“Gender Equality Today for
a Sustainable Tomorrow”

Grainne Carberry, FoodSpace Director


This year has brought about many changes for me professionally.

Adapting to a new way of working through online communications, while navigating the significant COVID health related challenges that could so easily derail a company striving to be the most forward thinking catering company in relation to sustainability, have presented many challenges throughout this past year.

These changes of course, in their essence, were significant in terms of FoodSpace culture and how we want to do things.

There were too many innovations and ideas to list implemented to overcome these challenges, so I prefer to focus on the professional environment that was fostered within FoodSpace, which facilitated and created the space for positive and effective change. The willingness to embrace change was the key enabler in ensuring that we could continue to advance our sustainable agenda and ethos. This willingness to embrace change at all levels within our company, displayed the adaptable leadership styles that are espoused every day by FoodSpace and Apleona and are vital for progression.

Maintaining an unbiased mind-set and retaining achievable expectations of people is an attribute towards which all leaders must aspire. People always have the knack of surprising us, mostly when we least expect it, but when we need it most. I have found this to be especially true during this last challenging year plus, whereby the success of FoodSpace was solely down to all of our people involved and their tenacity and drive in making the company work.

FoodSpace and by extension, Apleona have proven to be the most progressive and adaptive company whom I have been lucky enough to be associated with. Loyalty, respect and the willingness to embrace change are age old leadership principles, however, they are rarely seen in action. Placing sustainability above all other business factors is not easy, but is imminently achievable through understanding, patience and foresight from leaders in key decision making positions. Implementing long lasting sustainable practices in catering requires the drive and passion of leaders who believe in the immeasurable benefits that come with these practices.

Sustainability is key to the future of the food industry, the food system and our planet. For so many years, companies have green washed sustainability as a buzzword, without really contributing to fixing our food system. At FoodSpace we deep dive into everything, we look at our entire food chain, how we can improve on everything that we have always seen as the norm. Once we have identified and improved, it is about making this improvement the new norm.  While local and seasonal Irish food is always a priority we also have to remember that the food chain is global. At the centre of the food chain is farming. Reducing carbon footprint, food air miles and also ensuring that our entire food chain is farming centric is vital in establishing and maintaining sustainable practices. At FoodSpace, we strive to further enhance these practices through identifying and supporting female led farms, a practical example of this is how we use coffee beans from a farm run solely by women. Sustainability and diversity must be viewed as partners who make each other stronger, more durable and interoperable.  

Apleona has facilitated and embraced a cultural change within leadership circles, whereby a diversity focused ethos has been created that encourages and facilitates development from within. Experience has taught me that development of leadership potential within any organisation requires understanding, collaboration and to always think outside of the box. Maintaining open and diverse viewpoints and mind-sets have allowed FoodSpace and Apleona to flourish as a company, while recognising that there is always more than can be done in this regard. 

Over the last few decades Ireland has become a diverse, multicultural society, the first to legalise same-sex marriage by popular vote, and one that considers diversity important as to how we do business. We at FoodSpace find that by being inclusive, our company is set up to become more diverse in the long term, providing for many varying and diverse perspectives. It allows employees to bring their “whole selves to work”, allows for concentration on organisational goals, while alleviating the fear of being harassed or excluded. Employees feel supported and enjoy being at work, thereby making them more productive

In order to challenge ourselves to progress our value of diversity, other important points that we remain extremely aware of are unconscious bias and organisational culture, both of which can potentially impact upon recruitment, retention and sense of belonging. It is important for us as leaders to ask our staff what they need and to truly listen and to embrace change where necessary. Everyone needs to be part of the conversation. People want to be part of a business that aligns to their values, where they feel they can contribute and have a say in decision-making while remaining their authentic selves at work. We have created this within our culture.

Diversity should not be viewed as a “nice to have”, but rather as a strategic imperative that leaders must consider. It is both an enabler and a force multiplier. Diversity is a process, constantly evolving and improving, as should we all.  Education, understanding and openness are key in this regard.

Having a more diverse element within the Apleona and FoodSpace workforce has proven to produce a more effective and resilient dynamic. It leads to better problem solving because we embrace a multitude of diverse approaches, which prevents against barriers to progress, such as group think.

Creating a diverse work environment in turn creates a sense of belonging, which has provided us with a competitive advantage, as this ethos fosters engagement, increases emotional wellbeing and ultimately positively impacts performance.

Bearing in mind our ethos’ of diversity and sustainability, as well as the associated importance of effective leadership in creating the “right” working environment for our ethos to flourish, I want to encourage all women to simply think hard about what they really want to do and more importantly, how to achieve that. Don’t accept negativity and never stop striving to be the best. Know that there are excellent workplaces and environments out there – but you can’t wait for or expect them to come to you. My experience has taught me that there are mostly progressive, supporting and adaptable workspaces out there, but more importantly, there are people within these workspaces who possess the ability to seek out and identify the “right people”.

Strive to be one of the “right people”, but more importantly strive to be yourself. Make sure that International Women’s Day shouldn’t be a one-day celebration. Equal voices and gender equality is important every day!