When I was asked to write a short piece for International Women’s Day, it was an opportunity to think about what the day means for me. I believe IWD is a day to take a step back and appreciate who women are as mothers, as colleagues, as leaders in life and industry, as young women of vision, as girls about to enter the modern-day struggle just over one hundred years since some women got the right to vote. It’s unbelievable that the original aim of IWD of achieving full gender equality for women is still a long way off so we all need to play our part in achieving that goal.
Part of that goal for me using my platform at Energy Assets Utilities to increase female representation in the utilities industry. I ran a recruitment exercise for apprentices recently and it was eye-opening that no women applied for the roles we had available and - in a time where thousands of women have lost their jobs due to Covid-19 - we must do something about attracting women into sectors they previously would not have considered.
Why don’t we see a representative number of women entering the industry? Simply put – bias. More specifically, gender bias. We can tackle this! You can’t be what you can’t see. Affinity bias makes it hard for women to get into male-dominated industries and organisations. We often like people who are just like us and are more influenced by people who are similar to us. This can have a huge impact on career choices for women. If I can see ‘people like me’ in a particular career or job role, I’ll choose that path. If I can’t, I won’t.
Women in traditionally male dominated industries must lead the way for girls in education right now – we need to be brave and try something new; something which may scare us because the rewards in the future will outweigh our fear in that moment.
My personal experience of entering the utilities industry was fraught with imposter syndrome; I don’t know anything about engineering, I don’t understand the acronyms they use, the men will think I’m not good enough because I don’t know how to dig a trench or connect a gas service. This, along with single mothers’ guilt about not being at home, cooking organic food and arranging stimulating activities for my children, not taking them travelling to far-flung places in the summer holidays; instead working hard to provide a roof over their heads and advance my career, was a huge pressure that I put upon myself. Would I do it again? Yes! I want to set a good example to my two amazing daughters and show them they can do anything that they want to do in life.
Employers also have their part to play in taking steps to encourage women to overcome this type of anxiety and self-doubt in the workplace. Research shows that when women are exposed to powerful female role models, they are more likely to endorse the notion that women are well-placed to work in that industry. As time goes on, I feel more comfortable being a role model and mentor; I had never considered that I was until people started mentioning it to me, and it made me realise that I have to use the opportunity to help other women. It’s made me think about how important it is to have female role models, and I’m just happy if I can inspire one woman to enter a sector which is so diverse, with so many opportunities for the future. I would absolutely encourage women to enter the utility sector – we have our own valuable experiences and skills to bring to the table and should never be passed over because of our gender.
I’ve always tried to find a mentor or someone I admired in every company I’ve worked in. I haven’t always found that but there are plenty of strong women out there that we can look up to. I worked in Westminster from a relatively young age and I was happy to see that there were women in senior positions, women MPs and they were definitely strong and focussed. I think it opened my eyes from coming from a small mining village with preconceived ideas of the sorts of roles women could do; I discovered we can do anything, include run the country! Working with women in politics gave me confidence, which has stood me in good stead for working in utilities, historically a ‘man’s world’, just like politics.
I’m very fortunate that EAU have embraced me and let me BE me; my colleagues – male and female – are all so supportive and don’t judge me for my lack of engineering background. They know that I have the best intentions for the business and the people in it; I’m passionate about helping the team to succeed and we’re of the mentality that it’s a family; when any of us are down, we’ll pull each other up, support each other and make sure we all get there as one. We must do that for all women.
Regional Operations Director