Imogen Harding – ‘Enjoy yourself, and if you don’t, find something that you do.’

In this blog, we speak with Imogen Harding, a Shift Production Manager for Ibstock and the Eclipse factory. We chat to Imogen about her career, why she chose this industry and what she would tell her 16-year-old self!


Can you tell us a bit about you and your career:

My background is in Geology, I did an Exploration and Resource Geology Degree, and followed it up with a Masters in Geochemistry. After I graduated I moved to Canada to work in the mining industry. My role was centred around assessing gold deposits and determining the best way of processing them to maximize recovery. After I moved home I started a job as Quality Assurance for one of the large brick manufacturers. I then fell in love with production, and moved around in various roles, cumulating as a Production Manager. I then moved to Ibstock and the Eclipse factory as a Shift Production Manager.


A typical day in your career:

What really appeals to me is the fact there isn’t a ‘typical day’ as a Production Manager. The fundamentals of my role are keeping people safe, ensure they are producing a good quality product and that we are hitting volume targets. The day always starts off with a shift briefing, this is a meeting at 6 am where I talk about the day ahead, who’s doing what, and anything special that the Operatives need to keep an eye on. After that (and usually after my first tea of the day), whizz round the factory to see how things have started up and to give me a chance to see the Ops individually. The rest of the day is dependent on a lot of factors, but it’s important for both me and my Team Leader to have a strong presence on the factory floor.


What made you choose this career/industry?

I can’t say that I’d always wanted to work in manufacturing (but a lot of my student days were spent watching How’s it Made- so maybe it was my destiny?!). I initially took the QA role because my Manager at the time talked about career development so passionately. Even though I didn’t know what I wanted to do, I have always been very ambitious so settling in a role for life would never have appealed to me.


How did you get to where you are now and did you face any challenges along the way?

Frankly, by pushing myself out my comfort zone at every opportunity. I’ve been lucky enough to be trusted to do jobs that I felt I was completely unqualified for. Just before I was promoted to Specials Manager I remember thinking I have absolutely no idea how I am going to do this and was terrified. But I put on my big girl pants and got stuck in, and it turned out pretty well in the end! I haven’t faced significant challenges really, for the most part, I’ve been incredibly well supported throughout my career.


What is an important initiative that you feel passionate about in your role?

I think diverse workforces are incredibly important. Out of work, it would be strange to just associate with one single demographic, so why would we accept that in the workplace? I think different people with different viewpoints are critical to a successful organization.


What do you think gave you the drive and determination to succeed?

It’s something I’ve always had, never been very good at taking a breath and thinking about the present- I’ve always been looking towards the future. I’m pretty goal orientated, so something to work towards really motivates me.


What’s great about being a female in your role?

I think it’s pretty great being a woman in general. Now more than ever before we have the opportunity to do whatever we want, and it’s such a fantastic thing to be a part of. I don’t think me being a woman particularly brings anything different to the role, but I do enjoy that at the moment I’m a bit of a rarity, and if I can encourage other women to follow a similar path then that’s really exciting.


What is your biggest achievement in life?

I feel very lucky, I’ve got a great career with amazing prospects and brilliant home life. Long may it continue!


What is the biggest lesson that you’ve learnt along the way?

To take a breath and assess the situation instead of diving in. I must admit, I’d put this firmly in the lessons learning, rather than lessons learnt category. I also have learnt not to try and fight my personality type. For a long time I desperately tried to be something I’m not, and whilst I’m a firm believer in continuously trying to improve, to try and be something I’m not can only succeed in making me miserable.


Have you ever felt that your gender has brought unnecessary challenges to your career?

The majority of people are pretty reasonable and being a woman isn’t a big deal. Of course, there has been the odd occasion where there has been an out of line comment or similar- but I’m not afraid to call people out on it.


Outside your work, what are your favourite hobbies and pastimes?

It’s a running joke that I’ve tried every single sport in the desperate attempt to find the one I’ll get to the Olympics with. Range from quite normal (Tennis, Hockey), to a bit more obscure (Modern Pentathlon and Figure Skating). I’ve had a whole lot of fun trying them out, but for the most part, have been completely useless. I have been part of a netball team for a couple of years, and I run quite a bit. I’m running the London Marathon next year which I’m pretty excited about.


Do you have a mantra you live your life by?

Live, Laugh, Love.

Just kidding, that’s awful. I think I’d probably have on my gravestone ‘she gave everything a really good go.’ It’s so important to throw yourself into any activity, don’t be half-hearted. You never know, it could be the best thing ever. And if it’s awful, you’ll probably have a good story to tell.


What three tips would you give to young females starting their careers?

Be yourself, don’t think you have to be someone else to succeed

Take opportunities when they present themselves

Enjoy yourself, and if you don’t, find something that you do.


What is the best bit of advice that you have ever been given?

If someone has asked you to do something, do it. If you can’t do it, tell them in advance of the deadline that you’re struggling.


Can you talk about one woman who has impacted your life?

I’m lucky to have many strong female role models in my family. Gender has never been seen as a barrier, and both my parents encouraged me to follow whichever career path I wanted.


What are your key motivators?

I am motivated by being busy and being involved in lots of different things. I find challenges and competition incredibly exciting.


Do you think enough is being done by businesses to address gender imbalance?

More is being done definitely, but there is still a way to go. In my experience businesses are very open to women, but don’t necessarily go out and target them. Its very important to me that a person is in the role for the right reason, not just to fulfil the diversity target. I think there is more to be done to address the gender imbalance in the media. The obvious example is Sport, that commentators and presenters are still majority male, and the sports shown have a huge male bias. It’s great to see some more women’s sport being shown, but disappointing that they are usually aren’t on mainstream television. I listened to a lot of Test Match Special in the summer, and it was really refreshing to hear women’s voices- I can’t understand why there aren’t more.


What are some strategies that can help women achieve a more prominent role in their organizations?

Having a mentor is really important, their gender is largely irrelevant, but it needs to be someone you can have an open and honest relationship with. As I’ve touched on above, getting more women into the business at a grassroots level is critical- I think more work can be done in schools and colleges to highlight these opportunities to young girls. For me certainly, when I was in school manufacturing as a career path wasn’t mentioned at all, in fact, I was fairly certain my view of it was something you do if you haven’t got any qualifications. This is so far from the case, and that perception really needs to be changed. The opportunities are so varied- and working in manufacturing isn’t just running a machine.


What advice do you have for women aiming for leadership positions?

Fundamentally, the same applies as the advice I’d give to young females starting their careers. In addition, I’d say be resilient, in the hard times focus on the fact it will get better, and in the good times continually push for improvement.


What’s one key leadership lesson you’ve learned along the way?

Appreciate different people for who they are, and find a way to work with, and get the best out of them.


What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?

Someone once said to me, “if you’re doing a lot of work at home or out of hours, you aren’t impressing me, you’re just showing me you can’t manage your workload.” Pretty harsh words, but it really resonated with me. Of course, there are times when long hours are unavoidable, but it really made me think about how I can work more effectively and efficiently.


If someone has asked you to do something, do it. If you can’t do it, tell them in advance of the deadline that you’re struggling.


What would you say to your 16-year-old self?

Don’t panic about not knowing what you want to do when you’re older, you have more options open to you than you could ever dream of. Accept yourself, listen to criticism and improve, but don’t dwell on it. The next 10 years will be amazing- enjoy it.

Also, you finally stopped biting your nails!


We loved Imogen’s story, if you did too- why not read more about our #yesshecan inspirational women.

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