you while you are not in the room!”
Pay and Conditions
Lorraine says that the level of income on offer in retail, compared to other sectors, particularly
at retail store and field sales level, makes entry level retail roles unattractive for women. “As a result, the gender mix in FMCG at entry level is predominantly male dominated,” she says.
“Many of the leaders in FMCG started at the ground level. Unless we make it attractive for women to join the FMCG sector at the ground level, women will not get the opportunity to rise through the ranks and this will hinder the creation of a gender balanced boardroom," she said.
As an outsource sales agency, we are highly dependent on the funding from our clients to be able to fund resources to support diversity initiatives in the workplace. We are working closely with our clients to try and address this challenge.
While it is vital that budgets are optimised, not investing in gender supportive initiatives, such as maternity leave, will never change the dial in improving the gender balance in retail,” she added.
Lorraine reports that CPM has achieved 100% parity on gender pay and its board is 50/50 gender balanced. “We live a coaching and mentoring philosophy as part of our day to day operations,” she said.
“Supporting our people to take the next step on the career ladder is a fundamental KPI for our managers. Taking time off for maternity leave is celebrated, with supports put in place to ensure that people have the opportunity to put their names forward for promotions while they are on leave - and the role is held open until their return, if they are deemed successful. Also, for staff whose partners’ employers agree, we offer to split maternity leave between both partners, so that it isn’t always one person who has to take the time out of work.”
CPM have implemented incremental supports for families going through fertility treatment.
“This ensures that people have the freedom to go through this challenging experience without the additional strain of worrying about the cost of taking time off and about keeping this hidden from work,” she said.
“CPM value equality and diversity across gender, age and ethnicity, and our organisation is all the better for embracing this. The female workforce aged 50 to 64 has grown by 50% in the last 10 years and we work actively to support this demographic who need support just as much, if not more, than the younger generations,” she adds.
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