A FUNERAL company manager in Ellesmere Port is being recognized by her employer for ‘breaking down the stigma’ in the funeral industry on this International Women’s Day (March 8).
Laura Southby, who started working at W Williams & Son Funeral Directors in Little Sutton, part of Dignity, at the age of 16 and has since progressed to managing the business, is recognized with thousands of professional women funeral directors across the UK. who care for the bereaved and those they have lost.
In pre-Victorian times, before funeral conducting became a profession, the practical duties required at the death of a member of a community were divided between the men and women of the family or village.
The care work of “exposing” the dead would be entrusted to one or more local women, who may well have also acted as a midwife. Men would be responsible for physical tasks such as digging the grave, making a coffin, transporting the deceased, and – if the family did not have enough men to complete the task – providing additional men to carry the coffin.
Today, there are many female funeral directors, arrangers, embalmers and crematorium entrepreneurs helping families say goodbye to their loved ones, but the funeral industry has traditionally been a male-dominated profession.
The campaign theme for International Women’s Day 2022 is #BreakTheBias.
The International Women’s Day website states, “Whether deliberate or unconscious, prejudice holds women back. Knowing that there is a bias is not enough. We have to act to level the playing field.”
When she was just 16, Laura made the decision to work in the funeral industry after considering a career planning weddings.
She says: “I joined the funeral sector in 2000 following the death of a loved one. I wanted to help families when needed. I was 16 when I joined the funeral business and my only other job was working at a newsagent.
“I began training as an embalmer when I joined the funeral industry, a role I held for 16 years. I was responsible for preparing coffins and ensuring that loved ones of families were dressed for the Chapel of Rest.
“I then started meeting families and arranging funerals and progressed to becoming a funeral director which led to me becoming a funeral director which meant I would oversee a number of funerals for ensure that the service meets the wishes of the family.
“I am currently Acting Commercial Director for North Wales, Wirral and Cheshire.
When Laura decided to join the funeral industry, several companies she approached told her it was not a role for a young girl. But that only made Laura more determined to prove herself, and she was offered a trial at W Williams & Son.
She said: “When I joined the industry 21 years ago there weren’t a lot of women working behind the scenes or on ceremonial duties, it was a very male oriented business.
“I was young, but I was accepted by my peers and realized what a great community it was. Over the past 10 years, more women have joined the industry and you see more funeral directors, which is amazing. I’m proud to work for Dignity as the organization celebrates and values diversity and equality in the workplace.
“No two days are the same in the funeral industry, and the days can sometimes be long and trying. But knowing that you can help make a difference in someone’s final journey, and meeting the families who trust us to ensure their loved ones’ wishes come true, is simply priceless.
Reflecting on the past two years and working through the Covid-19 pandemic, Laura added: “The pandemic has changed everything in the funeral industry. Restrictions were put in place, we had difficult conversations with bereaved families, worked longer hours – it was a very difficult and challenging time, we were all working behind the scenes to make sure we could still offer a high quality service to our communities.
“I am very proud of the funeral industry and my colleagues for how everyone has come together during such a difficult time. It wasn’t easy and we suffered our own losses, but we came together as a community and were there for each other.