Yolanda Coughlan Interview IWD 2020 - Crowe Ireland

Interview with client Yolanda Coghlan of Coghlan’s Bakery for IWD 2020

Yolanda Coughlan Interview IWD 2020 - Crowe Ireland
Yolanda Coghlan of Coghlan’s Artisan Bakery 
To mark International Women’s Day 2020, we are featuring women in leadership roles.

In this series we celebrate the achievements of three women: two colleagues and a valued client. We ask them about the achievements they have had and the challenges they’ve faced. They share insights into what this year’s theme means to them and any advice they would have for women starting their career. 

In this second interview, we chat with Yolanda Coghlan from Coghlan’s Artisan Bakery, a long-standing client of Crowe.

Tell us a little bit about you and your career.
Coghlan’s Artisan Bakery is a family-owned and managed artisan bakery that myself and my husband Brendan founded in 1988. We produce an extensive range of burger buns, baps, brioche buns and pastries for restaurants, food services and supermarkets.

Brendan comes from a family of bakers and worked in the family business, KC Confectionary (the had six shops back in the day in Dublin’s city centre) and my background is as an accounting technician. I met Brendan when I joined the business. 

We started out on our own with a little shop in Wexford Street, across the road from Whelan’s Bar, that had a tiny bakery in the back and in 1989 we opened our second shop in Ballyfermot. We started focusing more on wholesale business and needed a bigger bakery. So we closed the two shops and moved to Blackhorse Avenue, Dublin 7, where we stayed for 15 years before opening our purpose-built facility in Naas, Co. Kildare in 2008. 

We moved into this new facility just as the economy collapsed, and the difficulties we faced over the years that followed nearly closed the business. Just after moving our largest customer cut their order to less than a tenth of what it was. So we had to change tack quickly in order to survive. It is this flexible approach and an ethos of innovation that continues to drive our success to this day.

In 2016, after 28 years in business, we launched our own brand and built a website. Because we had built such a strong reputation through our customers (winning many awards for the products we supplied them), our own brand has taken off and we have grown the business extensively since, even exporting to the UK, Germany, Spain, France and Belgium.

The theme for IWD 2020 is “An equal world is an enabled world”. What does that theme mean to you and your workplace?
50% of our staff are female and about 90% are non-Irish nationals. In fact, most of our administration and a lot of our managers are female.

Owning this business with my husband I think gives our company an ethos of equality that carries right down to the factory floor. There is a strong sense of collaboration and commitment from all our staff that makes the business the success it is. We will not ask anyone to do something that we would not (or do not) do ourselves and that ethos is a strong enabler for the rest of the team. We celebrate our success with our employees and have many staff that are with us ten years or more.

Can you share any challenges that you have encountered in your career to date and how you overcame them?
Certainly before setting up in 1988, I would encounter some challenges with a more male-dominated work environment, where my male colleagues were favoured by certain partners.

Even in the early days of our business I would have been a little intimidated. Going to CEO conferences as a female business owner, you were very much in a minority and often the women would stick to themselves. But my mother brought us all up to be very strong women, to stand on our own two feet and speak our minds. So I would approach the men and talk to them about business, as a peer. As I started to go to more events and interact more, you get accepted as an equal and it built up my confidence.

How have you built confidence and/or resilience over your career? Do you have any practical tips you can share?
Working in a family business you tend to build a resilience together to the challenges you collectively face in the business.

But personally, my advice to anyone is to develop a deeper understanding of the business you work in. Be informed and get to know what is going on around you. By building up a wider understanding of the business your confidence grows. Knowledge is confidence!

According to recent research (McKinsey report 2019), the biggest obstacle women face is not necessarily the “glass ceiling” but the “broken rung” – the first step up to management. Do you agree? 
I don’t think that is true. I have not experienced it personally and neither have my daughters.

I think women face their biggest challenge when they leave a business temporarily to have children. They are nervous about when they go back – that they will be treated differently. Perhaps that concern is more prevalent in women that have children later in life, as they may be in a more senior position when they take their maternity leave. But in my experience I have not come across any issues at the start of my career.

Unconscious bias (the preference for or against a person, thing, or group held at an unconscious level) can really affect workplaces and can be a huge problem for organisations trying to be truly diverse. How do you recognise your own biases and have you any examples of unconscious bias you have witnessed?
Our approach has always been to look for the right attitude and enthusiasm from our staff. This has resulted in a very diverse workforce where becoming a member of staff is not based on anything other than someone having the right approach and be willing to work hard.

However, there can be bias-based behaviour within the workforce on the factory floor. 
With so many different nationalities on our teams we have to be aware of bias behaviour, this needs to be carefully managed by senior management to ensure we have a happy working environment.

Can you share any advice you would give to some now who is developing their career?
My advice is to constantly be learning and educating yourself so you stay up-to-date and informed with everything that is going on. The world is changing so quickly so keep doing courses, talk to people and stay curious! 

Find out more about Coghlan’s Artisan Bakery and the range of products they produce. Visit coghlansbakery.ie

Read other interviews in our International Women's Day 2020 series:

Crowe Ireland tax director Alison D’Arcy

Crowe Ireland tax director Alison D’Arcy“It is the culture of a workplace that allows you to be happy and effective as an employee. I believe that a key element in any positive workplace culture is a sense that you are enabled to make the best of your role and the environment around you.”

Read interview

Crowe Frankfurt managing partner Arzu Güven

Crowe Frankfurt managing partner Arzu Güven“I think an equal world leads to diversity, which in turn leads to an enabled world. Any team that is made up of the same stereotypes cannot appreciate the larger spectrum of possibilities, opportunities and risks. Such a team is handicapped because of its limited view and scope.”

Read interview