International Women’s Day 2022
To mark International Women’s Day we interviewed the Nina Stefanova, Head of Operations at Bardsley England. Nina has told us all about her inspiring career and she hopes to motivate more women to aim high in the world of Agriculture.
A little about Nina
Hello, I’m Nina, I’m almost 36 years old and from Bulgaria. I am very excited and honoured to be taking part in International Women’s Day for Camellia.
Now where to start... In Bulgaria, I played Volleyball for 12 years at national level and I was Captain of the Team. This is where my ambitions started to grow.
‘I loved leading the team and I have aspired to be a team leader ever since.’
In 2007, when Bulgaria became part of the EU and like many, who wanted a better future for themselves I moved to England. I was 21 at the time and I did not know a word of English. I started my career at the lowest level, my first job was strawberry picking in Manchester. I then moved to Kent apple picking. I worked my way from fruit picking in the fields to working in the Pack House. I then achieved a Senior Line Leader position. As time went by, I wanted to progress further, even more so when I was told ‘a Bulgarian would never reach a higher level’. Knowing this, it made me very determined to push my career further and achieve the best for myself. In January 2017, I accepted a Production Manager position at Bardsley Farms. I was managing up to 500 people before progressing to Head of Operations.
A typical day at Bardsley
A usual day for me would be waking up, dressing and playing with my little ones before getting to work for 8am. Firstly, I have to work out how well we performed the day before, in time for our 9:30am meeting with all the heads of departments. I am responsible for four Planners, Packaging Manager, two Shift Managers, and the Warehouse & Logistics manager. Together we will try to predict the challenges for that day, checking orders, problem solving (if some orders cannot be met or there are any unforeseen issues). In the afternoons, I will start to plan the next day, the next week, next month and even the next season.
Are there more women in Agriculture now?
Within Bardsley I’d say, now there are a higher percentage of women in management roles than men, which is great! But I do not like to differentiate between male and female, it’s about who is best for the job. I feel more women need to believe in themselves and push themselves forward to get into a management position.
I have never been afraid to work hard. When I was growing up my grandfather would teach me to work on the fields during the holidays, 3 months every summer. When I came to England, fruit picking was what I knew best. I have a passion to know everything about growing, picking and looking after the fruits. I love a challenge and I don’t think any other industry is as challenging as agriculture. Yes, we can plan what fruits to plant and when to plant them, but we have no idea what plans the weather has and how the seasons will go! You never know which fruits will be popular that year or what variety of fruit they’ll be or even how much staff we’ll need to employ. Everything is based on forecasts.
As a woman in Agriculture, what challenges have you faced in your career?
I once had the opportunity to act as Production Manager, covering staff holidays etc. When the position became available, despite my experience and training the position went to a male. I believe, this was because there was negativity around employing a woman who may possibly want to start a family and take maternity leave in the future. Of course, this made me even more determined and I moved to Bardsley for the Production Manager position!
At Bardsley, it has been the first time in my career that I have been able to use ALL of my knowledge and I have been able to do lots more training. I was a Production Manager for 2 ½ years before taking maternity leave and starting my amazing family. I loved being able to spend time with my children, but I did miss work and I was keen to go back. I missed leading, training people and socialising with my team. I am very thankful of how supportive my partner is.
‘When I came back to work, just over a year later I had the opportunity to become Head of Operations, so here I am!’
Bardsley is very culturally diverse due to its seasonal workers, does your role allow you to ensure there is no bias or stereotype issues within your workplace?
Since moving to England I have learned many new languages. My native is Bulgarian, I can now speak English, Polish, Romanian, Russian & Ukrainian. Learning these languages has hugely helped me at my job. I can communicate with our staff, of which some are new to the UK and do not understand much English. The biggest challenge in my job is keeping every single person happy. I like to take them under my wing, as I see myself in them.
‘I try to understand and help everyone.’
Bardsley have recently joined the Camellia Group, do you believe this is a positive change?
Honestly, it has been the most challenging time and Camellia coming along was the light at the end of the tunnel. We are very pleased that Bardsley has been bought. The atmosphere in the office is much better, morale is up and my team are my best friends. I hope that we can continue to build our good reputation and have a very successful future, which I am sure we will!
What are your aspirations for 2022 and your future career?
I always like to put myself forward for any learning or training opportunities, I enjoy trying new things. Despite not having a degree or an expensive education I have been able to build myself a successful career. There is no limit to my ambitions and my aim is to be Operations Director within 5 years! I am very proud to tell my family of my achievements and be a role model to my children.
What changes do you hope to see in the agricultural industry during 2022?
At Bardsley we like to train our staff up through the business. Employers may start at a low level but we are quick to recognise their experiences and strengths, soon enough they will progress to a more senior position. I’d like us all to encourage our staff to move up and progress with their careers.