#YesSheCan is lucky to give you a blog written by TJ Duncan-Moir, here she tells you about how her initial dream of being a hairdresser turned into something different entirely!
My early career
In reality, my 30-year career actually goes on a little longer than that! My dad started a company when I was 18 months old, so the industry and what I do has been my whole life, not just that of the 30 years whilst officially employed.
Ironically I had no interest in doing anything other than hairdressing all the way through school. I didn’t want to be the person that only had the job because it was the family business. However, whilst I have always considered myself sensible, I did chose Business Studies whilst at school so maybe there was something more than just being sensible in that choice?
As it was a family business it was very much hands on deck whenever needed, in my experience family businesses rarely stop. Many evenings, weekends or school holidays were spent visiting customers, delivering goods or site visits with my dad. My business studies came in useful for technology coming into the business as the very word processor I had learned to type on was the first one the business bought.
Regardless of my early involvement in the business, I had promised myself, that when I left school I would do a YTS in hairdressing. On my days off I would still help at the family business, giving word processor tutorials, collating catalogues, answering phone calls. When a subsidiary business of manufacturing and running go karts was created I also helped there. Very often travelling over to Trentham Gardens in Stoke on Trent after work to help with the kart club.
After a couple of years of hairdressing I was asked if I’d ‘stopped messing around now and was going to start working properly’, that meant stop messing around playing at it and get a proper job!
I gave in and that was the start of my journey which brings me to where I am now.
My motivation – “I had more to prove than others”
My first day in the office I assumed would be typing, phone calls, admin……wrong! I was told that I had to learn the business, I had my stripes to earn.
This was something I have always felt strongly about, I wanted to prove I had earned my role, not been given it because of who I was, the bosses daughter, or leniency because I was a girl. Others are always watching and waiting for you to make the mistakes as the bosses’ daughter and in my experience you are often perceived as weaker as a female, so I had more to prove than others.
I started in the estimating department, reading drawings, creating bills of quantities, understanding flue routes, boiler room requirements and creating a quotation. My first day meant I had homework to do, a drawing was laid out on the dining room table and my journey started demonstrating my understanding to my dad, the boss.
It wasn’t only the fact I was the boss’s daughter I felt I had more to prove, I was also in a male dominated industry. Whilst I knew all the other employees as I had grown up with them, the outer circle of the working world wasn’t quite as accepting of a woman carrying out what was usually a man’s role.
Continuing my development
My education continued whilst working in the estimating department, I attended college on a Business Law and Finance course, as well as numerous Sage software courses, which was used for accounts and payroll.
As the company grew so did my responsibilities and experiences, I joined engineers on site visits, met with customers, had more of an understanding of the manufacturing side of the business and had full responsibility of the payroll.
I enrolled on a HND for Business and Finance in 1994, at the time I was pregnant with my oldest daughter and my role in the business had moved onto purchasing manager. I was buying in the raw material, fixtures, fittings, all the requirements for the company. My confidence grew in this role as I was meeting suppliers, negotiating best prices on supplies and having to toughen up against the male world who doubted my ability in their universe. I had many testing times; asking me to purchase sky hooks, lead for the pencils, all the usual but they forgot that I could see through things like this and I survived.
The business continued to grow, employing more people and legislation became more challenging forcing a need for a Human Resources department. As I had now been doing the payroll for years it was a natural choice I would take on this role.
I again furthered my education. Once a month I took myself off to either London or Manchester to DLA piper to learn what there was to know in employment law.
How I worked flexibly whilst having children
Whilst in this role I became pregnant with my second daughter. The accountant for the company asked if I would consider enrolling on some accountancy courses as there wasn’t anyone within the business trained financially, soon after I enrolled on the AAT courses. I continued working during the pregnancy and one day a week for the course. I was already 10 days overdue when my dad was leaving on a Friday evening, tapped me on the shoulder and said that they could do with me having this baby over the weekend so it didn’t interrupt with work. Three hours later I was on my way to hospital and had the baby at 5am the next day. Monday I was back at work……. payroll had to be done and I was the only one that could do it. Melody, my youngest came to work with me in her car seat from then on, whilst Autumn my eldest was at primary school. When Melody started moving around I had a playpen in my office and many a meeting was carried on around her being in the middle.
My position of being the bosses’ daughter would never change so I was always on trial and more was always expected of me. Through the years it was good that those customers who I had attended site visits or delivered goods to on a Saturday morning with my dad were now my contacts who I worked with on a day to day basis, my daughters starting to follow the same pattern as I did and became known to those people too. At fourteen years old Autumn was helping out in the estimating department in the school holidays!
Thrown into leadership at the deep end
I was catapulted into the running of the business when in 2010 my dad was unfortunately diagnosed with cancer and had to start treatment straight away. This threw me into the role of Senior Manager alongside three other male colleagues.
Whilst a senior manager, effectively running the business, I wanted to be assured that I was doing the best for the business so I undertook a Director Development course which then continued on to a University course for leadership and management.
Two of the senior managers left the business and I was then stepped up to Director.
The role of Director didn’t allow me to relinquish any of my responsibilities it gave me more. Running the business whilst doing my ‘day job’, I began creating our marketing strategy as we had never showcased ourselves. A re-brand and new website was the first step, introduction of business awards was an amazing move both promoting the company and also introducing many more contacts which benefitted the company and taught me so much more. The company became popular and very successful with Business Awards and built a great reputation on the back of them.
The variety inspired and challenged me
My involvement in all areas of the business has strengthened my knowledge, Research and Development, Knowledge Transfer Partnerships with the University, Funding, Financing, a whole hands on approach whilst still being that employee doing payroll, HR, accounts and whatever else needed doing…..cleaning the toilets, delivering a missing piece to a customer, an awards ceremony, site visit.
Being the Director of a manufacturing company in construction finally gave me some recognition of a truly being a woman in a mans world. As I have been in all aspects of the business I can speak from experience and a true understanding. The industry started to take an interest in me, I was asked to do TV appearances and interviews, as well as radio and magazine articles. I am proud of the fact that I have worked to be where I am, I don’t consider myself anything special as a woman and maybe that’s why I’ve succeeded. I am as passionate going onto the factory floor speaking about some Research and Development as I am talking to a room full of ladies who want to hear of my experiences in this so called man’s world.
I haven’t been given a job because of who I am and I am passionate about helping other women getting into business, particular top tier management, even more so within male dominated industries.
Proving people wrong
I have often been asked if I am an engineer’s PA when I’ve attended a site visit and this just amuses me. At that point I get out my pink site helmet, kit myself out with PPE and go into a riser shaft and take measurements of the boiler room.
I’m very lucky, that no two days are the same in my world and my moto is that ‘every day’s a school day’.
As I started at the bottom and worked my way through the company (literally) my calling is in so many different areas of the business. One day I may get up thinking I am going to finalize some accounts and then when I get there someone will walk in the office with a problem and I have to put my HR hat on.
I thrive on having so many areas of the business to contend with and I get so much satisfaction from creating solutions to challenges. These challenges may be financial, manufacturing or people related, but I love nothing more than to see something that needs doing and getting it done.
Team work is critical
I love teamwork and feel it is critical in a business. Just because you have a Director title, (or even a woman), you aren’t on a pedestal, you are there for a purpose.
Organizing a sales conference needing facts and figures would be another day, arranging the lunch or coffee, dealing with a customer who doesn’t want to pay their bill…..or even worse, a retention they think you’ve forgotten about! It is all in a days’ work and the more variety the better.
I work hard to ensure everyone is happy in their job, there is nothing worse for a company than unhappy staff and teamwork is key contributor to this. You will not gain productivity or respect from your staff by making them work under duress or pressure. Communication is key, if they stop talking to you, you have a problem. I would never ask anyone to do anything I’m not prepared to do myself.
I like to make myself available 24/7 as I feel this is how you earn the respect and attention of the those around you. It doesn’t mean they see you as always available for them to take advantage of but I would hate someone to think they can’t contact me if they have a problem because it is out of office hours. A problem shared is a problem halved.
My sleep is short and sweet as there is always something to do.
The working world is changing…. slowly
My career chose me to some extent and I now wouldn’t have it any other way. I think the world is embracing equality and more and more women are doing a role such as I am. There isn’t any reason why women can’t do a good job at anything they set their minds to. I was once told that without being sexist; women are much more organized and methodical than men because they have to be when running a home, children, pets and life so to bring them into the workplace is a positive move!
I do not consider myself to be any different from a man, I enjoy what I do, I love the industry, I find it fascinating and always has something new to offer.
With all this in mind that is the reason I have chosen to spread my wings even further and offer myself as a consultant doing all the things I did whilst working for a business but for others. I get no greater pleasure than seeing success. If I can make that happen for others, job satisfaction is achieved.
It wasn’t all easy, but there have been some great achievements
I’ve worked tremendously hard to get to where I am now. I have been hugely determined to not let challenges stop me.
The key challenges I have faced were; being a woman in a male dominated industry, continually being overlooked for my achievements, sometimes a little ridiculed, stalled for progression and then the issue of being the daughter of the owner of a business. It will always be an assumption that you got the job just because of who you are, not your achievements or capabilities.
I have created my own consultancy to show that I can do things for myself, I am not the bosses daughter but yes I am a woman in a ‘so called’ man’s world but knowledgeable and quite capable of working in the industry.
I was once invited onto Breakfast TV with Steph McGovernn for a live interview. At the time I didn’t quite realize the enormity of it. It was only when I came off set and my worry of being shown on the outside screens was overcome that I was told that I had just been in front of 12 million viewers…..being interviewed about what a subject a man would usually talk about!
A key challenge for me was that as a younger girl B.M.I (Before Male Industry) I was a meek and mild character, hated being centre stage, even talking to people. Doing the jobs I have done and the career path I’ve taken has pushed me out of my comfort zone so many times I have had to overcome all of this.
My most recent challenge was being pushed back in my career, not getting the recognition that I had worked and was qualified for. I was side stepped for promotion with the successful candidate being, less qualified, less capable, man! Apparently you can only go to a contracts meeting and talk technical if you’re a man? Luckily, these instances are becoming less and less but they are still there.
However, I have a few achievements I would consider quite big. Having my children has to be the top of the list of course! Beyond that throughout my career I have been used, looked down on, ridiculed and taken for granted at times. So as my career grew and I started to get recognized for my achievements, I attained awards such as Director of the Year, Top 100 Manufacturer progressing to a 20 exemplar. They are all very important to me but my biggest personal achievement was winning Business Woman of the Year, twice in one year with different award ceremonies!
I hope that doing this as me is appealing to businesses and my successes are allowed to be used to help others grow, become more profitable and maybe even award winning.
Bouncing back from setbacks
I’ve had to bounce back from setbacks by using my strength and determination. Stubbornness some would call it, I chose; ambitious, determined and resilient!
All my life I have enjoyed what I have done, it is important that I show my daughters that we are all capable of doing whatever we want to do, regardless of sex, colour, age or any other protected characteristic.
Pushing yourself out of your comfort zone every now and again is good, each time it becomes a little easier and the next time you take a bigger jump. Before long those challenges are no longer challenges but something you enjoy.
What keeps inspiring you?
I’m passionate that more women should do as I have done. They are more than capable, I feel I have got to where I am because I haven’t regarding myself as special, I have got on and done what needed doing. This in turn has taught me skills, gained me knowledge and supported me in any weaknesses.
Upper management miss the positioning of women and tend to head hunt men. Gone are the days that women are at home to look after the men, they are capable of running a home, caring for children and having a career….for them. I believe women are more focused as a result of this and whilst it’s an old joke, women are better at multi-tasking and seeing a job to the end!
Women have the ability to do the job, at times, not get as stressed (or appear to) and look better whilst doing it. Being confident that I am capable of the tasks in hand and enjoying what I do, when historically it would only ever be a man doing it gives you a warm feeling of achieving what is perceived to be unachievable.
Lessons learnt and my advice
If you believe you can do it, you work hard, don’t believe the doubters, you can do it.
The male industry I have been in all my career has on one hand been very accepting but on the other very cruel and destructive.
I believe being a woman has been taken advantage at times. I had a baby and was back at work less than two days later, I fell off my horse and broke my pelvis in four places but returned to work 4 days later (including a bank holiday weekend), juggling children and school holidays, sports days or parent’s evenings. All this wasn’t considered, it was assumed I would just do it, not recognized that I had even done it, just being a determined woman, not wanting to show any weakness or wanting any special treatment so put myself on the block and carried on.
Don’t let anyone tell you can’t, because you can and the comeback is always stronger than the setback.
My career advice
Don’t see being a female as a setback. Whatever you want just go for it. Prove you can and you will.
During the Director Development course I learned a lot about people and their values and beliefs. I learned that everyone has their own belief or value in life, it doesn’t mean you are right and they are wrong it is just our own individuality. Try and understand others values and beliefs and don’t get frustrated they aren’t the same as your own. Listen don’t just speak.
Creating the right team is vital. Working together and being happy in your work is important. To lead you have to remain strong, but need a team with you.
Was there an inspirational woman in your life? A role model?
My husband’s grandma. Bessie worked all her life and had 3 children with her husband Arthur whilst doing so. Arthur was a despatch rider in the army so long periods of time working and bringing her children up alone.
In later years she was to bring up her grandchildren too as their mother (her daughter) died suddenly whilst they were young.
She loved having her grandchildren, great grandchildren and dogs with her, making them all what they wanted to eat and took them wherever they wanted to go, a proper grandma. She made a mean apple pie and remained a strong independent woman until she ‘chose’ to turn over in bed saying she had ‘had enough’ passing away the way she wanted at 94 years old.
Is enough being done to help women achieve?
More could be done but it isn’t as bad as it used to be. More and more women are gaining recognition for their achievements and the world has much more acceptance of the balance between the genders. Home and work life is becoming more balanced and men are helping women as well as women helping men. More respect is given by both sides.
I don’t believe women have anything more to prove, they can do the jobs in hand. The strategy I have always believed in is that you shouldn’t play the “female” card if you want to be treated equally. Don’t show a weakness just to shy away from doing something you either don’t want to do or from something that is difficult and easier to let someone else do it.
What's the best piece of advice you’ve been given and what would you say to your 16-year-old self?
A lovely guy who worked for the company for 38 years (so I have known him from being a young girl) had many ‘ism’s’. My favourite was ‘life’s too short to be miserable’. He also told me to ‘look after number one and those that are number one to you’.
To my 16-year-old self, I would say “Stick to hairdressing!!”
No Seriously…. never let anyone tell you that you can’t do it. Ask lots of questions along the way and enjoy what you do. Education is key to keep your brain active, no matter how old you are.
Whilst I have spent 30 years in my career employed by a company, working my way from the bottom, I am now working as a management consultant helping others mend, repair, create, innovate, improve, fund, upskill businesses. My passion is creating success and whilst this is a new chapter I am passionate and positive about the future of helping others. If I am able to encourage others, particularly women, this would be my ultimate goal achieved.
My business is Business Glu…..creating the strong bond between you and your business.