Proving them wrong: Naylor COO beats objections to become engineering leader

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Few people work in the exact field they dreamed of when they were a young child. Bridie Warner-Adsetts, the Chief Operating Office of Naylor Industries is one of those few, but her road to becoming an industry leader was not without a few twists and turns. From overcoming prejudice to working hard for what she wanted, Bridie knows what it takes to succeed in a traditionally male dominated field.

As a schoolgirl, Bridie dreamed of translating her love of making and fixing things into a career in engineering. Despite school teachers and advisers insisting girls couldn’t be engineers, Bridie wanted to prove them wrong and chose to pursue a mechanical engineering degree.

“I always felt being underestimated was a great starting point. I get to prove people wrong, which is a huge source of energy for me,” she explains.

Unfortunately, when she graduated in the late 1980s, jobs were scarce and employers were looking to hire what they knew, rather than what then was a ‘novelty’ woman engineer.

Instead, Bridie spent a decade in finance where she was encouraged by one of her managers to attend leadership training. This increased understanding of business along with her natural desire to take on more responsibility and say “yes” to every opportunity, led to Bridie rising in the corporate ranks.

BridieNaylor

However, Bridie wasn’t ready to give up on her first love: engineering. When an opportunity arose in a manufacturing business she jumped at the chance and got that feeling of truly finding her workplace home as she tackled the everyday challenges of manufacturing, logistics, quality control and product design. She eventually went on to run her own business consultancy and today is also Chief Operating Officer of Naylor Industries, a leading British manufacturer of building and construction products. She was the first woman to sit on Naylor’s Board, but thanks to a progressive corporate culture, the Board now boasts gender parity and the number of female managers has increased from five to 18 since Bridie joined five years ago.

“In Naylor we’ve tried to create an employment culture where people of all genders or walks of life want to work for us.  We’ve created a more collaborative and collegiate approach to running the business where we truly consult with employees. We offer a really attractive package of benefits, including flexible working, and we have a great management training programme so young people can see us as a strong career option,” Bridie says.

“Naylor’s fortunes have risen as our workforce has become more diverse and balanced.”

And every year, all women managers and directors attend an International Women’s Day event together and take time to discuss their challenges and how they can be advocates for young women in and out of the business.

This proactive approach has reaped business benefits as well. She says: “Naylor’s fortunes have risen as our workforce has become more diverse and balanced.”

To attract the best new talent, Naylor offers a variety of apprenticeships, including Degree Level Apprenticeships. They also look to attract graduates in subjects such as material sciences and chemistry. With more women scaling academic heights, offering a full range of options for those who chose the academic route is important as well.

However, one of the biggest challenges the company faces in attracting young people, and in particular women, is out-of-date stereotypes of manufacturing held by some school advisers and parents.

“It’s really frustrating to hear that parents and teachers advise children not to go into manufacturing or engineering even though they’ve never stepped foot in a modern manufacturing facility. It’s not the dirty, grimy job they think it is. Manufacturing is having a renaissance and it’s where the opportunities are,” Bridie says.

For women who are ready to pursue manufacturing and engineering, she advises: “Be prepared to stand up to resistance and find a mentor to support you. You’ll have to show resilience, but if you’re the first to do something, you won’t be the last.”

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