Women in manufacturing:

Thoughts from some of the most influential women in the textile business

Stories from four of the women who make the difference every day here at Carrington Textiles

It’s International Women’s Day on the 8th March, a great opportunity to recognise women around the world, and we couldn’t think of a more fitting date to appreciate the contribution of women who make a difference in manufacturing every day.

Here at Carrington Textiles and Pincroft we are proud to have women at the forefront of our business, leading right from the top our direction, the innovation of new products and our factory performance.

Let’s hear the stories from four of the women who make the difference every day in our business:

Kate Barlow, Commercial Director

How did you get into the industry?
Growing up in the Industrial and particularly textile rich county of Lancashire, manufacturing is part of my family’s culture. I come from a lineage of women working in manufacturing careers so my first appointment in construction was a natural fit. Ten years in a fast paced, male orientated, contractual industry gave me the stamina to forge forward in today’s manufacturing climate.

In 2005 just after having my son Will, I utilised my time and headed to university to study a BA Hons in English Language, Literacy & Linguistics whilst working part time for Carrington. Working on contracts supplying the Afghan National Army and Police with body armour during the conflicts and shortly after project managed a £130m bid for the UK MoD I was hooked. Upon graduating in 2008 I contemplated a career change into teaching; but something just didn’t feel right... So, for the second time around I took the plunge back into manufacturing and joined Carrington as Commercial Manager, 12 years later I earned a directorship which is where I sit today.

Did you experience any barriers or challenges around getting where you are today?
There’s no doubt manufacturing can be a tough environment and you need resilience in bucket loads, but that’s just a natural barrier, not defined by gender. You learn quickly to find your voice, be heard, be flexible and adapt whilst managing the balance of listening and always growing in knowledge. That’s the challenge, being a woman on the surface hasn’t really been an issue for me, more so being the right character. Saying that, early on in my construction career yes, I did face some hurdles. Men were being promoted around me, given more opportunity and the gender pay gap was widening. It only made me hungrier to succeed in a man’s world. In the last 10 years now in the textile industry I’ve focussed on earning respect, learning all facets of the business, taking decisions and delivering on my objectives, whilst nurturing talent. For sure there are some cultures and customer bases that don’t view women as decision makers, I just have to respect that and channel my energies elsewhere or drive the decisions behind the scenes.  

What do you enjoy about working in manufacturing?
I’ve not come across a sector quite like this, there are so many competing tasks all with the same level of urgency. You have to be agile or you won’t succeed and remain competitive. Technological innovation has advanced rapidly even in the last 5 years, whether that’s around product, processes or market demands; you just have to get on board or get left behind! I enjoy that level of pace and positive outlook.

The sounds and the scale of our factory, the creativity, the people and the culture are a real draw for me. There is a genuine passion and sense of team. I’m motivated by opportunities, innovation, finding a simple solution in a complex situation and implementing change.

Manufacturing offers the scope to fulfil all those passions. Seeing our product progress to garments and understanding how these support working lives gives me a sense of achievement. I like something tangible and manufacturing gives you that. 

What advice would you have for women looking to get into manufacturing?
Today there are so many skill sets that are adaptable to manufacturing. The scope of opportunity is endless. Whether you take the design, marketing and creative route, supply chain, finance, commercial, R&D, operations, engineering or technical route you’ll find a whole host of challenges, but in equal parts you’ll find reward.

If you’re just starting out, research apprenticeships, college and undergraduate courses, be flexible and open to a wide range of industries, soak in the knowledge, listen, learn and develop. Voice your opinion constructively and be confident in your decision making.  If you’re in a position to take a graduate placement grab it. Use resources such as LinkedIn to raise your profile and explore how women are projected in different industries. Connect with a specialist recruiter and let them guide you on the right journey.

From our experience, many women entering textiles today gravitate towards fashion, it’s a hugely competitive market so don’t be afraid to branch out into technical textiles. If I reflect on how women are represented in construction today compared to my experience, it’s a completely different picture. There’s a sea change in how women are received in industry today so you can be as marketable as any man in all facets of the business. If you don’t make it an issue, it won’t find you!

 

Kirsty White, R&D Manager

How did you get into the industry?
I was lucky that from a young age I knew I wanted to attend the school of Textile and Design in the Scottish Borders. I chose a BSc in Clothing Design and Manufacture. As I progressed in the course my interest moved from garment manufacture to textile manufacturing. With textile manufacturing dwindling in the UK I was lucky to find an opportunity with a textile manufacturer after graduating.

Did you experience any barriers or challenges around getting where you are today?
The challenge has been the lack of direct R&D opportunities within textiles.

What do you enjoy about working in manufacturing?
The ability to be on the line when the product is processing. It’s a lot easier working through issues and understand how the product has been processed.

What advice would you have for women looking to get into manufacturing?
Persevere! Manufacturing can be very rewarding.

 

Louise Becart, Project Engineer

How did you get into the industry?
I had intended to go to business school but by the end of high school I really enjoyed physics and didn’t want to stop just yet. I entered engineering school in France (to my parents’ surprise as maths wasn’t one of my strengths) and discovered technical textiles during an internship at Airbus. I went on to study textiles technology as part of my master’s degree and worked in a couple of manufacturing companies before joining Pincroft in 2016.

Did you experience any barriers or challenges around getting where you are today?
My struggles with maths made studying engineering a real challenge but I stuck to it and studied hard to eventually pass. In general, I would say that my biggest obstacle is not so much being a woman but rather looking younger than my age. People tend to confuse me with an intern! :D  

What do you enjoy about working in manufacturing?
What I like the most about working in manufacturing is the need to adapt to remain competitive, no day is the same in a fast-pace production environment. I love being hands-on and seeing something concrete coming out of the production line, but I also enjoy the data analysis that comes with the move to industry 4.0. Crunching numbers and using technology to analyse production trends and improve efficiency brings a whole new range of possibilities.

What advice would you have for women looking to get into manufacturing?
The industry has changed a lot in the past few decades, the old Victorian idea of working in a factory no longer applies. The manufacturing industry is in a state of reinvention and women now have an opportunity to shape it. Sure, women are still under-represented in manufacturing and there will be meetings where you will be the only woman sitting at the table. But if you got to the table, you have the technical skills and abilities to be there, so be confident enough in your knowledge. Make yourself heard but also listen to the people who have been around longer than you have. Continued learning is essential to grow in manufacturing.

 

Rebecca Northall, Lab Manager

How did you get into the industry?
After gaining an A* in drama and music at GCSE Level I was convinced performing was for me, so I carried on to Runshaw College to complete a Level 3 Diploma in performing arts. After helping out behind the scenes in fashion and wardrobe, this is where my passion first grew for textiles. My dad was a tailor when he was younger and has worked in the textile industry for over 25 years, so when I managed to get maternity cover at Pincroft where he works this was my opportunity to see if my interest grew. I was meant to continue on to Northampton University studying for a degree in acting when management approached me at Pincroft and said I’d made an impression and they would offer me a full-time position in the company. This was a very hard decision to make Uni or Pincroft? But in the end I chose Pincroft and I’ve never looked back! They have supported me through my choice and developed me through a long list of textiles courses including Weaving and Spinning, Dyeing and Finishing, Laundry Technology, Level 2 Manufacturing Textile Products, HABC Level 2 NVQ diploma in Business Improvement Techniques, to name a few.

Did you experience any barriers or challenges around getting where you are today?
Yes – I started as an assistant in the lab. There were four other assistants under the lab manager and I was the youngest, coming straight out of college. The rest of the team had been here a lot longer than me and were a lot more experienced and older than me- I felt I needed to prove myself. I kept working and challenging myself every day. I took a lot of responsibility on to help my manager as she was asked to take on extra work outside of the lab, this was my opportunity to ensure the lab was running at its best and prove I could handle the day to day demands and not let my manager down. This was soon noticed, and I was offered an extra responsibility monitoring and working on the new developments that were being processed at Pincroft. It was my job to host the meeting every week and ensure the trials ran the best they could by informing production, technical and quality with the customer requirements so we could ensure the best recipe and processes were carried out for the trial. This challenged me with chairing a meeting and having to work on my presentation and skills to run a smooth organised meeting.

Then I was made up to lab manager!

What do you enjoy about working in manufacturing?
I enjoy working in a hands-on practical environment. I love always being on the go and never being still! I like to challenge myself. If there is an issue that’s highlighted in the lab it’s good to be able to go out onto the shop floor and learn more about where and what machine it’s come from. If I was in an office-based environment I wouldn’t have the chance to go and see the fabric on the machines and put the work into practice.

What advice would you have for women looking to get into manufacturing?
Stand up for yourself. Grow a thick skin!

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