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Celebrating International Women’s Day

Only eight of the UK’s top 100 companies are headed up by women. Despite recent positive strides to create more diversity in senior management roles there are still industries, like print, where men make up the majority of the work force – 69% of print workers are male.

To celebrate International Women’s Day Managing Director Liz Smith talks about her experience running a multi-million pound Midlands print and office supplies company and what can be done to encourage more women into the traditional industry.

· What made you chose a career in print?

I think print is in my blood. My dad started the business in 1962, when I was just a baby so I have always grown up in the industry. As a young girl I would help out at in the factory in the holidays and it kind of became a part of me. I remember the early letterpress machines where you literally used letter blocks to make up each word and I would watch our typesetter in awe as it looked so difficult.

I learnt so much from my father and other people throughout the company and I guess, despite it not being something I thought I would do, it was an inevitable path for me. My dad was my hero and my inspiration, so I followed in his footsteps and the fact that he handed the business over to my care, showed his faith in me.

· Statistics still show there are a lack of women in the industry, why do you think more women aren’t following in your footsteps?

I think a lot of it comes down to a lack of awareness. As an industry it has had the perception over the years of being a male role and I think that has stuck. It is a very traditional industry. However, despite evolving considerably over the years we don’t seem to have found the same diversity in the workforce. More needs to be done to target print as an industry to women and to raise awareness of the possibilities that a position in this sector can bring.

A lot of this is about growing the work force and encouraging women in future recruitment drives both for entry apprenticeship roles who will work their way through the industry as well as promoting and encouraging women into senior roles.

· What have been your highlights in the industry?

This career has actually brought me a lot of opportunities. I have been lucky to have worked with some amazing businesses and individuals. I have been asked to Downing Street to speak to the Prime Minister and other business ministers about the support needed for small businesses and I have also helped Olympic Athletes, picking and packing their kit for the Beijing Olympics. What other industry gives you that mixture of opportunities!

It is such a varied and ever-changing role and for me I love the fact that I am continually learning and evolving.

As a woman in print have you ever come across barriers or felt like you didn’t fit in?

I can honestly say I have never felt like I was an outsider or that I couldn’t do what I wanted. There have been plenty of times I have been to work conferences, and I was the only woman in the room, but I have always been treated the same and never felt disadvantaged.

There were definitely times as the boss’ daughter I felt I had to prove myself and work extra hard, but I never felt that was because I was a woman.

For me though I feel it is so important that we encourage more women into the industry. If we are to grow and innovate it is so important that there is more diversity in leading roles to bring new ideas and methods. I have worked alongside some amazing female leads and they bring a different perspective and variety of qualities, so it is so important that we get a mixture of viewpoints

· What do you think needs to be done to encourage more women to see the benefits of print?

For me as an industry we need to do more to raise awareness of what we offer. There is a real lack of awareness about print as an industry and I think that is why we are struggling. It is similar in other manufacturing and science, technology, engineering and mathematical (STEM) roles. There just isn’t enough information and promotion on the opportunities.

I suppose it can be a more physical role with lifting reams of paper on to the machinery and also require longer working hours and shift patterns which might not be as appealing. However, as an industry we need to create more flexibility into roles if we are to change perceptions.

As a business we are very passionate about offering flexible working hours and part-time roles to attract a diverse and varied work force. As an industry more needs to be done to offer greater opportunities for potential employees who may struggle with longer or rigid shift patterns.

· Looking back, what have been the key benefits of working in this industry? What does a role in printing look like and would you ever go back and change your career?

I always thought I would become a teacher but looking back now I think print was the perfect industry for me. I certainly wouldn’t change my path even though there have been tough times as well as good times. I have grown so much over the years, and I am so proud to have been able to build on my dad’s legacy and to see the company evolve and grow into what it is today.

· If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self starting out in the industry now what would it be?

It’s a tough call that – I think I would have told myself not to limit my self-belief. To be prepared for the challenges, but to know that with the right culture, ethics, and dedication, you will come through. I would also have probably encouraged a younger me to go to print college to learn every aspect of print and best methodology, it may have saved some learning from experience along the way.


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