Tackling gender bias: we talk to the women who’ve succeeded in male dominated professions

Leading packaging supplier Rajapack have looked at gender diversity in the workplace. Speaking to female industry experts from sectors that have been traditionally male-dominated, such as construction, manufacturing, logistics, supply chain, packaging and engineering.

It’s clear that parity benefits everyone, on both an individual and corporate level.  research shows:

  • £23 trillion could be added to the global GDP by 2025 if women are able to meet their “full potential” in the workplace.[i]
  • 10% increase in gender diversity saw earnings before interest and taxes (EBIT) rise 3.5% in the UK. Senior-executive teams with greater gender diversity saw some of the highest uplifts in performance.[ii]
  • 36% – Companies with more female representation on their board of directors deliver a 36% better return on equity than businesses with fewer women on their board.[iii]

Gender diverse companies perform 15% better[iv], so we looked at how female representation in traditionally male-dominated sectors is progressing. Wanting to get first-hand insight into what it’s like to work in these fields, we spoke to a range of women who are leaders in their industry:

Construction & Manufacturing

Perhaps traditionally seen as the industries most unsuited to women, construction and manufacturing conjure up images of noisy building sites and factories, with lots of heavy lifting and heavy machinery. There are stories of the only women on a construction site being given a pink hard hat to wear. 51% of women working in the construction industry said they were treated worse because of their gender.[v] But the construction industry is changing for the better, according to the women who work in it.

Emma Porter – Head of Operations, Story Contracting

As Emma’s father owned his own building company, she was exposed to the industry from a young age. Despite this, and having worked in the industry for over 10 years at the likes of Arup and Story, she reveals that she has had to prove her competency with every new team, stating that you will be talked over, patronised, and ignored sometimes:

“I have felt like I’ve had to prove myself more and occasionally need to push a little harder to be heard”. However, she often brings a different perspective to the team, which is a huge advantage: “It’s easier to stand out if you’re different from the norm; clients, prospective employers and other stakeholders are likely to remember you.”

 

 

Packaging, Logistics & Supply chain

Packaging, Logistics and Supply Chain are all industries that have been traditionally male-dominated. However, there are female trailblazers. Rajapack, a French privately-owned company operating throughout Europe, was founded in 1954 by two women, Rachel Marcovici and Janine Rocher. Today, the company is run by Rachel’s daughter, Danièle. There is also Women in Packaging, a group dedicated to recognising and supporting female employees within the packaging industry.

 Clair Ball – Head of Customer Services, Rajapack

With over a decade’s worth of experience in packaging, Clair believes that the sector has been a male dominated field due to the industrial nature of the business. However, since starting at Rajapack 14 years ago, she has seen more positions filled by women.

“I have noticed a change in the industry towards being more customer focused, whilst also offering flexible hours and equal pay to benefit working parents”

Ruth Waring – Founder, Women in Logistics, Managing Director, Labyrinth Logistics Consulting, Co-Creator, SilkThread®

After having her first child, Ruth was offered a big promotion on the understanding she didn’t have another baby for 2-3 years. Ruth found a new job soon afterwards and left. Turning the experience into a positive, this spurred her on to set up Women in Logistics in 2008, to help increase the number of women in the sector and address the gender imbalance.

With 27 years of experience in the transport industry, Ruth states

“I have lost count of the logistics company websites I have viewed where there is not one female director and all the others look identical. The dynamic changes significantly when women get involved.”

 

 

Engineering

Engineering covers a vast spectrum of occupations, yet the amount of young women studying in this field has remained virtually unchanged since 2012[vi]. 25 years ago only about 20% of A-level physics students were female, and this number has not changed today[vii].

Helen Wollaston – CEO, WISE

WISE is a campaign aimed at getting more women into the science, technology, and engineering workforce in the UK. Providing expert advice, WISE advises educational institutions and employers on how they can attract, retain and improve opportunities for girls and women in these subjects and industries.

“Engineering has a male image, more so in the UK than other parts of the world. It has become something of a vicious circle – girls don’t see any female role models working in these industries, so they assume it is not for them.”

Helen believes that we must challenge out-dated perceptions about the industry and so called “women’s jobs” and “men’s jobs”.

Naomi Climer – President, Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET)

Listed in the Daily Telegraph and the Women’s Engineering Society’s ‘50 Most Influential Women in UK Engineering’ in 2016, Naomi states that it’s not acceptable that men still hold down 91% of jobs in engineering. Explaining this as “harmful” she suggests that

“We need to make it clear how widespread the problem is: major companies should publish precise figures about the exact proportion of women they have in their workforces. That might at least get them thinking about where they are going wrong.”

Naomi believes that a diverse and inclusive workplace makes it easier for everyone to be at their best.

Harriet Kirk – Senior Geotechnical Engineer, Atkins

After studying for a degree in history, Harriet had a change of heart and decided that she wanted to go back to university to study Civil Engineering. Realising she enjoyed the geotechnical modules, she decided to specialise in ground engineering. She thinks that:

“it’s important to get girls early, partly to challenge assumptions about gender roles which might discourage them from pursuing a STEM career, and partly to inspire them with the possibilities.”

 

Driving change from within

All the women we spoke to believed that mentoring from female peers was important in driving change.

 

Joanna Stephenson, MD of PHD Marketing & Strategy and Co-Founder of Women in Packaging added:

“Connect! Even if you’re working in a male-dominated business, don’t feel alone. There are plenty of opportunities to engage with other women in the industry and feel supported by training, networking and educational events.”

Things are changing, but women believe that employers have a responsibility too.

Ruth Waring – Founder, Women in Logistics, Managing Director, Labyrinth Logistics Consulting, – Co-Creator of SilkThread®said:

“We’ve done a lot to increase the confidence of our Women in Logistics members with our mentoring scheme and events tailored to help them reach their potential, but I think the initiative now needs to come from the employers to demonstrate that they do really want to take advantage of a wider talent pool.”

 

Advice for would-be newcomers

So what advice would these successful women give to others who want to follow in their footsteps?  We leave the last word to Kate Lester, Founder & CEO Diamond Logistics:

“Don’t flutter your eyelashes – demand respect from working hard and getting great results. Get used to speaking up loudly – and rise above boyish banter. Our ability to be different marks us out for fast track trajectory as long as you can develop a hefty results-based work ethic and a thick skin!”

 

 

 

Author: Editorial Team

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