Breaking traditions to increase diversity

The gender pay gap is closing in Wales – helped by an increase in women moving into roles traditionally associated with men. Swansea Bay Business Life met some pioneering women in industries ranging from construction to financial services to making whisky, to ask them about this challenging but changing landscape.

Steffani Lewis, contracts manager at the construction division of The Premier Group:

Describe your job/role now, what it involves and how long you have been doing it?

“I am currently working as a contracts manager for The Premier Group. I have been doing this role for around two years, having previously worked on smaller reactive maintenance and planned maintenance projects as a maintenance and small projects manager. I have been fortunate enough to be given the opportunity to grow within the company and develop into new roles. When I first started in 2010 I worked in administration and then moved quickly over to maintenance, assisting in managing a team of handymen based all across the UK.

“During my time at The Premier Group I have worked in all areas from health and safety to procurement. This has given me an understanding of all aspects of the business, which enables me to support the work we do on-site.

“I studied sociology and criminology in university and as a career I had thought about going into the police or working with the rehabilitation of offenders, so this wasn’t a direct career path. However I have managed to use skills developed in university in the construction industry.

“I am currently finishing off the Synergy install project for Esso, which involves re-branding the forecourt and completing any necessary forecourt repairs. These projects can take a few days or a few weeks depending on the level of the works and also what other schemes are being completed at the same time and need to be programmed around.”

In your view, is your job traditionally more associated with men? Are you aware of this? Has it ever bothered you? Are you seeing more women entering your profession now? Is there anything preventing that happening?

“My job is definitely more traditionally associated with men but there are more and more women working in this industry and I have worked alongside many women in a project manager role who work for our clients. It isn’t something I am so aware of so much anymore. I am aware it is a more male dominated industry. I would like to say it has never negatively affected me but that isn’t true, but I do believe it is changing.

“I work with a great team of contracts managers who are a great support and who I believe don’t treat anyone differently because of gender. At present there are three women within our contracts department. When I first started we were a male dominated office and we are now a fairly even split, with women occupying varying roles. I don’t believe there is anything specifically preventing women from coming into this profession. I can see how it would be difficult in this job for women with young families but the same could be said for a lot of careers. I believe that the key to getting more women entering this profession as well as other male dominated industries is training opportunities and increasing the awareness and understanding of what this role is all about.”

Is there anything you would like to see happen to encourage more women into the type of job you do?

“Additional training opportunities, specifically for young women targeting not just training in construction skills or project managing but also training on how to manage difficult situations with men on site. Similar to the push that women in engineering has received, I think women in construction in general could do with a bit more attention and overall awareness.

“When I was younger I took part in a ground force for girls day which provided young girls with a hands-on experience of using site machinery. This fun day out provided an insight into what I would have believed was a man’s role. This sort of experience day could easily be rolled out to children at a comprehensive school level who would benefit from all sorts of work experience.”

Charlotte Hale, manager of Seven Oaks Modular, part of Hale Construction:

Describe your job/role now, what it involves and how long you have been doing it?

“I became the manager of Seven Oaks Modular at the end of May 2018, but I have been working in the construction industry for the last 10 years. Following my appointment as manager of Seven Oaks Modular, I have been involved in every aspect of the company. With the rapid growth of the modular construction sector, it’s important that I see the process from the long-term business planning and the setting of future objectives, to going to events and meetings with commercial heads, the STA (Structural Timber Association) and government officials. My role also requires me to actively partake in the recruitment process, maintain accounts and respond to any issues in the design department.”

In your view, is your job traditionally more associated with men? Are you aware of this? Has it ever bothered you? Are you seeing more women entering your profession now? Is there anything preventing that happening?

“I am fully aware that my job is more traditionally associated with men, especially within the timber frames sector. However, instead of bothering me, it has simply made me more passionate to make changes in the industry. I have a strong character, and I think it’s important that we have the capacity for different perspectives in any business. In my role at Seven Oaks Modular especially, I make sure to think about each obstacle in a different way to my colleagues, in a way you could call it ‘the female touch’.

“I think like any tough process it is happening slowly, but surely. However, women entering the construction industry as a whole, instead of specifically timber frame is definitely more evident. I have never seen a female timber frame manufacturer, and my aim is to change that. I have visited schools in the South Wales area and spoken to the students there about my job, and how regardless of your gender, if you have the passion you can become anything you want.”

Is there anything you would like to see happen to encourage more women into the type of job you do?

“I think that it’s great to visit schools and show that it’s entirely possible for a woman to become the manager of a modular construction company, but generally there should be more information in schools available. The more often that women like myself are seen on the news, the more awareness we can create. However, I think it’s just as important that we see women doing the jobs that involve putting on a hard hat and going on-site, not just being sat behind a desk.”

Tomiko Evans, investment research analyst at Estate Capital:

Describe your job/role now, what it involves and how long you have been doing it?

“I currently work as an investment research analyst for Swansea-based chartered financial planners Estate Capital. However, I will soon begin my role as chief investment officer for Crossing Point – an investment management company that will launch in March 2019. I have been working at Estate Capital for roughly five years, alongside which I have been completing a PhD in finance at the school of management in Swansea University. My PhD centres on momentum and tactical theory using index tracking funds, and developing this into a successful financial plan.”

What was your career path before this? How did you end up in this role?

“I started my financial career in the Wharton School of Business at The University of Pennsylvania, completing my degree in economics. Since graduating, I have worked for the Salomon Brothers in New York City at the World Trading Centre, later transferring to London where I worked at the International Prime Brokerage group for Citigroup and the finance desk technology team for Salmon Smith Barney in Canary Wharf. I moved to Wales 15 years ago – a decision that was heavily influenced by my husband who is from Swansea. We have had three children together since settling down in Wales, which led to me meeting Chris Davies, investment director at Estate Capital – our kids attended the same primary school. Our many conversations and shared experiences in the finance sector inspired me to join Estate Capital.”

In your view, is your job traditionally more associated with men? Are you aware of this? Has it ever bothered you?

“Roles in financial services have been traditionally more associated with men, but it has never bothered me. The business school I attended in Pennsylvania made a concerted effort to encourage more women to pursue a career in financial services. Also, during my time at the World Trade Centre, I met and spoke to many women on the trading floor and in the training programme. Another successful programme I partook in, ran by Citigroup, allowed me to actively interact and network with women in the industry. However, there are ultimately many obstacles that we must face before we see true diversity in financial services.”

Are you seeing more women entering your profession now? Is there anything preventing that happening?

“At the moment, I haven’t been seeing a marked increase in women entering the financial services industry. However, I am currently more focused on the strategy aspect of Crossing Point and constructing our business plan. My hope is that when I begin networking and liaising with potential clients, I will see a substantial shift in the landscape towards gender diversity in the financial sector. That said, from what I’ve heard and seen from individuals on a local basis, it seems that the financial sector is primarily male-dominated in South Wales.”

Is there anything you would like to see happen to encourage more women into the type of job you do?

“I think the first step would be to have more women as role models. In London, there are a lot of women being represented on TV and gaining visibility as speakers in the financial sector. I would like to think that this would encourage not just adult women, but also children to think about it as a future career. South Wales has several huge platforms with spectacular reach – seeing more female financial professionals on BBC Wales, WalesOnline and the whole host of business targeted media that we have in this country would make a significant impact.

Laura Davies, distillery manager at Penderyn:

Tell me a little about your background…

“I have a BSc (Hons) degree in forensic science with criminology from the University of Glamorgan – lots of maths, physics and chemistry. But the whisky industry is far more exciting and much less messy than crime scenes.

How did you come to work for Penderyn?

“I joined Penderyn in early 2012, fresh from university, as a trainee distiller. I knew very little about the whisky industry prior to joining the company and my position was actually advertised anonymously in order to avoid well-meaning and excited (but unqualified) enthusiasts applying. At the interview our chief executive revealed the true position, then went on to ask ‘Do you know much about whisky?’. When I responded that I didn’t, he quickly followed with ‘Well, this is Dr Jim Swan, one of the leading whisky experts in the world – I’ll leave you both to it for a while’. For the next hour or so Dr Swan took me through a fairly comprehensive nose and taste test to determine if I had the ability to conduct sensory assessments on our new make spirit, maturing spirit and finished products. I could barely speak I was so nervous but thankfully Jim saw some potential and went on to become my mentor for the next five years.

“During my time with the company I’ve seen my role grow and have become responsible for all aspects of distillery production and operations, including health and safety, technical management, staffing, quality management, supply and logistics and experimentation, leading to me becoming distillery manager in 2016.”

What brings you the most job satisfaction?

“Overseeing our process from malt intake to spirit draw and assessing that spirit to be to the Penderyn standard – knowing that at every stage of the process we’ve had quality at the forefront of everything we do. My role has a great balance between the technical and very hands-on distillery operations work and the brand ambassador work – getting out and about to host whisky dinners, meet customers at trade and consumer shows, engage with business visitors and VIPs etc., which makes every day a little different. I also feel very privileged to have had the opportunity to train under Dr Jim Swan for several years and see this as one of the things I’m most proud of from my time at Penderyn. Finally, being part of two commissioning phases (from our distillery expansions in 2013 and 2014) was a great experience and gave me a huge amount of job satisfaction.

What advice would you give to someone wanting to become a distiller?

“Be prepared to get stuck in and get your hands dirty. Be passionate about every aspect of everything you do, and remember that the best results don’t always come from textbooks but from experience and experimentation – don’t be afraid to think for yourself. There are public facing events, tasting and masterclasses and this can involve a lot of travel which I enjoy but you have to be prepared to get stuck in to the detail of the day-to-day at the distillery, which is where you can really make a difference to the quality of the product.

Aista Jukneviciute, blender at Penderyn:

Tell me a little about your background…

“I was born and grew up in Lithuania Jonava town. I finished Kaunas University of Technology in Lithuania and have an MSc in chemical engineering. I came to the UK in 2004 and now Wales is my home.”

How did you come to work for Penderyn?

“I was working in Alzeim Ltd for four years. I joined Alzeim Ltd when it was first set up and I played a key part in the development of the research and production laboratories, but sadly for the company it went to administration so I lost my job. I was looking for lab-based work in the food or drink industry so I sent my CV to the distillery. I just was lucky being in the right place at the right time as I got the job in Penderyn distillery.”

What brings you the most job satisfaction?

“A satisfying part of the job is working together with great colleagues, and meeting customers and whisky lovers all over the world. The biggest satisfaction – seeing people’s reaction when they try our whisky for the first time and to know that they love it. It’s also satisfying to know that the products we make are award winning spirits.”

What advice would you give to someone wanting to become a distiller?

“If you want to have pride and passion in your job, you cannot beat working in the world of whisky. The whisky world is fascinating and fun, you will never stop learning.”

Bethan Morgans, trainee distiller at Penderyn:

Tell me a little bit about your background…

“I’ve always had a passion for science. I was a pharmacy assistant from the age of 16-21 whilst I studied locally at Aberdare Girls’ School and Cardiff Metropolitan University, where I gained a BSc (Hons) in public health nutrition at the school of food and health sciences. My course was quite varied. I studied a lot of biochemistry and physiology, but also completed modules involving food and drink quality and legislation.”

How did you come to work for Penderyn?

“When I was approaching the end of my studies, I decided to start job hunting. I noticed that Penderyn were looking for a trainee distiller. Part of the job description mentioned assessing the quality of whisky and new make spirit by nosing and tasting. As I had recently studied a sensory analysis and food quality module at university (although I’d never been part of a tasting panel for whisky) I thought my experience may help me with quality assessment at Penderyn so I decided to apply. Being brought up just minutes away from the distillery in Hirwaun, it was an honour to have been successful throughout the interview process and to be a part of a local, privately owned, yet internationally recognised distillery.”

What brings you the most job satisfaction?

“Being able to represent the distillery at shows is such an honour, especially when you get to hear really positive feedback from consumers about both the brand and products.”

What advice would you give to someone wanting to become a distiller?

“My advice would be to try and get as much on-the-job training as possible as it is so much more exciting than theory-based training. Working in a distillery is so unpredictable and on-the-job training is the best way to gain experience in order to prepare you for the role of a distiller.”

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