To mark International Women’s Day (Friday 08 March), we spoke to Erika Leadbeater, Operations Director at leading engineering company TSG Marine, about gender balance and her experience of being a leading female figure in the North East business community.
International Women’s Day this year is focused on building a gender-balanced world. What do you think we can do here in the North East to improve gender equality?
We need to focus on promoting the benefits of inclusive workplaces. We need workplaces where difference is celebrated for the positive impact it can bring to an organisation; both in terms of a positive workplace culture but also ultimately bringing commercial success.
In this ever-changing world innovation is a necessity. Innovation requires creativity, and creativity needs new ideas, which more often than not come from different points of view. You will only get that diversity of thinking in organisations if your workforce has a diversity of experience.
That diversity of thinking has been key to the success of our business, TSG Marine. The value we bring to our clients comes from us looking at things differently; always seeking to find quicker, safer and more cost-effective solutions.
The North East is leading the way in a number of sectors due to our innovative approach. I think that is due to a willingness to embrace change and meet challenges head on. We just need more of that approach, which will in turn reinforce progressive mindsets and inclusive behaviours throughout the region.
Have you ever experienced discrimination during your career because of your gender?
I assume equality in every situation. I have always found that to be an effective and positive way to approach life. I also strongly believe that we cannot control the actions of others, but we can control our own reaction to those actions. The knowledge that I always retain the control of my reaction gives me strength and resilience.
Would you consider the engineering industry to be male-dominated, and if so, how can we encourage more women to join the sector?
Historically, not enough women have considered engineering to be the interesting, challenging and rewarding career that I know it to be. I think that is in part due to the variety of careers in engineering not always being appreciated and also a lack of understanding that a career in engineering will allow you to continually develop your skills.
I did not go directly into engineering. I did law first, working in a large law firm before starting at TSG Marine as a Contracts Manager. Over the years my role has developed and now I am Operations Director. My job still involves reviewing contracts, but it now has a wider business focus.
However, the point is I am not an engineer; but I do work in engineering and I could not now see myself doing anything else. It is such a vibrant and interesting industry. That is because the sectors that the engineering disciple underpins are constantly progressing. For instance, at TSG Marine we started in the Oil & Gas industry and now we are firmly in the emerging Energy Sector. That is exciting, I love working in an organisation that is constantly looking for opportunities to improve the way things are done.
What advice would you give to other women interested in working in the engineering sector?
Value your difference. Having a new or alternative point of view is a strength, you just need the confidence to demonstrate that strength.
Be curious. Engineering is a progressive discipline; you should always be looking to learn and develop your skills, you will only do that by being inquisitive.
Have you been inspired by any female leaders in business?
I am inspired by both female and male leaders. The people who inspire me the most are often not the best well known, but the ones who are courageously approaching issues, such as gender, positively and authentically.
I recently read an excellent book called Dare to Lead by Brené Brown. I was inspired by Brené’s work as it is honest and it makes leadership accessible. She is striving to create braver leaders and courageous cultures. The book sets out that we all have a part to play in promoting change, and it reminded me that one of the central skills of a good leader is curiosity.
I think the most inspirational leaders are those who positively encourage and actively facilitate open conversations on difficult issues, conversations where people feel safe to ask questions and test their own opinions. In my view these are the leaders that effect real change.