“Collaboration Not Competition”: An Interview with Mecca Ibrahim, Co-Founder of ‘Women In the Food Industry’
Here at Forward Fooding, we thrive on collaboration, and strive for equality. It was therefore a genuine honour to be able to chat to Mecca Ibrahim, co-founder of Women In the Food Industry, and hear the story behind her company, her take on female start-ups, and learn about her top tips for how women can empower themselves and others.
What incentivised you to set up Women In the Food Industry?
I used to run social media and marketing for Great British Chefs; in the last few months I was there, I noticed a kind of ground-swirling around women in the food industry. The #MeToo movement was in prominent discussion after the accusations against Doherty had come to light, and there was more and more talk around what hardships women faced within the food-focused workplace. I was also in a group at the time where we were reading and chatting with Asma Khan about her new book, and I remember her saying to me: ‘there’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women’. Everything around me kept opening my eyes more and more to how wide the definition of the food industry was, and how women were being marginalised and were struggling for equality across the entire breadth and depth of that space.
My co-partner, Janie Ash, and I were sat down discussing this issue over dinner, and we decided to (almost on a whim), create a twitter account for Women In the Food Industry. We didn’t even have a website. I just followed some people I admired…and people started to follow us back. Really influential women. I twigged then that this space was, and had been, needed by women in the food industry for a very long time. We set up six events in the build up to International Women’s Day, and they were a big success and each very different in its own right. Since then we’ve hosted more and more, and started a podcast, and it’s become this gorgeous community of women who’ve had enough, and want some change.
What change do you think needs to happen?
The change that needs to happen is equality; I’ve always been the first to say that we are all about collaboration and not competition. No, we don’t hate men. No, our events are not just for women. Equality is not a pie — it’s not as if giving someone a slice will mean there’s less for others. We can all have equality. What frustrates me potentially the most is that what we’re striving and pushing for is the same thing the Suffragette women were tying themselves to railings for, and jumping in front of horses for, over a hundred years ago. Still women face sexist comments. Still they’re not taken seriously. Still they’re struggling to get funding.
What I’d really love to see is proactivity on all sides; I was absolutely guilty of passive feminism before, thinking that if I wasn’t actively doing harm, I was doing good. So quickly I’ve realised the vital importance of banging the drum for women, championing them, actively helping everyone see what successful women are like. Showcasing powerful and brilliant women normalises female success, which I think for a long time has been something society in general has dampened for fear of being too revolutionary. Take Renée Elliott, founder of Planet Organic. She’s this bold businesswoman, who brought organic out of the niche, and she’s been doing it since 1995. And for years I had no idea Planet Organic had a female founder. I totally admire her, and my aim for Women In the Food Industry is to have amazing women like this showcased for others.
What would your advice be to others?
For female food founders, I’d say to surround yourself with others. Every woman in the industry has at some point been mansplained to, had a sexist comment made at them, had their dedication to motherhood questioned…everyone has their own #MeToo movement they’ve dealt with. You are not alone. Surround yourself with positive people, people who have also made mistakes, people who understand. And for men, I’d say embrace feminism; it’s about equality, and equality issues affect everyone. Come to our events! I promise you that showcasing your support for empowered women only makes you empowered too.
So where can we find this network of supportive people within the community?
You can meet these people online, and digitally network, or you could meet them in person at events such as ours. We’ve currently got an early bird discount to join the brand new membership area of our website. Ours is a pioneering initiative —we’re creating a community where all women in the food industry can come together to chat, communicate and collaborate. It’s currently 25% off so signing up today will give you access to that super supportive network of women, as well as discounts off events, free tickets to members only events, discounts, loads of opportunities within the industry…we’re really excited for it and can’t wait to launch at the end of August. Feel free to join today here!
Thank you so much for speaking to us! It’s clear that community and equality are vital within the food industry, particularly within the start-up world.
Forward Fooding’s community of start-ups is one which we aim to showcase and foster, providing entrepreneurs with stories such as Mecca’s, so they can see that against the statistics, more and more women are pushing against patriarchy in the system. If you’d like to join that community, and see what connections Forward Fooding could offer your start-up, feel free to get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org! You can also add your company to our FMCG trends section on our platform to get free visibility within our corporate and investors’ network here.
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