While better represented here in manufacturing than in many other STEM industries, women and non-binary people still make up only 37% of manufacturing workers globally.
In order for manufacturing to be an attractive career path for women and non-binary people, we need to change the sector’s image and highlight the role models blazing a trail in the industry. That’s why we’ve spoken to electronic solutions provider GTK’s HR Business Partner, Leanne Matthew, to understand her career journey and get advice for young women and non-binary people looking to progress in the sector.
Can you tell us about your career so far and what you do in your role now?
I’m GTK’s HR Business Partner, which means I’m responsible for all aspects of employees’ journeys within the company, as well as all the processes and policies that go alongside that. I cover our sites in the UK as well as our Romanian site and the recently acquired Review Display Systems.
My job is to give the best possible experience to our employees and create a rewarding working environment. Employees are at the heart of GTK and should be for all businesses. Without them, you don’t have a business. By giving them the best working environment possible, we create a happier, more motivated and more engaged workforce.
I sort of fell into HR – originally, I wanted to be a police officer and I trained as one before joining the Special Constabulary division of the Met Police. But after a few years, I realised it wasn’t what I wanted to do, so I looked at my transferable skills and where they could be used – HR was a natural fit. I didn’t have any HR qualifications, so I started in an entry-level role and worked my way up from HR Administrator and HR Manager to where I am now.
I’ve worked in a few traditionally male-dominated sectors, from the police to food manufacturing and logistics, and now I’m back into manufacturing on the electronics side with GTK.
Have you faced any challenges as a woman in male-dominated sectors and as a woman in leadership?
A lot of the challenges I’ve faced in the past were in relation to not just being a woman but being a younger woman in leadership. A lot of these types of businesses are run by predominantly older men, and they assume a lack of capability. Sometimes, they’ll even treat you like a child.
You get comments about your gender or your age. Comments about you not knowing what you’re doing. I’ve even had people say to me “Well you’re going to be off having children at some point”, which is something they’d never say to a man.
There’s a lot of age discrimination. I’ve heard people say, “We need to hire more children into the industry, more people in their 20s” and that’s me – I’m not a child! Then people used my age against me when progressing in my career. When I was seeking a promotion and a pay rise in a previous role, I was told no because “you’re doing better than most people your age”; what I receive in my job shouldn’t be based on other people’s progress. It should be based on my worth, my skills and how hard I’ve worked.
One thing I can say is that I haven’t experienced any of this at GTK – we have a lot of women in senior roles, including myself, and I’ve found it’s one of the most inclusive work environments I’ve been in.
How have you dealt with these challenges?
I’ve used these comments to drive my career and spur me on. I’ve used it to show them what I can do – and what all women, especially young women, can do! We shouldn’t be defined by our gender or our age. We should be defined by what we can achieve and our capabilities.
These comments are frustrating, but instead of seeing them as a restriction, they’re my driver. This is my chance now to go out there, prove them wrong and show what women can do.
I think my experience in the police force has helped too. I was taught the skills that would give me a thicker skin, a harder shell. My training taught me how to respond to all types of situations and feedback well – you need to consider and think about what’s happening before you respond.
What advice would you give to young women and non-binary people aspiring to be leaders or work in STEM sectors?
Where you start your career is so important. If you’re looking to enter a more generalist role like HR, marketing, finance and so on, remember that these roles are available in all sectors. Don’t limit yourself.
When you interview with a company, make sure you get a good feeling for them – ask the questions to understand how they see their employees, what progression opportunities they have and how they support their employees. If I hadn’t gotten into a company that helped me grow and develop, with really supportive managers and leaders early in my career, I wouldn’t be where I am today.
If you find you’re not in the right company, sometimes you need to make the difficult decision to move on and find the right place. If you’re somewhere where they’re holding you back, it’s going to be a hindrance to your development. In terms of support, I’ve always been around strong female role models, and that’s been invaluable to my career. They’ve looked to develop me, and had career conversations with me – that kind of environment will allow you to progress. I’m surrounded by strong female leaders at GTK now and it creates an environment where women are supported and where we can really shine.
You can be as driven as you want, but if you’re at a business that’s holding you back and not supporting you, you’ll struggle to get to where you want to be.