You don’t have to be a ‘tough cookie’ to work in manufacturing, just be yourself

October 22, 2015 by in category I'm Not John with 0 and 3
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Loretta Smith, who works for United Biscuits, says you don’t have to be a ‘tough cookie’ to work in the manufacturing industry – just respect others and be yourself.

Read more about Loretta’s work journey here and how it has led her to become a Big Sister for Girls Out Loud.

When I was first asked to take part in the #imnotjohn campaign, I thought, yes, fantastic, what an excellent campaign, we should be sharing our stories and being inspired by great leaders. (Not just female ones though).

I shared the outline of the campaign with my manager, John (ironically!), who wholeheartedly supported my involvement, he wasn’t quite struck on the campaign name though!

So a bit about me – I’m the head of human resources shared services for United Biscuits. I’ve worked in a manufacturing environment for the majority of my career, first automotive, then food.

Manufacturing is traditionally a man’s world, although we are seeing a shift in more recent years. There was a point recently that United Biscuits had more female factory general managers than male, I think that has evened out now though.

So, honestly, do you have to be a certain type of woman to ‘make it in manufacturing? Yes, I’d say you do.

But I would attribute the required success factors to cover both genders.

For me success in manufacturing is down to four things:

  • hard work
  • making things happen
  • casting the ‘right’ shadow to others in the organisation
  • not forgetting luck and making the most of opportunity!

Although I haven’t personally experienced gender issues throughout my career, I’ve had plenty of others – like being a Mancunian red head!

I am lucky enough to have had a host of very supportive line managers that have coached me to get to where I am today.

I’m not naïve enough to think that gender equality doesn’t exist however; we only have to look at the up and coming equal pay legislation that has some companies across the UK in a bit of tiz.

They are trying to work out if they have a problem or not and if so, do they work proactively to make a change or ‘wait and see’. I suspect the latter in the majority of cases.

I agree with Mike Wild from a previous blog in this campaign, that really, equal pay should be a given by now, and we should be focussing on other important issues in the workplace.

One of my best experiences being a female leader, was a recent event held at Manchester Business School about successful women in business.

I was one of six speakers at the event, who gave a synopsis of their career, challenges and advice to members of the audience on how to achieve success. I thoroughly enjoyed the event, had the opportunity to meet many students at the university, who had so many questions, I could have spent all evening with them.

I also met many other inspirational women doing great things in their fields. It was this event that put me in touch with Jane Kenyon, founder of ‘Girls Out Loud’, since this fateful evening, I, along with four of my colleagues have signed up to become ‘Big Sisters’ and we all can’t wait to get started.

I really enjoy working in manufacturing, it’s fast paced, it’s challenging and to be honest, we do make the best biscuits in the world, McVitie’s, so there are lots of enjoyable treats to brighten up your day!

Would I say I had a coping strategy for being one of a handful of women in a traditionally man’s world? No, not a coping strategy as such, but maybe some words of advice.

Here goes;

  • Don’t be afraid to challenge. A different approach can sometimes be what’s required
  • Working in a tough environment doesn’t mean you have to be ‘a tough cookie’ or aggressive, treat people with respect, demonstrate appropriate behaviours and cast the right shadow to others
  • Be yourself, a diverse workforce is beneficial to any organisation. Differing strengths can come from all walks of life, know your strengths and use them!

If you would like to be involved in the #imnotjohn campaign and join the launch event on November 9, click here

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