Geraldine Casey, Tesco

16th September 2019

As part of our WMB Gender Diversity Ambassador series, Geraldine Casey tell us about her role at Tesco, her thoughts on diversity and her vision for the future.

Describe your current role at Tesco Ireland

I am an Executive Director in Tesco for the last 5 years with responsibility for the People & IT agenda.

What’s the size and scope of the operation?

Tesco is one of the largest private sector employers in Ireland; employing over 13,000 colleagues across 151 stores, distribution centres and head office. We are also one of the biggest contributors to indirect employment in the country, sourcing over 480 Irish food and drink suppliers and support 13,000 Irish farm families.

How important is it to have role models?

It’s hugely important. I believe that if you can identify successful women who are further up the corporate ladder, then that’s hugely empowering and encouraging. Personally, I’ve benefitted from different role models and mentors who have encouraged me at different stages of my life and career.   The retail industry is all about the people and in being adaptable, resilient and being able to work as part of a team to deliver for the customers.

Can you tell us about your career choice and journey?

I grew up in Cahersiveen in County Kerry and I have a Bachelor of Commerce degree from UCC. When I graduated, I joined Tesco through the company Graduate programme in 2001.  I always wanted to work in retail – I really enjoy the buzz of it, it’s fascinating. You see trends before anyone else; you see the psychology of the customer; it really is having your finger on the pulse. My first big job was to open Tesco’s new store at Tralee Square as Lead Manager in January 2003, then Mitchelstown as Store Manager in November 2003. I also spent time in Killarney Park – so I covered a lot of our stores in Cork and Kerry.  This experience was hugely important and I’m still in touch with my colleagues from these stores today.

It gave me a very strong foundation in terms of managing people and teams and in coaching and developing people and building culture. From there I became Area Manager in March 2008 and then Store Director in June 2009, before progressing to Operations Director. In 2014, I was appointed IT & People Director.

What motivates you?

The idea that I can be of some help and even provide a solution to someone’s problems really motivates me.

What aspects have helped pave your way to the top?

Communication is an essential skill in the modern workforce. Listening is so important. In my current role, listening to my colleagues and our customers and meeting their needs is one of our most important actions as a company. It’s interesting to see the public’s interest in the environment in the latest local elections for example and we have been taking so many steps in our business on being more environmentally friendly. Through our Little Helps Plan – we have set challenging targets that will deliver a step change in how much plastic waste we generate, and we are working hard to reduce the use of plastics through working with suppliers and by minimising plastic packaging in Tesco own label products. Our customers are telling us we need to do more. We recognise this, and we are challenging ourselves to indeed do much more.

How important is it to have other women visible at management level?

People see women as being more collaborative, more empathetic and good communicators. But it’s important not to overplay stereotypes in the workplace. Instead, it’s vital to have a happy marriage of skills and life experiences within a team — and gender diversity is central to that.

We’re one of only thirteen Irish companies to have been named a Best Workplace for Women. As a leading employer of women in Ireland, across our stores and office, to be recognised as so is hugely rewarding for me and our team.

How has Tesco evolved to accommodate the changing needs of its customers, and its employees? 

I’m proud to work in an organisation that is very gender diverse; with female representation on our board, plus over 50 percent of colleagues, both in head office and in stores, are female.

As such we’re a family friendly employer and we have support systems in place, including a role modelling and mentoring programme to encourage and empower all colleagues to develop in the workplace.

I believe gender diversity is very important for businesses today, not only because it leads to better decision-making and collaboration but also to a more diverse culture: all the things that lead to stronger performance.

It’s also important for recruitment and retention because businesses must utilise 100 per cent of the talent available to them and win the race for millennial talent. Plus, successful businesses must be representative of their customers.

How does Tesco attract and retain female talent?

We’re proud signatories of both the Diversity Charter Ireland and the 30% Club which help motivate us to continue to strive for the betterment of women in the workplace.

Mentoring and role modelling is important if we expect to grow and nurture not only existing female talent but new ones too. Mentor-ships are great for building personal brand awareness, but also help you progress along your career. It’s important that female mentors help both men and women to make sure the workplace is more diverse, leading to more innovation and creativity.

What do you believe are the biggest challenges facing Irish businesses?

The Grocery sector remains hugely competitive which is great for customers. We face unprecedented times and our customers are more demanding in the offer they seek. Being a sustainable business is very important to us, and we’re equally proud to be a good neighbour and support the communities we serve.

But at the same time, there’s great opportunity. At Tesco without question our colleagues are our most important asset and critical to our business. How we help them achieve better work life balance, fulfilling careers and that they see Tesco as a place where everyone is very welcome whatever their gender, ethnicity, beliefs, background and so on remains an overriding priority for us in what is unprecedented times of challenge but also a time of much opportunity.

What attributes should a person have to succeed in business today?

Confident, honest, positive, focused, decisive and inspiring.

Best piece of advice?

It’s no secret that there are fewer women at the top of global businesses – this could be attributed to women’s own lack of confidence or it could be ‘imposter syndrome’ – the idea that we really shouldn’t be there. It affects women more than it ever does men, so women really need the confidence to stick their neck out.