Empowering Female Bakers: Celebrating International Women’s Day 2024

International Women's Day - Supporting Female Bakers

Friday 8 March 2024 is International Women’s Day and we have been talking to three inspiring and successful female bakers, Morgan Clementson (MC) (Puratos), Keva Freeman (KF) (Sucre Patisserie), and Imogen Fearon (IF) (Choquette) about why we should celebrate it, their baking careers, and their inspirations.

International Women’s Day is a global celebration of the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women. For us here at the NBIA it’s about empowering female bakers and a great opportunity to be proactive regarding gender parity and while recognising female bakers in the Australian baking industry. What are your thoughts on why it’s important to celebrate International Women’s Day?

MC: “This year International Woman’s Day is focusing on ‘Inspiring Inclusion’. This is especially important to me as all women should be empowered. We all need a sense of belonging and to feel relevant. I believe that regardless of race, age, faith, body image, and ability, all women should all be able to follow their dream and work in an inspiring and inclusive environment wherever that might be.” 

KF: “Women have faced a lot of adversity in history and have had to fight very hard to be in the position we are in today, so I think it’s great to celebrate and acknowledge the hard work of the women before us and all of the women to come who are still fighting for equality.”

IF: “There is still a very relevant gender gap which is continually made worse by not taking the time to acknowledge women everyday. International Women’s Day provides a platform to raise awareness about gender inequality and advocate for women’s rights, in a way that is significantly harder to be ignored by any gender. It emphasises the importance of creating a world where women have equal opportunities, rights, and representation in all aspects of life.” 

It’s no secret that the baking industry is light on female bakers. We love hearing stories about female bakers who have overcome the challenges and succeeded in becoming strong successful industry leaders. So, please tell us how you succeed in a male dominated industry?

MC: “I will be honest, starting out in the industry over 15 years ago it was very male dominated, I remember being told in my first year that I will never make it, because I was not strong nor fast enough. The way to succeed is to back yourself, get educated, and attain the hands-on experience to gain knowledge and in turn respect to be able to advance in your career.” 

KF: “It has been challenging at times, but I have always focused on the work and bettering my skills. When you can demonstrate knowledge and hard work, and can do your job effectively in any environment, your gender should be irrelevant.”

IF: “I have been fortunate enough to have worked most of my career in a female-dominated bakery. I started my apprenticeship with two women leading the kitchen. With leadership roles traditionally falling to men, from my own experience, I’ve witnessed that confidence is key and understanding my skills and qualifications in this industry are on par with men around me. And then from that, learning to not doubt my decisions, communicating issues and ideas when they arise and learning when to take the criticism and when to push back.” 

As an Australian wide community of bakers and pastrycooks we all need to participate in achieving equality for female bakers. It is reassuring to hear that there are many men out there who already participate. In your opinion, how can men help to achieve equality for female bakers in the baking industry?

MC: “When I first moved to Europe, it was evident that the bakery was much like a workshop, mostly with male conversations, derogatory comments, and worst of all only men’s uniforms to wear to work. It is only by accepting and embracing change in an industry that is of course a very old trade, that equality and a more female friendly workplace can prevail. 

“Traditionally being a baker has always been a men’s trade, this may have been due to the strength required to lift 50kg bags of raw materials, now thanks to OH&S initiatives, flour bags are restricted in weight and more “female friendly”. By implementation of advanced bakery machinery, the hard and heavy lifting has been taken out of the day-to-day labour-intensive job as a baker.” 

KF: “Recognise that different genders bring different qualities to the industry. We don’t all need to be the same, where someone is lacking in one area, they will have stronger skills than others in another area and vice versa. We can all learn from each other.”

IF: “Firstly, men need to recognise that there’s inequality in the baking industry. Half of the issue lies in the fact that we all as humans don’t like being confronted with our internal biases and will balk at the suggestion of necessary change. Once more men, in leadership roles, begin to understand and recognise the challenges that women face in the industry, effective change can begin to trickle down. Change starts at the top after all. 

“As a few basic stepping stones: recognising that there is a stereotype of dismissive or deprecating jokes, comments, and other mannerisms consistently made towards women in the baking industry, even if you don’t think you are part of the problem. Actively monitor what you’re saying and get feedback from other women about how you speak. Intentionally build trust between women you’re surrounded by, and from there, once trust is established, ask for feedback, be open-minded to implementing that feedback and actioning change. Ensure equal opportunities for all co-workers, regardless of gender.”

We all draw inspiration from around us, are there any female bakers who inspire you?

MC: “Of course, there are many women in the Australian Baking Industry that inspire me still to this day, such as Anna Polyviou and Brooke Stephen who were in their early careers at Balmoral Bathers when I started my apprenticeship. Since then, in my travels I have found further inspiration in eastern European countries such as Bulgaria, Estonia, and even Ukraine, where there are many powerful and strong women leading the industry.” 

KF: “There are many. Ksenia Penkina stands out for her beautiful, glazed creations. My former boss Helen McKechnie (Oban, Scotland) founder and owner of Oban Chocolate Company has also been a great inspiration in business.” 

IF: “I have met so many amazing and inspiring women in the industry, but my mother is the most inspiring to me. After many years working in the food industry, she decided to follow her passion and become a pastry apprentice in her early 40s. To have the courage and determination to follow her passion no matter how many setbacks she faced goes to show why she was, and still is the most inspiring woman in the baking industry for myself. She constantly encourages me to think outside the box and experiment with new foods.”

As individual female bakers at various stages of your careers what is the most important piece of advice you have received?

MC: “I can be funny here and say that in my apprentice days I was told ‘If you have time to lean, you have time to clean’, by none other than John Baker, Wollongong TAFE. It’s safe to say it has stuck with me over the years. However, if we want to talk career wise, I was told very young to ‘always keep my mind busy’, hence why I find further education and professional development so important.”

KF: “There’s been a lot, but I was told to ‘keep learning and work hard’, which led me to continually pursue new opportunities, including working as a pastry chef in three different states in Australia and in three different countries in Europe. It’s one of the best things I ever did for my career, and I had an amazing time doing it.”

IF: “It’s so simple but, be bold. Don’t be afraid to try new things and fail. The only way to learn is to fail and try again. Keep persisting no matter how tiring it might seem. And always drink at least three coffees a day.”

Finally, do you have an inspiring message for females thinking about joining the industry or female bakers already on the career path?

MC: “Dare to dream, dare to be different and always, I mean always iron your Chef Uniform. If someone had told me when I was an apprentice that I would have had the experiences over the past 15 years of my career I would never believe them. Dream big and back yourself, you never know just how far you can get.”  

KF: “If you are starting out in the industry, you love it and it’s your passion, don’t let anyone convince you otherwise. If you are in an unsupportive workplace, find someone outside of work who can inspire and support you, a mentor. Keep learning and developing your skills – no one can take them away from you and most importantly clean as you go! It’s a wonderful industry and so diverse, it can take you all around the world and give you amazing opportunities and experiences if you want it to.”

IF: “You are the future of baking. Embrace your creativity, follow your passions, and share your delicious creations with the world. You are remarkable.”

Well done to all the female bakers out there, we celebrate and appreciate you. Here at the NBIA our motto is For a thriving baking industry. We are proud to support an industry that is evolving to meet the challenges of inequality and encourage you to do the same.