On International Women's Day - Say hello to Joanne Ibbitson


It's International Women's Day on Monday 8 March this year and the theme is 'Choose to Challenge' as from challenge comes change.

We chose to seek out and celebrate the achievements of some of the women we know. First, we caught up with city centre business owner Joanne Ibbitson who runs Ibbitson's of Sunderland from Jacky Whites Market.

She explains that it is a third-generation family business, initially started by her paternal grandmother in the 1920s. After the war, her father gave up a marine engineering career and bought a permit which gave him permission to sell £8 of meat every week as meat was rationed throughout the war. So from this very small beginning, he built up a business which consisted of two factories and fourteen shops and supplied national companies such as Wall's and Findus. He was one of the largest employers in Sunderland.

At the beginning of the eighties, he sold the factories and reduced the number of shops. In 1986, after working in Belgium for eight years, Joanne returned home with her husband and young baby and started work in the business. In 1999, her father sold the remaining shops but kept the stall in the market to give him an interest in his retirement. Joanne went to work at Newcastle University. When her father died in 2002 and, after a couple of years of deliberation doing both jobs, she decided to give up her university career and return to work full time in the business.

Joanne acknowledges she is lucky to have a very talented manager with whom she works very closely. She admits Shaun has a wonderful palate and is responsible for all of Ibbitson's Great Taste award-winning products. And as they are both passionate about food and animal welfare, they commit to sourcing ethically reared meat where ever they can.

What does International Women's Day mean to you?

It is a celebration and a reminder of how far women have come in my lifetime.  When I was young, the expectations of our parents for their daughters were really quite low. I attended an all girl's independent school whose only career advice for those who didn't go to university was to become a teacher or a nurse.  I fell into a bi-lingual secretarial course for want of not knowing what to do, which eventually led to me working in the press office at the military HQ of NATO.  It's wonderful to see my daughter and her friends enjoying brilliant careers - they are doctors, lawyers, travel writers, musicians - a complete turnaround from what was happening in the sixties and all thanks to the women's movement which was in its infancy when I left school.

Are there any particular barriers or obstacles you feel you've faced within your career?

Only with my father, who was a firm believer that men were superior to women where work was concerned - he was definitely a man of his time!

Are there any aspects of gender inequality that you would like to see challenged and changed?

There is still a huge amount of progress to be made for working mothers. My daughter had to give up her dream job because she couldn't make it work around childcare - no woman should have to make those choices, especially when the majority of working fathers continue just as they did before their children were born. Shared parental leave, properly subsidised childcare and flexible working need to be encouraged and promoted wherever possible. In a way, the pandemic may have pushed progress on this forward, and I hope that it can be one upside to the last horrifying year. 

What are the most effective ways to counteract the negative stereotypes of feminism, especially in the workplace?

I am not a fan of militant feminism in the workplace or anywhere else which I believe makes for an atmosphere of confrontation between the sexes. I try to encourage an atmosphere of mutual respect, coupled with the ability to do one's job to the best of one's ability which is, in my opinion, the best way to put an end to negative stereotypes of feminism.

If you could pass on one piece of valuable advice to women aspiring to be in a role like yours, what would you say?

Be confident in your own abilities and choose your staff well.  

If you have the opportunity this week choose to challenge inequality, call out bias, question stereotypes, and help forge an inclusive world in support of International Women's Day.

Choose to challenge


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