‘Its a constant challenge, but I try not to be superwoman’

Sandy Ruddock of Scarlett and Mustard in Earl Soham.

Sandy Ruddock of Scarlett and Mustard in Earl Soham. - Credit: Archant

One of Suffolk’s most successful businesswomen speaks out about the pressures that career women put on themselves

Sandy Ruddock and Rudi the Dog. Picture: SCARLETT AND MUSTARD

Sandy Ruddock and Rudi the Dog. Picture: SCARLETT AND MUSTARD - Credit: Archant

When the entrepreneur Sandy Ruddock used to used to go with her husband to meet business people, she recalls how they would always talk only to him at first. “Then, after a few minutes, he would say: “actually, the owner of the business is my wife, and they would do a double take.

“It was always assumed that I had a supporting role.”

Perhaps its an easy mistake to make. After all, of the 30 companies with the highest turnover in Norfolk and Suffolk, only one of them is run by a woman - Anna Dugdale, of RG Carter construction group. And in the top 10 of those companies, only 8.7% of board positions are taken by a female.

Challenging gender stereotypes is an issue that’s close to Mrs Ruddock’s heart, and she is delivering a talk on the topic next month as part of a Women in Business seminar for the New Anglia Growth Hub.

Sandy Ruddock of Scarlett and Mustard in Earl Soham.

Sandy Ruddock of Scarlett and Mustard in Earl Soham. - Credit: Archant

Mrs Ruddock runs a successful company, Scarlett and Mustard, based at Earl Soham, which produces dressings, sauces and marinades that are sold in more than 800 retail outlets. But when her husband, Julian Pollard, died suddenly last August while on a family holiday in France, it meant that Mrs Ruddock had to run the business alone, as well as manage five children, three dogs, two cats, and 15 chickens when she got home.

“I am spinning a lot of plates and its a constant challenge, but I try not to be superwoman,” she said. There has been a massive generational shift to a new stereotype which demands that women should be able to have it all in terms of career and family, so the stereotype is very different now. But I think we have come too far in the wrong direction. Its not possible for women to have it all. The wheels fall off - you can’t juggle everything.”

Mrs Ruddock, who says she has usually left work each day by 5.15pm, believes that women should take the pressure off themselves. “Its about saying ‘no’ occasionally and just picking the important things.

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“I expect my kids to give me back up and to pull their weight. Women put too much on themselves, but from the age of 13, kids can cook their own food, cycle to town, and empty the dishwasher. I leave my kids a note saying what I expect them to do that day. Why should I do it all?

Mrs Ruddock explains that her children are old enough now that she can leave them home alone when she needs to. “I just fill the fridge with pizzas. All the pressure that people put on themselves to feed children healthily - they are not going to die! We have a mix of healthy food and fast food. There’s plenty of time for healthy diets when they leave home.”

She also believes that when it comes to work-life-balance, full time career women should make sure they spend some quality time with each child on their own. “Take each one individually away somewhere for some quality time, that’s when you really get to know them. I went to New York in December with my daughter for four days.”

Although Mrs Ruddock’s believes that woman in business are still being stereotyped into supporting roles, she doesn’t class herself as being a “diehard feminist.”

“I think all women have done a lot of damage to themselves through positive discrimination. The best person for the job should get the job - but women spend a lot of time whinging about it.”

Mrs Ruddock does not believe in the notion of a ‘glass ceiling’ that holds women back when it comes to their careers. “I have just always done what I wanted to do,” she says. But she also admits that she would be reluctant to employ a young female who was likely to have a baby at Scarlett and Mustard. “Some of the rules and regulations are really tough on small businesses to have to pay maternity leave. There needs to be a fundamental change to that.”