Jo Callow is a truly inspiring woman, after working around women in her early career, she went the opposite way by choosing to work in construction. In her current company, Knauf Insulation, Jo has gone from strength to strength. Her hard work has seen her promoted twice in just six years and she is passionate about bringing more women into the construction industry.
Outside of work, Jo is a fitness fanatic and even raised a whopping £6,000 for the Alzheimer’s Society by running the London Marathon. In her blog, she tells us of her experiences in construction and what she is doing to change the industry for the better.
Working up the ladder
After working for 11 years at Boots the Chemist in a very female-dominated environment, six years ago I made the decision to move into the Construction industry working for Knauf Insulation. I started in a newly created position of Merchant Sales Support representative. I worked in a team alongside Area Sales Managers and Specification Managers and I was only 1 of 2 females in my immediate team, and 1 of 3 females in the external sales team at the time. I carried out this role for 2.5 years before progressing to the role of Area Sales Manager (ASM) for the North West.
Following three years in the ASM role, I was appointed Merchant Sales Support Manager - another newly created role, managing a team of Merchant Sales Support representatives (the first role I was appointed to at Knauf Insulation). I have now been in this role for eight months, and although I have seen a shift in the number of females in the Commercial Team, I am still only 1 of 4 in the external sales team.
I moved from the predominantly female beauty and pharmaceutical industry to merchanting because I wanted a new challenge in a new sector. I was determined to not let the masculine culture put me off embarking on this new adventure. As a result, I was crowned 2014 BMF Young Supplier Achiever of the Year which just goes to show that you can achieve anything if you put your mind to it.
As a female in this industry, it can most certainly be a challenge, however, the industry is taking more and more steps to ensure that women are coming into the industry and also setting up specific forums that are women-only to encourage the diversity and prove that construction isn’t just for men!
Challenges I overcame (and still overcome)
The main challenge I have faced in my career has been related to being a young, blonde, female in the Builders Merchant industry and having to dispel any stigma around being ‘ditzy’ and ‘not knowing what I’m doing’. I quickly overcame this by learning the product range and having the confidence to challenge others when needed. I remember early on in my career being challenged, and when I provided my point of view, they said: “wow, you do know your stuff don’t you!”
The struggles and successes of women in construction
Being a female in my role is great! It makes it exciting to be recognised and stand out and be one of a few. That said, I would obviously like to see more women in similar roles in this industry. Women have the same skill set to men, so there’s nothing a man should be able to do that a woman couldn’t.
I feel that sometimes gender does bring challenges into play, but as I said before, challenges can help shape a person. It is difficult sometimes to be taken seriously as a strong female in this industry, however, isn’t it a great feeling to prove people wrong!?
In my current role, I feel very passionate about trying to recruit and encourage younger females into an industry that is predominantly ‘middle-aged’ male-led. It is not an ‘attractive’ industry by any stretch of the imagination, however that can be more rewarding when you overcome stigmas that the industry might hold. I am keen to promote from within our business, so if I was in the position that I should need to be recruiting, I would look from within and utilise succession plans but I would also try to be promoting out? of the business and industry to young female graduates who may potentially have the skill set required but maybe don’t know much about the industry in which we work.
My advice for women aiming for leadership positions
Don’t stop, there’s no reason why you can’t do it. You should be seen as equal to any other person in the race and don’t be intimidated by being surrounded by other male leaders. This should not stop you, young women, from being aspirational or wanting to lead with pride. Be yourself, commit and work hard and there’s no reason why you can’t deliver.
Lessons I want to share
Get stuck in, don’t expect others to do something you aren’t willing to do yourself. I think it’s always a good thing to have done the job that you’re leading so you can relate to it, have empathy and also know what good looks like. Being a leader becomes more difficult when the pressure is on to drive performance, it's important to remain personable and keep communication channels open otherwise you won’t get the best out of your team. As a leader, your team will look up at you so make sure you behave accordingly, lead by example. Core values are key, and always remember that even though you’re leading, you never know who you may pass on the way up or down your career ladder.
What I would say to women starting their careers
Don’t be scared of the stereotype - yes I’m young, blonde, female - but I’m good at what I do and I CAN do it!
You can be successful at anything you want in whatever career as long as you have determination, motivation and the courage to pursue it.
Jo Callow's success is a prime example of what you an achieve if you put your mind to it! Check out another inspirational blog post from Tracey Jackson!