Beating the Bias: the future is bright for women in male-dominated sectors

Words of wisdom from women in the most gender-skewed industries in the UK on how to make it to the top and pave the way for more women in male-dominated sectors.

It’s now pretty well known that companies with more female representation on their board of directors deliver a 36 per cent better return on equity than businesses with fewer women on their board. Other statistics suggest gender diversity is a crucial business issue and a missed opportunity for the UK.

For example, if women are able to meet their “full potential” in the workplace, it could boost the UK GDP by £23 trillion by 2025.

Additionally, every 10 per cent increase in gender diversity saw earnings before interest and taxes rise 3.5 per cent in the UK. Senior-executive teams with greater gender diversity saw some of the highest uplifts in performance.

International Women’s Day may have come and gone, but according to packaging supplier Rajapack, the issues affecting women in male-dominated sectors like construction, manufacturing, logistics, supply chain, packaging and engineering are almost equally stifling. 

According to Rajapack’s research, it’s clear that parity benefits everyone, on both an individual and corporate level. Gender diverse companies perform 15 per cent better, so what’s the hold up? 

Construction & manufacturing

Perhaps traditionally seen as the industries most unsuited to women, construction and manufacturing conjure up images of noisy building sites and factories, with lots of heavy lifting and heavy machinery. There are stories of the only women on a construction site being given a pink hard hat to wear. 51 per cent of women working in the construction industry said they were treated worse because of their gender. But the construction industry is changing for the better, according to the women who work in it.

Emma Porter
Head of operations, Story Contracting

As Emma Porter’s father owned his own building company, she was exposed to the industry from a young age. Despite this, and having worked in the industry for over 10 years at the likes of Arup and Story, she reveals that she has had to prove her competency with every new team, stating that you will be talked over, patronised, and ignored sometimes:

“I have felt like I’ve had to prove myself more and occasionally need to push a little harder to be heard”. However, she often brings a different perspective to the team, which is a huge advantage: “It’s easier to stand out if you’re different from the norm; clients, prospective employers and other stakeholders are likely to remember you.”

Marci Bonham
Managing director and general manager, Hilti

With 20 years of experience with strong global brands, Marci Bonham was appointed to the role of general manager of Hilti in November 2014. She believes the challenge lies in attracting women into the industry, and retaining them as they develop their careers.

“Supporting women as they take their first management roles, then encouraging them as they climb the ladder, will ultimately have a greater impact on the industry as a whole.”

Packaging, logistics & supply chain

Packaging, logistics and supply chain are all industries that have been traditionally male-led. However, there are female trail blazers. Rajapack, a French privately-owned company operating throughout Europe, was founded in 1954 by two women, Rachel Marcovici and Janine Rocher. Today, the company is run by Rachel’s daughter, Danièle. There is also Women in Packaging, a group dedicated to recognising and supporting female employees within the packaging industry.

Clair Ball
Head of customer services, Rajapack

With over a decade of experience in packaging, Clair Ball believes that the sector has been a male dominated field due to the industrial nature of the business. However, since starting at Rajapack 14 years ago, she has seen more positions filled by women.

“I have noticed a change in the industry towards being more customer focused, whilst also offering flexible hours and equal pay to benefit working parents.”

Ruth Waring
Founder, Women in Logistics
Managing director, Labyrinth Logistics Consulting
Co-creator, SilkThread

After having her first child, Ruth Waring was offered a big promotion on the understanding she didn’t have another baby for two to three years. Waring found a new job soon afterwards and left. Turning the experience into a positive, this spurred her on to set up Women in Logistics in 2008, to help increase the number of women in the sector and address the gender imbalance. She has over 27 years of experience in the transport industry, but has seen the same obstacles crop up for women throughout the years. 

“I have lost count of the logistics company websites I have viewed where there is not one female director and all the others look identical. The dynamic changes significantly when women get involved.”

For Waring, it’s all about supporting other women in male-led sectors. “We’ve done a lot to increase the confidence of our Women in Logistics members with our mentoring scheme and events tailored to help them reach their potential, but I think the initiative now needs to come from the employers to demonstrate that they do really want to take advantage of a wider talent pool,” she adds.

Beth Morgan – VP content operations, SCM World

With a background in research and analysis, Beth Morgan now works as part of the research team at SCM World, a cross-industry learning community of the world’s most influential supply chain practitioners, working to advance the profession of supply chain management.

Morgan stresses that the one challenge that stands out is the current imbalance in terms of female representation at more senior levels of the industry.

“In an SCM World survey of the supply chain community, things even out quite a bit at manager level, but interestingly, there is greater female representation today at entry level, which bodes well for redressing the balance in the future at more senior levels.”


Engineering covers a vast spectrum of occupations, yet the amount of young women studying in this field has remained virtually unchanged since 2012. 25 years ago only about 20 per cent of A-level physics students were female, and this number has not changed today.

Helen Wollaston

WISE is a campaign aimed at getting more women into the science, technology, and engineering workforce in the UK. Providing expert advice, WISE advises educational institutions and employers on how they can attract, retain and improve opportunities for girls and women in these subjects and industries.

“Engineering has a male image, more so in the UK than other parts of the world. It has become something of a vicious circle – girls don’t see any female role models working in these industries, so they assume it is not for them.”

Helen Wollaston believes that we must challenge out-dated perceptions about the industry and so called “women’s jobs” and “men’s jobs”.

Naomi Climer
President, Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET)

Listed in the Daily Telegraph and the Women’s Engineering Society’s ‘50 Most Influential Women in UK Engineering’ in 2016, Naomi Climer states that it’s not acceptable that men still hold down 91 per cent of jobs in engineering.

“We need to make it clear how widespread the problem is: major companies should publish precise figures about the exact proportion of women they have in their workforces. That might at least get them thinking about where they are going wrong.”

She believes that a diverse and inclusive workplace makes it easier for everyone to be at their best.

Harriet Kirk
Senior geotechnical engineer, Atkins

After studying for a degree in history, Harriet Kirk had a change of heart and decided that she wanted to go back to university to study Civil Engineering. Realising she enjoyed the geotechnical modules, she decided to specialise in ground engineering.

“It’s important to get girls early, partly to challenge assumptions about gender roles which might discourage them from pursuing a STEM career, and partly to inspire them with the possibilities.”

Words of wisdom: what needs to change?

“More flexible working hours, apprenticeships for over 25’s, more communication on why gender diversity is important and why it’s good for everyone, much stronger commitments to achieving gender diversity, more representation of women in construction in posters, adverts and other media, unconscious bias training for senior managers and increased awareness in schools for the opportunities there are in construction (initiatives like Go Construct are great).”Emma Porter, head of operations, Story Contracting.

“Within the industry we need to be constantly challenging unconscious biases – there is lots of evidence that people hire people who remind them of themselves, so if you don’t fit into the industry norm it’s harder to get a break.”Harriet Kirk, senior geotechnical engineer, Atkins.

“Don’t flutter your eyelashes – demand respect from working hard and getting great results. Get used to speaking up loudly – and rise above boyish banter. Our ability to be different marks us out for fast track trajectory as long as you can develop a hefty results-based work ethic and a thick skin!”Kate Lester, founder and CEO Diamond Logistics.

I would encourage women to network – there are so many inspiring women within this industry from whom you can learn a lot. Also, once you are established, give something back by encouraging and mentoring other women.”  Clair Ball, head of sales, Rajapack.

“Supply chain is a fascinating and dynamic profession, which is in a constant state of change – the opportunities are almost endless. Don’t be afraid to move around and try new things – take advantage of career rotations into other roles. It’s also one of the most open professions I’ve encountered in terms of people’s willingness to share their experiences. So, network as much as you can and ask questions to find out what it’s really like and discover where your potential lies.” – Beth Morgan, VP content operations, SCM World.

“Don’t put so much pressure on yourself. There are many routes to get you to where you want to go and people who will help you. Get yourself a mentor who can help you navigate through your career and a mentee you can guide. Join a group or association within the industry and start building your network. The journey is long and you will need companions. Women in construction are 14 per cent of the UK industry, but they are a very generous bunch.” Cristina Lanz-Azcarate, London and South East Chair for NAWIC UK & Ireland; and co-founder and director of Atelier EURA.

“Be specific in your career goals and aspirations, and do not apologise for them. You define your own future and chart your own course, but you do not have to do it alone – have the courage to ask for support when you need it.”Marci Bonham, managing director and general manager, Hilti.

“Connect! Even if you’re working in a male-dominated business, don’t feel alone. There are plenty of opportunities to engage with other women in the industry and feel supported by training, networking and educational events.”

Joanna Stephenson, MD of PHD Marketing & Strategy; and co-founder of Women in Packaging.

Praseeda Nair

Praseeda Nair

Praseeda was Editor for from 2016 to 2018.

Related Topics

Female founders