Jan Ward is Chair of Energy & Utility Skills Group and CEO of her own international engineering business. A teen mum whose career started through a government scheme for the unemployed, she founded her business Corrotherm International, a supplier of high-grade metals, in 1992. Since 2002, she has acted in advisory capacities to various Government departments and in 2014, she received a CBE for services to business and was named the Institute of Directors’ Global Director of the Year. She is keen to use her position at Energy & Utility Skills to help attract women make a difference in the energy and utilities sector. She spoke to Workingmums.co.uk about her career and how to get more women into engineering. She supports the work of the Talent Source Network, a partnership between 20 leading sector employers, which has been created to provide a joint platform to share careers guidance and the latest job opportunities.
WM: How can we change girls’ perceptions of engineering? At what age do we need to start, given that gender stereotypes begin so early?
JW: We need to inspire young girls at primary school age by showing what engineering is actually like: that a career in engineering gives them the opportunity to be creative and use their mind in innovative ways. The idea that engineering is manual, dirty and just for boys is out of date. We need to celebrate those successful women working in engineering today.
At the moment only 10% of the engineers in the UK are women but there are some of us here! We have to be the role models to show younger generations what can be achieved. Girls in primary school need to be aware of engineering as an option that is open to them as a career, especially if they are showing a passion for STEM subjects – Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths.
WM: What do you think are the most effective ways of boosting the recruitment [and retention] of more female engineers?
JW: By showing that engineering is an area of growth: amongst the 221,000 roles that will be needed to be filled in the energy and utilities sector within the next decade, many are in engineering. We can only achieve our recruitment and diversity aims through collaboration; and the work that Energy & Utility Skills is undertaking with leading employers in the sector, through initiatives like Talent Source Network, is a great example of this.
Talent Source Network is highlighting females in the energy and utilities sector: recently recruited apprentices and graduates, like Zoe Finch from E.ON, who had no engineering experience, yet successfully completed an apprenticeship and is now a smart meter engineer.
There are also women like Heidi Mottram, who has made a career in engineering-based companies and is now the Chief Executive of Northumbrian Water. Talent Source Network is also partnering with other organisations to promote job opportunities and offering support on how to progress them.
WM: How did becoming a mum so young affect your career path? Did it make you more determined to succeed? How old is your son now?
JW: Becoming a mum so young, also getting married and raising our son around my part-time work, gradually brought it home to me that I was in a dead-end situation. I left school early with no qualifications, so I had no chance of getting decent work and building a career for myself and my family. It did make me more determined because I had responsibilities. This gave me the drive to do all I could to maximise my potential. My son is now 43 and I can’t believe how the time has flown and how much gaining qualifications has changed my life.
WM: What were the key things that made a difference early in your career in terms of setting the ground for your later achievements?
JW: Finding my true interests and then an opportunity to develop them were the key things. My oldest sister was a lorry driver. I grew up hearing that my mother worked in factories during World War II. Going out to work was something everyone did. It didn’t matter which sector the work was in or whether the workers were women. As a child, I wanted to do metalwork at school and I made a go-cart out of a dustbin and pram wheels, as we all did in those days, using my boilermaker father’s tools. From my earliest days I didn’t acknowledge barriers because I was a girl, I didn’t think it mattered and expected that I could work in sectors that were not traditionally associated with women.
In my late teens I found an opportunity: a government scheme for the unemployed, which involved taking an evening course on international trade. It tapped into another interest – travel, which I read a lot about as a child. Once I completed the first of the three modules on the course, I had to find a full-time job before I could take the others. I got a job with an export company, and I was on my way.
WM: What prompted you to start your own business?
JW: The opportunity came along and I saw no reason why I shouldn’t. If my mother could work in a factory in the 1940s and my sister could drive a lorry in the 1960s, why couldn’t I run an engineering firm in the 1990s?
WM: Did you actively seek advisory roles?
JW: I didn’t, no.
WM: Have you always been interested in the wider issues related to your industry?
JW: Maybe, but I suppose these interests have developed over time, as I gained more experience and identified the wider issues that were external to the industry but had an impact on how it operated. It became increasingly important to me that women should be able to aspire to roles they desire and not be constrained by stereotypes or misconceptions about engineering, or any other sector that have been seen as for males only. I feel very strongly that you cannot complain about something if you aren’t prepared to take action to try to resolve it.
WM: What is your personal experience of trying to recruit more women into the business?
JW: I’ve had some successes in a range of jobs and have tried where possible to recruit young women and assist them to grow into a senior role. Recruiting your engineers of any gender at the moment is quite difficult. However, getting females to apply is quite an art. The job description needs to be very clear that the vacancy is open to ALL genders.
WM: What are the benefits of a more diverse team?
JW: I think a diverse team is absolutely essential for a successful business, regardless of the sector. Diversity in all forms – gender, ethnicity, age, background, is key to having a creative and productive company. The mix of viewpoints improves problem-solving and innovation and gives the business a richness.
WM: How important are positive role models?
JW: Very important. When I was a teenager, there were no role models in society that I could aspire to, but I found inspiration from my older sister and my mother and used it to transform my life. Looking back, I suppose the stories my older brothers told me about their time serving overseas in the National Service broadened my horizons. It sparked my interest in travel and helped me see that, actually, the world was my oyster! Perhaps growing up near to the sea on the south coast had a role to play in that!