This International Women’s Day Kirsty Thomas, Liberty’s Business Performance Change Manager, talks about the challenges she has faced on the road to success and why more needs to be done to support the next generation of women into the industry:
According to British Gas, just six per cent of the industry’s workforce is female and the trends are similar across trades like electrical engineering and building maintenance.
Having started out over 15 years ago as an office junior, I know from personal experience the challenges women can face to career progression in the sector.
Inspiration from others
Early on in my career I watched my female manager at a previous company be turned down for senior roles or receive a lower salary to her male counterparts. But she kept going and overcame the old-school thinking of the male dominated company we worked at to eventually get the positions she deserved.
That really inspired me to keep going and to be ambitious. I remember when I first secured an Operations Manager role, I led a predominantly male team and I certainly felt I had to work harder than a man might to gain their respect.
But women shouldn’t have to overcome additional barriers to men to achieve success or to work harder to gain respect.
I now count my lucky stars that back when I started out as an office junior at PH Jones my manager was Karen Sloan, now Liberty’s Managing Director of Heating and Compliance.
I grew up on The Wirral and stumbled across the role aged 19 after working in hospitality for a while after leaving school. I quickly grew to love the industry we work in.
Karen has been a constant inspiration to me and even when we no longer worked together, I was able to turn to her for advice and mentoring.
Gaining the confidence to progress
My curious and questioning nature has always driven my career forward. I was never happy to just do my administrative tasks without question – I wanted to know why I was doing something and if I could find a more efficient way to do it.
I would put forward ideas for how we could improve our business model and I feel fortunate that female managers, like Karen, listened to what I had to say.
My career began to progress when I got the chance to carry out administration auditing with PH Jones on a national scale. I was young and had no family ties at the time, so a career travelling around the country learning more about the business and helping others was really exciting.
I did this job for around two years and started to realise that senior managers were relying on me for the support and expertise to deliver improvements in their areas.
That’s when I started thinking to myself, could I do their job even though I’m a woman?
A job as Operations Manager became available closer to home, which involved managing both engineer teams and office teams and the sole responsibility for five clients, the delivery of the service and profit and loss performance.
I was nervous about applying because at the time there was only one or two other female operations managers in the company and at 26, I felt I was quite young to get this kind of position.
Luckily other female managers, like Karen, fully supported and encouraged me to apply for that role and gave me the confidence I needed to succeed at interview.
That was a real turning point in my career and I’ve never looked back.
I went on to progress into a Regional Operations Manager role looking after the heating and compliance operation for the North of England and Scotland and developing my leadership skills.
I then moved into a role as Operations Development Manger which was primarily focussed on creating and delivering improvements within the operating model.
All of this experience stood me in good stead when I applied for the role I now hold as Business Change and Performance Manager for Liberty.
My new role involves supporting the business to manage and deliver change and transformation, and to create improvement strategies as part of the Heating and Compliance operational leadership team.
I jumped at the chance to work for Karen Sloan again after 15 years. Add to that the great culture for supporting equality and career progression the company has and taking the job with Liberty was a no-brainer for me.
Choose to challenge inequality
Across the industry there’s more we can do. Change can start with promoting opportunities in the industry to young women while they are in education.
At Liberty we challenge inequality and are proud to back International Women’s Day 2021 #ChooseToChallenge campaign.
We are working hard to promote careers in our sector to young people coming up through education. One example of this is our mentoring scheme in Havant. Five colleagues, including three women, have been mentoring high school pupils to raise career aspirations and highlight the opportunities in the property services sector for young women as well as young men.
More widely across the organisation we are also reviewing our recruitment processes and offering more support for flexible working.
Female leaders at Liberty, like Karen, promote positive opportunities available for women and support the career progression of others within the organisation and beyond it through involvement with groups like Women in Social Housing (WISH).
We can also do more as a sector to create pathways for career progression from administration roles and recognise the transferable skill set people in these roles have.
I live in hope that my daughter will grow up in a world without having to worry about gender inequality, but most of all I will encourage her to be financially independent so she can have the security and freedom to follow her dreams.
Together we can break down the barriers women face to career progression for the next generation by choosing to challenge inequality.
Kirsty, 35, lives on The Wirral with her husband Chris and two children Dexter and Bella.