The right person for the job should be successful in that role, regardless of gender or background. It is a mantra I’ve taken throughout my career, and something that is very much supported here at Air Products but it’s worth saying again in light of International Women’s Day.
As a woman heading up an all-male team, I’m acutely aware of the challenges that come from being a woman in a male-dominated sector, but I also recognise that my gender has no impact on my ability to deliver in this space.
I am the UK and Ireland customer engineering south maintenance technician manager for Air Products, an industrial gases company. This means that I manage a wide variety of customers and cover a range of gases and industries – from food to hospitals.
As part of my role, I am also responsible for Air Products’ hydrogen installations, refuelling and production for the southern region – a role that is exciting now and only set to grow as part of our transition to cleaner, greener fuels.
A merit-based approach
I’m proud to oversee a team of 14 engineers and one apprentice, and every day is different – there’s no typical day, no typical week. On a Monday I could be doing anything from working with my technicians to oversee maintenance and breakdown work, or ensuring legislative requirements are in place, and by the end of the week I could be doing an assessment with our apprentice.
Currently, everyone I’m interacting with (my team and my peers) are all men. Although some women may see that as a challenge, I’ve chosen to take the mindset throughout my career that neither my gender nor the gender of those around me can play any part in our workplace.
It feels good to know that my perspective is supported by the wider business too. We’ve got really strong diversity and inclusion values here, based on the belief that we should ‘stand together’ in the drive for equality, and these values are grounded in action.
In October 2020, we announced a goal to achieve at least 28 per cent female representation in our professional and managerial population globally by 2025, from a 25 per cent baseline representation at the time of the announcement. I am one of those women and look forward to seeing many more capable women take up roles alongside me.
Personally, I always strive for a merit-based approach and that’s critical in a sector where safety is so key. A fundamental part of my job is to make sure people are trained to the right level with the right documentation. I speak not only for myself but for anyone else in operational management when I say that competency in the workplace must be adhered to before anything else can happen. My values and drive are very much rooted in safety, like so many of us, and this was one of the things which drew me to Air Products.
Safety and self-belief
Safety is central to Air Products’ ethos of being the safest, most diverse, and most profitable industrial gas company in the world. We also believe it is a moral obligation. We want our employees to return home to their families safe and healthy. Our goal remains zero accidents and zero incidents. Our beliefs about safety have been instituted for decades and adherence to safety is a condition of employment for everyone.
In my experience, the importance of safety cannot be overemphasised. The technicians carrying out installations are not pressured into signing off anything that is not safe and they have my full support in stopping any work which they deem to be unsafe.
Anyone who works in this industry knows there is no room for mistakes. It takes a huge amount of confidence in your own capabilities to do this role, and as women are more prone to self-doubt – a KPMG study found that 75% of women have personally experienced imposter syndrome – this might be one reason why we’re under-represented here. However, the same study found that nearly half (47%) said that this self-doubt resulted from never expecting to reach the level of success they have achieved. This is self-sabotage at its finest.
As women, we’ve historically faced more barriers in the workplace and while some of these continue in certain sectors, I’d urge women to reach for the roles they want and acknowledge that their own hard work can pay off. Better to cast aside the doubt we may have ourselves or from others and focus on being our true best selves.
Additionally, it can seem like a barrier to many women if a team or sector is entirely male. It comes back to my mantra; the right person for the job should be successful in that role, regardless of gender or background. I hope that by being a woman in leadership in this male-dominated space I am showing other women that anything is possible.
A seat at the table
Of course, there’s still work to do but I’m seeing an increasing number of doors opening for women. While it can feel like a challenge to be the only woman in the room to start, we also need to remember that manufacturing and industry, like every other sector, benefits from diversity of thought and approach. We are all bringing great value to the table.
Air Products recognises this and has set a goal to become the most diverse industrial gas company in the world. We foster a collaborative and respectful work environment where everyone can achieve their true potential. The unique perspectives and experiences our employees bring to their work are essential to meeting our customers’ needs and bringing innovation to the wide range of markets we serve, from food processing to metals processing and transportation.
I’m hoping that we will see an increasing number of applications from women, and to that end, The Air Products Foundation is partnering with organisations that directly drive diverse representation in the broader chemical and manufacturing industries. We’re already beginning to see more applications from women on our apprenticeship scheme and my hope is this number will continue to grow.
We’re collaborating with CATCH – an industry-led partnership supporting the process, energy, engineering and renewable industries in the Humber – as we look to choose the cohort for September 2023 and I’m hopeful that we’ll see a greater balance of applications. My message to anyone considering applying is that there truly is an opportunity to shine here, regardless of who you are and any preconceptions about who you think should be in this role.
While we need to address the gender balance, I am living proof that there is already space for women to take a seat at the table, especially in sectors that have traditionally been male dominated. It takes confidence in yourself not to be daunted, but the more of us who take that plunge, the easier it is for those who follow in our footsteps.
About the author
Marie Hayler is UK&I Customer Engineering South Maintenance Technician Manager at Air Products, an industrial gas company. Marie is responsible for overseeing maintenance and safety operations for a wide range of sites and customers south of Stoke-on-Trent, managing a team of 15 (including one apprentice). With a current focus on safety, Marie is always keen to support the next generation of talent. She has over 20 years’ experience in delivering safe operations, with a current focus on the hydrogen market. Marie is passionate about supporting the next generation of talent, and instilling a robust approach to safety across her team and throughout the organisation.