My first job was age 13. It wouldn’t be allowed now (rightly so) but I was working with two friends in a fast food kiosk in a fairground. I worked there every weekend and school holiday I could – it was 12 hour days, 6 days a week – and I learned so much about customer service, consumer behavior, working in a team, profitability, merchandising, forecasting. And how to make candyfloss.
I was the first person in my family to go to university and after I graduated I moved to Hertfordshire and started work as an assistant product manager. A few years and couple of promotions later I moved to Yorkshire to live with my husband and joined an agency in Leeds with some significant retail clients, where I was promoted to Account Director on one of our key accounts, growing the team from 2 to 10, and increasing turnover by 5x. They were a fantastic employer and supported me through some pretty tough times when we were starting a family – miscarriages and a TFMR then two periods of maternity leave. At that point, with two children under three the agency helped me to go from 5 days to 4 days a week, and flex my starting times so I could do nursery drop off 50 miles from work and be at work to meet late press deadlines in the evenings. After a couple of years I decided I needed a new challenge and took a fixed term contract as a marketing manager a little nearer home to get some more recent client side experience, after 13 years in agency land.
At the end of the initial contract I was offered a role as brand manager, including managing our 2017 City of Culture partnership, which was an incredible year for Hull, and for me! At the end of 2018 I was promoted to Head of Marketing and after a couple of years in that role I took the once in a lifetime opportunity to take a sabbatical for six months while we renovated our house from a tiny bungalow to our family home. I worked on site with our builders, project managing and keeping the project on track, on budget and on time. I also got the chance to try out a load of tools and learn new skills. Give me a chop saw, angle grinder, tile cutter, paint sprayer, pillar drill or band saw and I’m happy! Interestingly we over insulated our house and reused materials.
Once the house was finished enough to live in, I started freelancing for small businesses with no marketing resource. With immaculate timing this was at the start of 2020 and in March the world came to a standstill. My husband was furloughed, I wasn’t working and we were home schooling alternate days while the other worked on the house. We perfected the 4pm margarita and, while we had very little income, appreciated how fortunate we were every day while we remained relatively unaffected by the COVID19 pandemic and others were not so lucky.
Later that year we set up an online business selling vintage furniture and homewares, handmade decorations and cards. It was busy enough to keep us both working full time until I started working for MKM on a fixed term contract while my husband continues to run the business. One role became another and I’m now Head of ESG. It’s a change of direction for me, and one I’m absolutely loving. Working at a Builders’ Merchant my six months on site has been really valuable! Our CEO is female and an incredibly inspiring leader, and my manager is a real ally to women. I am learning so much, I’m supported to grow personal and professionally and enjoy every day.
One of the things that I love is that I’m given the freedom to create objectives, and then held to account to deliver them the best way we can. I typically spend 2-3 days in the office; we’re all trying to be in Monday & Thursday so we can get some time face to face when the whole team is in. The rest of the week I will be either working from home or visiting a supplier or branch. Last week I visited an eco house in Waltham Forest, which is a local authority property which has been retrofitted to be as carbon and energy efficient as possible. In previous roles I have struggled with back to back calls and I am trying to protect my own time and ensure I have the space for deep work.
Initially I was drawn to marketing as it’s the perfect combination of creativity and spreadsheets. More recently serendipity and taking interesting opportunities as they come along.
Rather than challenges I am very conscious of my privilege in a number of ways; for me and my husband we have had one another to take the slack when it’s needed. We left university with very little debt. We bought our first house at a relatively young age. I’m able bodied. I face little discrimination. So while I am female, there are many more challenges that others face.
Two Important initiatives I feel passionate about are our apprenticeship programme to help get young people of all roles into the business and the industry, and our investment in carbon reduction.
I’m definitely a glass ¾ full kind of person, and I’m determined to make the most of any situation. My career so far has not been a straight line! But I measure success through the happiness of my family. Are we happy? Does it work for us? Then let’s keep doing what we’re doing.
Being a woman in the construction sector feels like it’s important to showcase the broad range of opportunities that are available in the industry.
One of my proudest moments was recently when talking to my daughter about families. She had no idea what a ‘traditional family setup’ was. For her having two full time working parents doing things they love was all she’s ever known. When I contrast that to my childhood where most families had a stay at home (or part time working) mum. It’s really encouraging.
The biggest lesson I have learnt along the way was to have self belief. I had a manager who once told me I was the most capable person she had ever worked with, and it was a bit of a surprise. It’s something that’s been helpful to remember when it’s been one of ‘those’ days.
In general, men will apply for a job when they think they match something like 60% of the role profile, while for women it’s more like 100% and I can relate to that, which has been challenging.
Outside my work I love spending time with my family. My children are now 10 & 13 and I learn from them every day, mainly with an eye roll from them. They are genuinely great to be around. I love creative things, interiors, renovation, DIY, the garden, sewing. We try to live quite sustainably and I’m the recycling monitor at home. I’m trying to read more this year. I still love going to antique fairs and buying for my husband’s business.
The mantra I live your life by is… Send it. Succeed or fail; just make sure you really go for it. At the very least you will learn something about yourself.
My three tips would give to young females starting their careers would be:
The best bit of advice that I’ve ever been given is Measure twice, cut once. It’s true in construction and it’s true in life.
I come from a line of strong, characterful women, so I can’t talk about just one. As a child my maternal grandmother fell and cut her leg, and despite a lifetime of antibiotics (when they became available), surgeries, skin grafts and treatment, her leg never healed but she didn’t let this disability get in her way. She was told she shouldn’t have children, which she completely ignored, and had a wicked sense of humour to the end. The last time I saw my paternal grandmother she was over 80, being pushed around a garden in an electric wheelbarrow laughing her head off (everyone’s favourite eccentric auntie).
And my Mother. At 73 she still runs the cub pack she started helping at 38. She’s the most positive, inclusive and supportive person I know. When I was little my father went to sea for months at a time, so my mum did everything. She’d think nothing of driving 300 miles with a two-year-old me in the car to see my dad on his ship, or flying with me and my brother to Amsterdam to see him. When my dad came ashore on leave he didn’t want to go abroad on holiday, so my mum took me and my brother. This was the 70s & 80s and she was pretty independent. She thinks I can do anything I put my mind to and I don’t want to let her down.
My key motivators are that I have to enjoy what I do, but I can find fun in most things. I also want to make a difference and do meaningful work.
I think there are some businesses doing great things but there is still some way to go. It’s encouraging that the younger generations are less accepting of the status quo. It’s disheartening how women are still disproportionately affected by fertility issues and then later the menopause. Businesses are losing so many talented individuals who are real assets.
A strategy that I think can help women achieve a more prominent role in their organisations would be to stretch themselves to do something that makes them just the right amount of uncomfortable.
Be authentic. It’s so inspiring to see leaders being true to themselves.
One key leadership lesson I’ve learned along the way would be that you don’t have to manage people to lead. But you do need to be able to inspire and motivate people to come with you. And I have tried very hard never to ask someone to do something I’m not prepared to do or have done myself.
The best piece of advice I’ve been given would be to proofread your work.
What I would say to my 16-year-old self: Stop Spending All Your Money On Depeche Mode Cassettes. And Study For Your A-levels. But I wouldn’t listen, and that’s OK, I learn through doing. I wouldn’t change where those actions have meant I am now.
In 3 words, I have described what feminism is to me: Still, depressingly, needed.