To mark International Women’s Day, we’ve interviewed women working in the different stages of their career in the STEM industry about their experiences. Kathy Jenkins joined Marshall in April 2017 as Group HR Director and progressed to Chief Operating Officer in October 2019. She has a breadth of experience across the STEM industry and shared her experiences and perspective of International Women’s Day.
What does International Women’s Day mean to you?
International Women’s Day is a moment of reflection on the journey of Women’s rights. The progress we have made is amazing, but we must stay focussed as we still have a long way to go. For me, it’s about refreshing and thinking about the next steps.
International Women’s Day was first marked in 1911 – more than 100 years ago. Why do you think the day is still relevant?
It’s important that we keep having these conversations around global gender equality. We’re fortunate in the UK to have made progress, however we need to speak out for countries that don’t have basic rights, education and careers for women. There is still a lot of work to do and we need to concentrate on how we can create these opportunities and bright futures for women.
What barriers have you faced, as a woman, in becoming successful in your field and how did you overcome them?
My biggest barrier was being heard. I think this is a universal challenge but a lot of women face these issues, especially in traditional environments. My career path takes on a lot of projects, which means it has its own challenges. I found if you work hard, be patient and resilient then you can get your perspective across. Some of the most successful ways to get your message heard is to stay focussed.
Can you tell me about a female role model who has inspired you over your career?
From a careers standpoint, one of my bosses from my last organisation was a very successful businesswomen, who worked in a lot of different traditional sectors internationally. She broke the glass ceiling and she did it by being unbelievably resilient, calm, collective and pragmatic. People knew she was strong and a ‘force to be reckoned with’, which meant people wanted to work with her. Her leadership style has certainly inspired me.
Another role model is my friend working in a social business in the UN. Her dedication is why I’m so conscious of what’s happening to women globally. She’s been very selfless to help educate women without opportunity by building schools in India. I’m inspired by her because she puts that first and what most people take for granted second.
Why do you think diversity is so important in the workplace?
Diversity in all its forms is massively important. Businesses are successful because they’re creative and responsive to all the challenges that may occur. By having a diverse workforce, you’re getting a broad range of efforts, thought processes and ideas. Again, you must create a conversation to address it and pretending things are ok won’t progress anything, as businesses evolve, you have to evolve your workforce.
With women only making up 24% of the STEM workforce, how can we inspire more women to pursue a career in STEM?
It’s a known issue in the UK that it’s hard to attract candidates to engineering roles. I think we need to talk to girls at a primary school age to start their thought processes about STEM. Women interested in STEM tend to be more practical so we should encourage them to be involved in more hands-on elements in education, I think this will influence them. We also need more female role models, so getting more women engaging and talking about STEM is important to encourage the younger generations.
What advice did you receive early in your career that has stayed with you?
Early in my career, I was told that if you choose a career path like mine that I need to be resilient and to think about the way I communicate and engage. I’ve progressed and have become more considered to develop my thought processes. I’ve always been in environments where they’ve encouraged me to challenge conventional wisdom and be open-minded.
As Chief Operating Officer, is this a role that you aspired to when you started your career?
No, my main motivator has always been driven by interest and making a difference rather than achieving a status. I started my career in finance but soon realised that it wasn’t the right career move for me. I moved into a HR role and quickly found myself in roles focussing on transformation, change and turnaround. These roles developed my understanding and experience, which is how I’m Chief Operating Officer at Marshall today.
Finally, what would you say to any young aspiring woman who would like to reach great heights in their career?
You must be hopeful, resilient and believe in yourself. I think it’s important you understand where you can add value and when you need to ask for help. That will really help you build a solid support network and make sure that you support and empower women throughout your career.
My last piece of advice would be if you’re role is not adding value to you, then question if you want to continue it. There are plenty of other opportunities out there, make sure you fuel your passions.
Thank you to Kathy for sharing her experiences and advice with us. For more information about our appreniceships click here