To commemorate International Women’s Day 2019, I was privileged to interview Jan Ward, female founder and icon of British industry.
Jan Ward CBE is Founder of Corrotherm International Ltd1, Non-Executive Chair of Energy and Utility Skills2, NED at Energy Industries Council (EIC)3 and Red Penguin Associates Ltd4 and Chair of Millers Oils5. In 2009 Jan was named the UK’s most inspirational female entrepreneur and in 2014 was made CBE in recognition of her success in guiding and promoting innovative British businesses.
Jan talks to Boyden’s Claire Lauder about manufacturing’s misconstrued image, diversifying the workforce and how PLCs could benefit from having small business leaders on the board.
Lauder: Jan, how influential can a Chair or non-exec director be in encouraging boards to think more broadly about talent?
Ward: It depends on the business, the senior team and board members. Industry is typically male dominated, so achieving diversity at the senior levels is difficult. It’s not that companies don’t want to, they just don’t have formal plans to ensure better balance and nurture existing talent.
“I have worked with very few boards that had a stated purpose for developing female talent.”
For example, in succession planning at Millers Oils we always look at balance and women coming up through operations and sales. Millers is completely gender blind so it’s about the person being right for the job. We have a formal process for developing talent, male and female, and are close to having a pipeline of women for the board. I have worked with very few boards that had a stated purpose for developing female talent.
Lauder: We know a more diverse workforce is safer, more profitable, innovative and creative. So why are companies with a stated purpose so rare?
Ward: Many businesses are not yet convinced. Only about 10 percent of smaller, owner-managed firms understand the commercial benefits of more diverse teams. I have some sympathy here because owner-managers of small manufacturers have so many demands on them – looking after their staff, keeping good people, recruiting the right people, up-skilling teams, leveraging automation and so on. Diversity is absolutely a priority but not actively acknowledged.
“Women need to stop acting as ‘juniors’ and do what the men do; specify their expectations and what they want in progression.”
Lauder: You mention companies tend to overlook the female talent they already have.
Ward: Yes, there are two sides to this. There is a tendency for managers to overlook women but there is also a tendency in women not to put themselves forward. These are the two things that need to change. Women need to stop acting as ‘juniors’ and do what the men do; specify their expectations and what they want in progression
Lauder: Our research confirms this. It also shows old school management as a major career barrier, particularly for younger executives.
Ward: There is a combination of factors here. The biggest barrier to getting younger executives into manufacturing is the image we have as a sector. We are not good at PR and how we present ourselves. Our industry shows men in lab coats in pristine factories. These people come across as very intelligent, science graduates with high-flying careers, so everyone thinks they must have a PhD. It all looks too hard.
There is also an overwhelming amount of content on the Internet, millennials go-to source of information, so it is difficult for a company to cut through.
Lauder: Among younger male executives, what do you notice about their style in the workplace today?
Ward: They are much more open-minded about practically everything. Even in Yorkshire, which is very conservative, at Millers Oils they accept everything, they don’t see gender, race, disability or anything else. Most have been brought up by mothers and grandmothers who worked, so it doesn’t occur to them that women shouldn’t be working. When that younger generation comes through to management we will get a much better balance.
“The majority of Plc board directors have never run a business, so having people from small businesses on their board would be a real wake up call.”
Lauder: Is there also a better pipeline of women in that generation?
Ward: The historically thin pipeline in industry is changing. For example in energy and utilities, out of six hundred apprentices in the scheme over a third are women. That’s a massive step forward. However, attitudes of long serving people are still ‘old school’ as your research shows. They are reticent about promoting women and surprised to find me in a leadership role. It’s chicken and egg. I have long wanted to sit on the board of a Plc, but you must already have Plc experience. The number of women here is tiny, so how can you build a pipeline? It’s like saying, ‘You cannot learn, you cannot possibly do this’.
1Corrotherm is a stockist and supplier of nickel and nickel alloy seamless pipe.
2Energy & Utility Skills bring industry leaders together to identify and address the skills challenges our sector faces.
3EIC is the leading trade association for companies that supply goods and services to the energy industries worldwide.
4Red Penguin is an independent multidisciplinary Marine and Cable Engineering consultancy to the maritime and offshore industries.
5Millers Oils is an advanced lubricants, oils and fuel additives business established in 1887.