Throughout a career spanning over forty years, Christine Laird has put blood, sweat and tears into making a name for herself as a credit manager. Now in the role of Head of Credit for Grafton Merchanting, Christine is considered as a skilled and energetic people manager, leading high performing teams in a male-dominated industry.
What made you choose this career and how did you get to where you are now?
When I started working towards the end of the 70’s I didn’t have any specific career goals. I left school with a handful of A levels and like most people back then thought I would see what I was good at and then decide. My first role was working as a secretarial assistant within the building industry, but I soon realised it wasn’t for me. The firm were great and let me ‘try’ various roles and I became involved with their concrete production and sales. On attending residential training, I became aware that I was different – I was a woman in a man’s world!! Hundreds of attendees were training and studying for exams and I was always the sole woman. That was my first real step into the male-dominated industry I have ‘lived in’ since.
Due to the effects of the recession in the 80’s, I was made redundant and fortunately was contacted by a Builders Merchant who heard of my situation and offered me a job. It was there I found the role that was to launch my career and the bond that I have with the industry having spent many years with some of the largest builders’ merchants. It’s fair to say I’m a very resilient, determined and ambitious person and absolutely love what I do. My desire and focus from then was to obtain my professional qualifications to help me become the best that I could in my professional field and gain the respect of my peers, colleagues and team, and to help pave the way for more women looking to progress a career in credit.
Have you ever felt that your gender has brought unnecessary challenges?
Absolutely! being a woman in a male-dominated industry has made me a more focused, driven and stronger person which has helped me break through some of the barriers or obstacles I have encountered along the way. My parents were both factory supervisors who worked long, hard hours and instilled in me their values and work ethic; always promoting the theory that anything was achievable if you put your mind to it. A similar message has been passed down to my daughter - although it’s fair to say that she often reminds me of the all the times I missed out on her growing up whilst I was out there breaking down the barriers and ‘proving’ myself.
Despite my success there have been many times where I’ve experienced first-hand, gender discrimination. From salary inequality to promotion opportunities - I wasn’t awarded the role of regional director in a company because another woman had previously failed in the role, supporting the theory that the position ought to be held by a man.
Sadly, my experience isn’t unique as gender & salary inequality is still prevalent in the workplace today. I am very fortunate that my employers don’t look at gender; rather they look at performance, success and the value the person brings to the role. With platforms like ‘Yes She Can’ gender equality is gaining traction and whilst I believe there is still a long way to go, I am grateful for the changes that are already taking place with the belief that my daughters’ generation and those following, will reap the benefits of this cultural change.
How do you ensure that you are an inspiring leader and a positive role model?
Over the years I have been incredibly fortunate to have worked with some great leaders and inspirational role models and have been given opportunities that have enabled me to work my way up to the role that I’m in today. It shows others that it’s possible to be a woman and head up a large department that is responsible for one of the company's largest assets. When I started in Credit Management many years ago, the position of Credit Manager was mainly held by middle aged and older men, so its with great pride that I know that there are many excellent female professionals in the industry, some of whom I have had the pleasure of working with in the past and helped support in their chosen careers, and who have also helped shape mine.
What career advice do you have?
I became a Manager in my 20’s so leading for me was about learning along the way. I learned it wasn’t about being the boss, leading was multi-dimensional. It’s valuing the team and being a positive role model and encouraging self-belief. It’s listening, sharing knowledge and being open to ideas and opinions that drive change. Its about caring & building relationships, inspiring others and being honest and decisive. It’s giving something back to help build their skills and contributing to their success by empowering individuals and helping shape their careers. It’s about being a team player, rolling up my sleeves and helping out with the workload.
What drives you forwards?
My motivation to be recognised in a male-dominated industry for my knowledge and experience in my profession is just one of my many drivers. I am extremely proud and passionate about the role and the position I hold within Grafton and the results that are achieved. Hopefully that passion translates both in what I do and in what the team do, and by valuing the role and being grateful to the people who make it a huge success.
What are some of the lessons that you’ve learnt along the way?
- Just be yourself, its hard work trying to be something you’re not
- Always be open to challenges and don’t wait for someone else to take the lead
- Don’t hide your ambition, promote it
- Set yourself measurable and achievable goals and manage other’s expectations
- Don’t just embrace change, drive change