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In the lead up to International Women’s Day 2024 we’ve been speaking with women leaders from across our business to reflect on their experience of being a female leader in a male dominated sector.

Meet Jessica, Helen and Charlie. Inspirational female leaders driving change in their business and area of expertise. Here’s what they have to say ….

Helen Isherwood, Managing Director – ADEY

“In 2023 I was promoted internally from Innovation Director to Managing Director at ADEY, after almost 6 years with the business. Although I have worked across all areas of the business, it has been a steep learning curve, made easier by the support and culture around me.

Since stepping into the Managing Director role, the support from the Genuit Group Executive Team has been great and it is reassuring to see the consistent culture being driven from the top.

We’re creating an environment where people feel they can learn, and there is the opportunity for people to develop and grow. We have a wealth of talent across Genuit Group, and by working more closely together across businesses we are creating new opportunities to share knowledge, experience, and ideas.

Earlier in my career I was often the only female in the environment, and I was the first female to join the leadership team at ADEY. However there now feels a more natural split of males and females, not only in the ADEY business, but when collaborating across the wider Group.

As we create further synergies across the Group through the Sustainable Solutions for Growth strategy, by all operating in the same way and working towards shared objectives, it is bringing leaders across the Group together.

The establishment of the Genuit Leadership Team has been invaluable, enabling us to connect and network, and has built trust amongst leaders during these periods of change and transformation. It is also pleasing to see the investment being made into the Genuit Leadership Programme to develop this further.”

Jessica Cook, Strategic Marketing Director, Nuaire

“I always remember the MD at my previous company saying to me that ‘your superpower, Jess, is that you are nice to people and people want to do things for you and get the job done’.  But in the construction industry, the comments I get is that ‘you’re too nice’ or ‘you need to toughen up’. In this industry, being nice to people can be seen as a weakness. I’ve had to battle with that and prove that being ‘nice’ actually delivers results.  You can be a compassionate person who has high emotional intelligence, and be a leader who is resilient. 

Whilst the construction industry is changing, that change is very slow.  At a recent Women in Construction event I attended, people were surprised to find out I am on the board of Nuaire.  The stories that I was hearing from the women at the event were that time and time again they were being overlooked and told they need to toughen up, be stronger, be less emotional.  In other words, be a stereotypical man.” 

“I’m part of the Genuit Culture Team, and the Diversity and Inclusivity Team, where we have been looking at what behaviours are necessary to make for a great workplace where people can flourish. Behaviours like collaboration, taking ownership, being compassionate, and understanding – and embracing – different viewpoints are integral to this.  We have been working through these concepts, and how they can be realised in practical terms, with all the leaders within the Group.  The ultimate aim is to change the industry for the better, where respect is paramount and where we can finally dismiss the notion that to get on in this industry you have to be a really hard person who likes confrontation.”

At Nuaire, in 2022, not a single woman was on the executive board. Now, 25% are women. Furthermore, over the last five years, over 60 new appointments were women, 16 of which were for senior positions from team leader and up.  Personnel across the head office in Caerphilly, Wales, as well as external sales team, has seen a more balanced workforce in recent years with the female employee split increasing from a third to 56%.

“I firmly believe what we are doing here is game changing within the industry” states Jessica.  “Having a strong leadership at group level, that are committed to driving change through the businesses and bringing other leaders around the business on the journey has made a big difference.  To me, it’s always been about that drive, that passion, that commitment. And if you’ve got the support of the people around you to allow you to love what you do, it really does help.”

For those that aren’t in such a fortunate position, Jessica offers some wise words: “I could have stayed in my last job forever. I absolutely loved it. But I knew that there was no way I was ever going to get onto the board there or to get into a senior position. So, I decided to do what was right for me and move jobs.  Believe in yourself and don’t settle for second best; grab opportunity, and see where it takes you.  Find that one person who believes in you. And then be that one person to somebody else as well. Only then we can affect change together.”

Charlie Halliday, Assistant General Counsel, Genuit Group

I am Assistant General Counsel of Genuit Group Plc, reporting to the Group General Counsel and Company Secretary. I have been in the Assistant GC role for a year, and was In House Solicitor at Adey Innovation Limited, one of the Genuit Group trading subsidiaries, for 7 years prior to that. I qualified as a solicitor in 2008 and worked in private practice until I went in house at Adey. My role is wide and varied and I deal with all legal matters across the Group, for the trading businesses and at Plc level, in multiple jurisdictions including employment and immigration, intellectual property, litigation, property, contracts and M&A to name a few.

Having worked in a Corporate Team in a law firm for a number of years after qualifying I was used to working in a male-dominated industry and wasn’t surprised to see that the HVAC sector was also male dominated, when I joined it back in 2015. Fortunately, I don’t think it has ever affected how I do my role, but I am encouraged by the noticeable shift in the number of women across all roles in the HVAC sector and the wider building products sector in all areas from engineering to finance. It’s certainly my personal experience in the Plc I work in, but through my interactions with suppliers and customers I think it is the case across the wider building products industry too, that this shift, coupled with the widespread adoption of more inclusive working practices means it’s now an exciting and accessible sector for women to work in.

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