Women in industry: Fenestration’s a good fit for women, so where are they?

January 4, 2019

VEKA Group’s Marketing Director Dawn Stockell talks to Clearview about her experience and why she feels there should be more diversity in manufacturing and fenestration.

When I was asked to give my opinion on being a woman in industry and the challenges women face, I felt that perhaps I wasn’t the best person to comment; I honestly didn’t face any issues getting into the fenestration industry at board level (and the consumer electronics sector before that). Even coming from a different industry, I received a very warm welcome to VEKA Group over two years ago, and I have experienced nothing but professionalism from my colleagues there since.

VEKA Group is an absolute meritocracy, where the best person will be selected for the right job, whatever the applicant’s age, sex, ethnicity or background, so I know that I wasn’t hired because I’m a woman (or ‘despite’ being a woman). I secured the role because I had all the relevant knowledge and experience to help take the brands of VEKA Group forward.

VEKA Group is a leading Lancashire manufacturer, employing around 400 people from the local area. The company was twice crowned ‘Employer of the Year’ at awards ceremonies last year and has an ethos of complete fairness, transparency and equality.

VEKA’s gender pay gap is just 1.61% compared to the national average of 17.9% and I’m proud to say that VEKA has a good representation of women in senior positions.

However, even with completely gender-neutral recruitment messages, the majority of roles we advertise (especially on the shop floor) attract a disproportionately high number of men compared to women.

Throughout my career up to this point – in marketing, product management and NPD – I have never felt that being female inhibited me in any way. To my knowledge, I’ve never been hindered or passed over because of it. And yet, I find myself the only woman on the Board of Directors, even in a company as welcoming and forward-thinking as VEKA Group.

The Financial Times reported last year that, in FTSE 250 companies, only 23.6 per cent of board roles are held by women, and about 100 companies in the FTSE 350 either have no women, or just one on their board.

I don’t believe this is because men are somehow innately better qualified for these roles, but a successful candidate can only be selected from those that apply, and if women are not putting themselves forward for jobs in fenestration, then perhaps we need to consider why that might be.

People might say fenestration is not the most ‘glamorous’ industry. We’re making and marketing profile not perfume; and when it comes to workwear, I definitely see more DeWalt than Dior.
But why should that matter?
Business principles and creative marketing strategies can be applied across any number of industries and the success you achieve can be just as rewarding in any sector, particularly when dealing B2B, when you haven’t got the ‘pull’ of a major consumer brand.

I love that the work at VEKA Group is incredibly varied and means that one day we are busy creating a major consumer advertising campaign or working on our product innovation strategy and the next we’re helping on community projects – like turning a bus into a library for a local school!

My observation is that there is a widely held assumption that fenestration is an industry better suited to men, so then fewer women enter into it, and therefore the ‘boys club’ becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The only problem I have come across since entering the fenestration industry (not at VEKA, but at industry events) – is one of disrespect. And it seems, unfortunately, that in industries like construction and fenestration, casual bad manners and unacceptable behaviour are often considered harmless ‘laddish’ behaviour and largely ignored.

Luckily I have a thick skin and am usually uncowed by any attempt to intimidate me based on my gender, but at a recent event when asking someone I’d never met to move from the dining room to the bar I was told “I’ll move if you get your t*ts out.”

I couldn’t help but think how this appalling behaviour might have affected a younger, more sensitive or more impressionable person just starting out in their career or considering a move into our industry.

If we want to encourage a more diverse mix of people into fenestration, then we need to stamp out this type of behaviour.

Companies need diversity of all kinds to stay relevant, to represent ‘real life’ and to reflect the target market. Sales and marketing messages are at their most effective when there is shared experience between advertiser and consumer.

To create the best opportunities in any group, whether it’s a works committee or a Board of Directors, you need a diverse range of experiences, visions and views in the melting pot, to produce a well thought out and ultimately successful solution.

Jo Wallace, Creative Director of J. Walter Thompson, London, points out that only 13% of Creative Directors are women, and yet a massive 85% of consumer-based decisions are from a female perspective.

The disparity between these figures isn’t just bad for diversity, it’s bad for business.
And the fenestration industry is no exception.

It makes good business sense to encourage more women to join the fenestration industry, but I also understand that it would be wrong for us to go out and try to attract only women. As an industry, we need to continue making sure that the best person is appointed for every job, whoever that may be, but we must all do our utmost to ensure that the largest possible mixture of people know there are some great opportunities for all in this sector.

I’m a firm believer that if a company looks after employees, makes sure they feel valued and encourages them to feel ‘part of the organisation’ then they will become your most powerful spokespeople and can be the all-important difference in how your company is perceived.

If we can ensure that we create as welcoming a workplace as possible, then the industry will gradually attract a more and more diverse range of people and begin to push the boundaries of what we can achieve.

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