Ahead of the Belfast Telegraph Woman of the Year awards, Asda’s Charlotte Elliott tells Jane Hardy why women are the bedrock of any successful business.
Charlotte Elliott (42), the Regional People Manager for Northern Ireland with Asda, lead sponsor of the 2012 Belfast Telegraph Woman of the Year awards, vividly remembers her first day working for the company in Northern Ireland. She’d been over here for a few years, and was expecting her second daughter.
“I was pregnant at the time with my second child, Annie, and had gone through all the nervousness with the first. My job was to report business progress and I was working for a new company, but they were absolutely fantastic. The company gave me everything I needed — standard time off for doctor’s appointments, but also made sure I didn’t leave too late and was not driving too far.”
As she says, those little things count, and it’s no surprise that the leitmotif in Charlotte’s career to date is making the workplace woman-friendly.
She was born in Staffordshire and after a management training scheme, worked in a department store in London. Charlotte says she won’t name it for reasons that immediately become apparent. “It seemed to me they hired women for looks rather than for ability. It wasn’t a family-friendly place, although admittedly trading hours weren’t so long then.”
Now Charlotte has a pleasant work-life balance, devising her own demanding timetable and living in Newcastle with Erin (8) and Annie (6) and her husband Gary. They met when, as she says, “our eyes met across a crowded produce stand,” — of onions, as it happens. Charlotte continues: “Northern Ireland is absolutely home now as I have two girls with broad Co Down accents. There’s a great family atmosphere where we live and I am quite involved with the school, being on the PTA board. Also we have a good network of friends”.
Although Gary also works in retail, in management for SuperValu, and they are commercial competitors, Charlotte states: “We are competitors at work ... and at home as well...”
Impressively, Charlotte has no help at home, although she says her daughters do some washing up and her husband shares childcare. As a girl growing up in the ’80s, Charlotte recognises Margaret Thatcher’s pioneering role, with qualifications. “She is a bit of a hero and she did show women can achieve the highest position but I didn’t agree with her politics.”
As part of her job, Charlotte is committed to improving employment for women. “We’re starting to roll out mum-to-mum mentoring, where women just back from maternity leave help women about to take it. It’s important to help employees make that transition. And we offer a lot of flexible working time — as a 24-hour operation, it’s easier.”
The company even has a hardship fund to help employees through the recession.
Asda also provides some all-important ‘me time’ so women, or men, can attend the first day of school, the nativity play or carol service and so on by just taking a day or half a day’s leave.
Ms Elliott is a real flag-waver for the Woman of the Year awards, as she believes in her gender. “Women are fantastic, we don’t get recognised enough for the everyday jobs. It’s important to recognise woman who get on with their lives while making it all happen.”
Charlotte is keen to point out the Asda board boasts three women, Judith McKenna, chief operating officer, company secretary Ellie Doohan, and Karen Hubbard, director of store proposition. “The Christmas sparkle, for example, is very much Judith’s department. This Christmas, customer service is crucial, giving that bit extra.”
Like many successful people, Charlotte lost a parent at a young age. “My mum Josephine Young died when I was 13, but I remember her managing the house, four children and volunteering — and it was all unrecognised.”
So how does this superwoman relax? “By doing mini-triathlons,” Charlotte says with a laugh. That’s a mere 30 lengths in the pool, a 5k run and 30k on a bike. She’d be a pretty good nominee for inspirational woman of the year.
a fair employer
- Asda opened in Northern Ireland in 2005, starting with 13 stores
- With the recent launch of Asda Portadown, there are now 16 Asda stores across Northern Ireland, one Asda Living store and 9 petrol forecourts
- The company has over 5000 employees, about two thirds of them female.
- Asda has two female board members and is committed to increasing opportunities for women at all levels of the organisation
- Finally Asda plays an important role in the local economy — £1 in every £5 is spent on locally sourced produce