Independent builders’ merchant buying group NMBS brought together a selection of women from the merchanting industry at its first Women in Industry Conference last Friday (September 13).
The brainchild of NMBS finance director Julie Langford, the invitation-only event, held at the London Stock Exchange, was designed to encourage women in the merchanting sector to share experiences and promote discussion. Over 60 women across merchants, manufacturers and service suppliers attended the event to share experiences, inspire ideas, and to learn from each other as well as the guest speakers.
Langford said: “Construction is a male-dominated environment. There are numerous events run up and down the country already where women in construction come together and tell their individual stories. NMBS wanted to do much more than that – to create an event where women can share experiences, yes, but also to provoke a discussion, to challenge thinking, and to encourage attendees to challenge themselves and share with their colleagues.
“The merchanting industry is dominated by men. Until last year, I as the first and only female in 55 year to sit on the NMBS board I’m now joined by one of our speakers Glynis. I also sit on two other industries but again the composition of the board remains dominated by men and this imbalance needs to be addressed.”
Speakers were former RAF pilot Mandy Hickson, only the second woman to fly a Tornado GR4 on the front line, Sally Beavan, a Managing Director within the Corporate and Commercial Business of Santander UK, former professional footballer Karen Carney, the second most capped England player and Langford. The conference was hosted by technology journalist Georgie Barratt and Lean In sessions were conducted by wellness specialist Dr Dorian Dugmore and networking specialist Asha Pitt.
There was also a panel session with Glynis Catterson of S&A Builders Merchants, Sam Hanks of Cembrit and Pippa Latham, Master of the Worshipful Company of Builders Merchants. Latham covered the many career opportunities in merchanting and the need for better communication to parents, schools and colleges to improve understanding and awareness so our sector is attractive to girls and boys. “From my personal experience, you learn to manage (working in a male-dominated industry),” Latham said. “It shouldn’t stop you from progressing and the key is to keep looking for the opportunities.”
Both Catterson and Hanks talked about the importance of saying Yes to things, even if they are a bit risky or even scary, and of moving out of the comfort-zone.
Karen Carney talked about learning to deal with the disappointment of not getting through and winning the World Cup in 2019 as well as her own struggles with depression and injury and developing a new career as a football pundit. “I retired at the end of that tournament and although I’ve achieved a lot in my career: 144 caps for England, a silver medal and a bronze medal, I never got that gold medal. That will always eat at me. But every day I look in the mirror and know that I have no regrets. That I gave it everything.”
Sally Bevan, managing director of Santander UK talked about balancing a career with family life, as well as her inspirational mentors over the years, the importance of treating people fairly and of being as authentic as possible. “Do what you won’t regret,” she said.
Mandy Hickson, who could fly before she even had a driving licence, pointed out that the RAF is so much more than just being about the pilots. “There are 50 trades involved in getting that Tornado up in the air,” she said.
Hickson also said that, following her journey through the rigorous recruitment process, the raft changed the way they tested potential pilots. “70% of women taking those particular tests failed, whereas 80% of men taking them passed. The tests were designed, for the way that men, by and large, approach things. Women and men test in different ways, so the RAF have now changed the way they test their pilots.” She pointed out that this doesn’t mean the tests have got easier, rather that they are structured differently, so that the RAF now has the best chance of finding the most suitable candidates of either gender.