Karen Sloan, newly appointed Managing Director – Gas Maintenance at Liberty Group, shares her ambition to encourage more women to pursue a career in property services.
As the world marks another International Women’s Day, it is of course reassuring to see more dialogue about how some of our most economically thriving sectors can tackle gender and other imbalances in their workforces. But in 2019, how much progress have these sectors, particularly property services, actually made? And how can we turn words and ambitions into action and real change?
I am delighted to be starting my new role as MD of Liberty’s gas division and have big ambitions for the organisation. I am privileged that in a leadership position I, along with the hundreds of talented team members who make up Liberty, can influence change at our company and within our sector.
According to British Gas, just 6% of the industry’s workforce is female and the trends are similar across trades like electrical engineering and building maintenance. Redressing this gender imbalance will take time but I am a big believer in taking small steps to make big changes long-term.
This sector is still a challenging environment for women and I am committed to striving for equality. The traditional career progression in the sector is from engineer to supervisor and on to manager, so if we haven’t got many female operatives then we won’t have many female managers. I myself am not gas qualified and I challenged this career progression to show that non-technical experience can be just as beneficial at management levels, and I’m keen to spread this message.
I have always been determined to progress in my own career and early on I became passionate about the contracts side rather than office management. This was at a time when it was almost unheard of for women to work in gas. I have had my own career knock backs over the years and have experienced bias on many occasions, but I can certainly see positive changes.
I have pushed for opportunities and tried to take them when they came along, which is why I made the difficult decision a few years ago to take a senior role based two hours away from my home in Wirral. I was the only woman in the senior team but I was there on merit, rather than tokenism, which felt great. This led onto me joining Liberty in April 2017 as Operations Director for the North West. Ten months in, I put myself forward for the role of Chief Operating Officer and was successful, overseeing the whole country — 200,000 homes and 48 social housing clients. Now I have the opportunity to step up again.
I believe we need a concerted effort to encourage girls, women and under represented groups to pursue careers in property services. That is why Liberty will be establishing links with more schools and attend more careers fairs promoting our industry and the fantastic career paths that come with it. We will be talking to young people, creating work experience opportunities and even more apprenticeships and where possible remove the barriers that prevent people from entering our sector.
My message on International Women’s Day and every day is; we can achieve anything. We are going to open up those avenues and be more visible so that all parts of society see engineering and trades as the fantastic career choice that it is. I love this industry. I like to push the envelope and prove that anyone can get there and achieve.