Chloe Shakesby

IWD 2021: How the pandemic has taught distillery director Carmen O'Neal to "not sweat the small stuff"

For International Women’s Day 2021, Bdaily spoke to women across London about adapting to life in the pandemic.

Carmen O’Neal is the managing director of 58 Gin, a London based distillery.

She spoke to Bdaily about the impact of the pandemic, and how she hopes that workplace confidence in women is not lost.

As a woman, how have you personally adapted during the pandemic, and what challenges have you faced?

The main challenge for me was to push through the exhaustion that came with ensuring that our business survived the year. I would liken it to having a new-born child, no matter how tired you are you just have to get up and keep going! Driving into London, the country’s COVID-19 epicentre, to work while others were instructed to stay at home was a scary business. Ensuring not only my own welfare and job security but that of my team who are like my family really did take its toll, but I’ve realised how resilient one can be in times of crisis. Like so many others, the pandemic brought into focus what is important and to not sweat the small stuff.

How have you and your business supported women during the past year?

I’ve always been passionate about the benefits of knowledge-sharing and collaboration and the pandemic only served to emphasise this. When we pivoted production to hand sanitiser others wanted to follow suit and I was happy to advise others, including females within the industry how to go about it. When the pandemic hit there was very much a feeling of ‘we’re all in this together’, especially within the drinks industry which has been so hard hit over the last 12 months. I for one will ensure that this approach continues as we work to get back on our feet again.

What opportunities do you feel that the pandemic has created for women, if any?

The pandemic naturally allowed for flexible working everywhere. There was a time when the term ‘flexible working’ to accommodate childcare commitments and a work-life balance could indicate a less committed employee. Now, everyone has had a taste of plate-spinning work and parenting so there is a better understanding and appreciation for those that need to manage this ‘double-act’ as standard – flexible working does work.

In your opinion, has the pandemic highlighted any gender imbalances in business?

As much as I feel like men now better appreciate the role a working mother plays, sadly there has also been significant fallout from the pandemic in terms of females’ careers. Many women have lost or chosen to give up their jobs as the struggle of managing being an employee, parent and taking on a home school teaching role is just too much. When faced with this burden, many women will assume the ‘load’ and try to balance it all which is essentially impossible. I only hope that workplace confidence is not lost because of this and employers make the relevant allowances to support females and encourage them back into/within their existing roles moving forwards.

As we step into a post-pandemic business landscape, how do you think women’s roles in business may change?

I would like to see more females placed into positions of leadership. I have found through personal experience as well as observation of my peers and females in positions of governance that women, overall, operate incredibly well in situations of crisis. They have a natural ability to navigate turbulent situations by prioritising what needs to be done and when to keep the ‘cogs’ turning.

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