I didn’t set out to challenge.
Forty years ago I would have liked to stay at home and work on my father’s farm but in our patriarchy the three sons would inherit the business and the four daughters were expected to be secretaries then get married and raise a family. That path didn’t excite me. I wanted to study agriculture but I thought that would just lead to years of arguing with my brothers. Not something I wanted.
Instead I studied Engineering. Not to be a rebel, but because I was interested in how things are made. I never thought about how many women would be on the course at university, so when I found I was the only one, I just got on with it. I made friends with the guys on my course, after all I was used to my brothers. I didn’t see them as better than me or feel I was better than them. We were just students together.
When I started work I knew that British Manufacturing was a male dominated world. I came across some who didn’t think a woman would/could work night shifts on the shop floor managing teams of men. I don’t think they were misogynistic. I saw them as old fashioned, they reminded me of my Dad. I enjoyed proving them wrong when I became the first female shift manager in Quaker Oats.
I went on to leadership roles in Gillette, Travelex and McVities – eventually running the whole factory. It wasn’t always easy, but what job is? What I’ve learned is :
- Challenge yourself first. When people told me I couldn’t do something I remembered growing up as the youngest of seven and yearning to be different from the crowd. Channel those feelings to help you work harder and smarter.
- Use your difference to your advantage. If you are in the minority, you will get noticed. Make sure you excel and get remembered for the right reasons.
- The world is not fair. Live with it and be the best you can be.
- Take the opportunity to help those coming after you. Be a role model and make the next woman’s journey an easier one.
- Equality is a mindset. Treat everyone the same and expect the same in return.
Finally, know your own worth. Even if you didn’t set out to challenge, don’t accept any behaviour that you feel is wrong.