When did you know that you wanted to be in engineering/construction?
Honestly?! Well, I never wanted to be in construction. This part of my life was a complete accident. I wanted to be a professional sports woman! My Gran was in the 1948 Olympic swimming squad so I spent my youth ploughing up and down a swimming pool. When I didn’t make the grade for national qualifying, I played other sports like Tennis and Rugby. I decided not to go to Loughborough College of Sport at age 19 but study business to keep my options open if I didn’t make it as a professional sports woman! My other passion was designing and making things. Anything mechanical. So when I was offered a graduate job in the Engineering section that designed and made the Pendolino Virgin Train, I jumped to the opportunity. When I moved to the midlands I started playing for a new rugby team and a much heavier player landed on me awkwardly one Sunday afternoon. I was in and out of bed for six months with a horrific back injury and metaphorically climbing the walls with boredom! So I designed a business where I could buy and sell from my bedside. Once recovered I knew that Network Rail would not let me carry on in the role as National Signalling Manager with the medication I was taking so I continued with my own business concept and built a business slowly over the years.
What pressures as a woman do you face working with predominately men and on construction sites?
Well, I am still hugely disappointed with the lack of women whilst the heavy construction phase is happening but it was important to be on the ground for the first few years of my business. So for me there was no choice. I found it easier than most having been on and off factory floors in my engineering capacity but I still felt compelled to push my business on and didn’t feel pressure as such. The way how I see it is, we must do what we have to do and the building industry has to move on and create a welcoming environment for everyone. A good start would be good Site Managers. They set the culture for each site. A high number are still stuck in the 1980s. The rude calendars have come off site office walls but that was mainly due to the end clients visiting sites and being more involved than they once were. I would always encourage women who are good hard workers and can do the job well to work in construction at site level. They need good banter and the ability to shrug off the odd sarcastic remark! The more of us women, the more normal it becomes. Most sites I visit now seem to have a 10 second stare and get on with the work. Five years ago, they would follow me around with their mouth open as though I had just landed from outer space!
What is the best lesson you have learned from being a woman in a man’s world?
That is a tough question. I can’t put my finger on a single answer other than what springs to mind which is to know your technical side well so you are never seen as just a woman giving it a go and doing it badly!
What is the biggest mistake you have made being a woman in a man’s world?
Definitely being too friendly. It is my nature but it is far better to be pleasant but create a bit of distance so you are always able to be professional. It is a tough balance but you get better at it the older you get and for me now, I know my business inside out and the people I need to deal with and how to deal with them.
Give us your best tip for women in the same situation as you?
Don’t be phased by anything. If you believe in your heart you can do something, don’t question if it’s been done before by women or whether it is possible for a woman to do it. Just do it and see what happens. I don’t believe there are glass ceilings anymore; just sticky floors. In other words, sometimes your restriction to what you can achieve is your own mindset or other people’s mindsets around you.
What dreams/goals do you have for the future?
I would like to keep running my business and focus on dealing with high end clientele. Pretty much what I do now but be even fussier with selecting clients and work packages. Working long hours this past 16 years has left little time for ‘me’ so a bit more travelling initially. Then I would like to set up a national mentoring service specifically for women between ages 18 and 35 in Engineering and Construction. We are still losing our top female graduates to Asia and other parts of the world because there is still this perception that they will be overlooked in senior jobs from their late 20’s onwards. I am passionate about seeing women in the UK achieve what they want to achieve and not be put off. A bit like the work Professor Robert Winston is currently doing; supporting Women in Science, facilitating opportunities and mentoring. It is starting to make a positive breakthrough with more women making the higher grades to Doctor and Professor roles.
GGM Luxury Surfaces
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