UK’s skills gap – “person counts more than gender”

Posted on 30 Aug 2017 by Jonny Williamson

The shortage of good candidates for manufacturing roles in the UK might be due to gender inequality and young peoples’ misconception about the industry. Bridie Warner-Adsetts unveils how this situation might be changed. 

Gender inequality and misconceptions about manufacturing are two reasons for UK´s skills gap.

Chief operating office of Naylor Industries, Bridie Warner-Adsetts, believes that UK manufacturing faces currently two barriers which are the reason for the industry’s alarming skills gap.

Firstly, gender inequality in companies restrains women from feeling comfortable and equally accepted in manufacturing companies.

Secondly, young people graduate from school with a false conception in their mind of what it is like to work in manufacturing.

Warner-Adsetts provides an insight into the secret of senior leadership roles for women, how to get young people interested in manufacturing jobs and why in a well-balanced working environment the ‘person’ is more important than the ‘gender’.

Why are there so few women in senior leadership roles within manufacturing?  

Well, I know quite a lot of them actually. I think there are a lot more than perhaps everyone knows about, and I think that’s partly because there is less PR about women in manufacturing.

There is a lot of PR about the lack of women in one industry or another, but there isn’t as much about the ones who are there than perhaps I would like to see.

So, I think some of it is about rhetoric rather than reality. I mean, within my organisation, Naylor Industries, there is a strong number of women in senior roles and growing.

Our challenge is more about bringing more women in at the grass root level of engineering and manufacturing which has been the case for as long as I can remember.

What career tip would you pass on to women – or any young person – who are just about to start a career in manufacturing? 

I would say, leave your preconceptions at the door and don’t get all hung up and paranoid about women being treated differently or gender bias or being treated in some sort of negative way or not being given opportunities.

Don’t wear it like some kind of sack cloth because actually, the more preconceptions there are (including your own) the more it sort of perpetuates it. We are equal, we have a right to our place here. You need to believe it of yourself first and act accordingly.

Therefore, leave the chip on your shoulder behind, be confident and positive and get on with the job. If something happens that shouldn’t – deal with the matter in hand and be outraged but don’t go about life expecting bad things to happen.

What initiates does Naylor Industries have to promote and support gender equality? 

We set out seven years ago to increase the number of women in our business. We looked at the number; without a quota or target in mind; and simply said that it was not enough and we were definitely not attracting enough female talent into the business.

So, we said, let us start at the top. And actually, our executive board is made up of two women and one man, and if you take our non-executives into account, it’s 50/50.

We didn’t target female candidates but made sure that we didn’t turn the off in terms of advertising opportunities and we made sure that our environment was welcoming and positive and then we attracted more female candidates for jobs.

By starting with the main board we led by example and then went on to do the same throughout our management structure. We created an environment where you are a person, not a gender.

We are working our way through the organisation. We have a working group focussing on equality that is made up of representatives from across the group who meet every quarter to look how we can make improvements to the environment we work in, to make it more attractive to every candidate.

We challenge the way we express ourselves to reduce bias and conduct equality training to improve awareness.

What does Naylor do to support gender equality when it comes to work placements for young people?

We work with several schools, colleges and universities, to give young people an opportunity to come and look at what our workplace is like, what the opportunities and careers are, what the training opportunities are. We insist on balanced gender participation in all our placement opportunities.

It is a great way of breaking down barriers and preconceptions and we get a lot of feedback where young people say, “I didn’t think it was going to be like this.”

I have been told this or that about manufacturing or engineering”. Some of what young people are told gives a pretty grim impression actually so we welcome the chance to dispel these myths. The children get to see for themselves and open their own minds to potential careers in industry whatever their gender.

We have some great examples of students doing work experience who often they ask things like “why do I need to study a particular subject; where am I going to use this maths, chemistry, physics or technology etc. that I’m studying”?  We take great pleasure in giving context to subjects and showing them examples of where maths, sciences, engineering and design are being used every day in our business.