Women In Print: You don’t stand a chance, being a woman…

posted by Precision | 1st Sep 2015

Over the last decade the Print industry has seen a large influx of well-accomplished women take a firm foothold in the Industry. These women are challenging male dominance and taking no prisoners along the way. It’s a refreshing and a much-needed change from the barrier they came up against in the 80’s and 90’s.

Over the next week, Precision would like to take you on a journey with some of the women they employ and how they fell into or chose to get involved in such a great industry.
wip-em-2Photo: Emma Thompson – Group Marketing Manager

I finally got my break in the printing industry more than 20 years ago from Philippa Brooks, a former Director of Precision Printing.

I was hired as a trainee starting on £37.50 a week working in the press room mixing inks, sweeping floors and generally making 100‘s of cups of teas/coffees each day or so it felt. So eager was I to get onto the printing presses, that I took two jobs in the industry just to get my foot through the door.

In 1995 when I was a youthful 18 year old, I had left school with no idea what career path I wanted to follow. Although truth be told, I wasn’t your usual 18 year old girl! Bit more of a tom boy really with long blond hair who had a love for Football.

Back in those days there were very few women in the business let alone on the presses and I was reminded of that when I suggested to a former boyfriend at the time that I wouldn’t mind being a Machine minder same as him. You can imagine what the response was back then, “You don’t stand a chance, being a woman” he said. To which my response was “I bet you I can”. It was with those famous words that launched me into the print industry and with a shake of the hand my future had been sealed.

Once I had made my mind up that this was the career path I wanted to take, there was no stopping me. I was up at the crack of dawn every day and down to my local career’s office in the hope that there would be a company seeking to take on a trainee.

It was a long process but finally that day came when I was employed in a small press cuttings department in Islington and with it the hope that it might bring me the chance to move into their press room at a later date. However, this was short-lived as the department closed due to technology coming into place and my eagle eyes were no longer needed. Alternatively, I was asked if I wanted to join their Xerox department but to me these were just glorified photocopiers and I wanted more, I wanted what I had basically set out to do and eventually that day came on the 5th of February 1995 when I joined Precision Printing.

It wasn’t an easy start to Precision I might add as the doors were still firmly closed in terms of women on the factory floor. In actual fact, so male dominated was it that the works manager at the time implied to former Director Philippa Brooks that he had offered me the job and I had not turned up. This was untrue as the job had never been offered to me and it was only when my mum took a phone call one day asking why I have not arrived for work was the full story revealed.

It transpired that the factory boys had been asked if they minded a woman in print coming onto the shop floor with them and which apparently, they were none too keen on but fortunately for me Philippa was and I have never looked back.

As previously mentioned, I started at Precision Printing sweeping floors and mixing inks when finally the day that I thought would never arrive, received my chance to run the single colour Heidelberg GTO. Moving on from there onto the 2 colour GTO, then the Quickmaster and finally ending my days in the factory covering holidays on the 5 colour B3 Press.
Photo: Emma running the Heidelberg GTO – 2 Colour @ Precision – 1997

Most men looked at me with a raised eyebrow regarding my knowledge of the press. I saw this as a challenge though, not a barrier. Today, this is not the same issue it was in the past, with more women entering the industry we are making an impact. Unfortunately though most by moving up through the ranks rather than it being a career choice from the very beginning.

Why did my days finally come to an end in the press room I hear you say! Well, Precision was slowly converting from a B3 printer to a B2 company and I don’t know if anyone has ever tried picking up 100 sheets of main gloss B2? It’s by no means an easy task, so it was then that I realised it was time to move on.

Luckily for me, Precision recognises the individual rather than their gender and so I was asked if I would like to move into the office from where I first became an Account Manager, dealing for several years with one of our largest accounts, to where I am today, Group Marketing Manager, a job I absolutely love and was made for.

It’s been a long but happy 20 years for me with Precision, as I have learnt and evolved into the person I am today. Strong, Vocal, focused, determined but underneath still true to myself. It hasn’t been all plain sailing though as six years ago I found myself, for the first time ever, struggling to deal with being a woman in a male dominated environment. I was pregnant and I had to let my boss know at some stage.

When I first discovered I was pregnant, the last thing on my mind was how to tactfully share the news with my boss. I was more concerned with how I was going to cope mentally and financially with this new life coming my way. However, he had to know and I had to find some way of telling him.

There’s no right or wrong way to tell my Managing Director, Gary Peeling that I was pregnant and expecting. So I kept telling myself before I went in to remember that I was not the first nor will I be the last woman to get pregnant at Precision. Then it dawned on me that I actually was. Never had there been a woman within the company who had actually ever had to have the very conversation I was about to have. Fraught with fear, I plucked up the courage to enter his office and say the usual line “Can I have a quick word”.

With the door now closed and my bum firmly on the seat I blurted out “I am pregnant” Followed by a pause then following with “With TWINS”, then before Gary could say a word I felt compelled to qualify my announcement with reassurances that my productivity wouldn’t suffer and that I intend returning after my maternity leave and that by having twins meant that I would not be taking any further maternity leave after this one. In hindsight, while these follow-up comments didn’t hurt, there was no reason now having been through it to treat my pregnancy like a problem for the office. Gary was delighted as were all the other Directors, Managers and all my colleagues.

Gary was not only thrilled but also very supportive and reassuring (the complete opposite of the way he acted in my induced dream the night before in which he told me that my pregnancy was not suited for this male industry and forced me and my desk closer to the door). How wrong was I!
Photo: Life in the early days with twins.

Having taken 6 months off and far too many sleepless nights I couldn’t wait to get back to work. I love my kids but I also really like my job, Lots of things had changed while I had been away though: where people sit, where my stationery and equipment had gone, where had my desk gone and even where some of my colleagues had gone. It did not take long though before I slotted back in and it’ll all felt familiar again. It’s taken some time as I have been back four and a half years now but I am slowly learning balance and discovering that I have limits…..but that’s not just because I am a woman but because I am human.

As much as it is a slow process the industry has moved on since the days of page 3 girls on factory walls and men’s banter on the shop floor. Today, the conversation is much more versatile as the mixture of the sexes make it that way. It’s definitely not 50-50, but there are generally more women in print now than there were when I started. We no longer have to deal with being alone in a man’s world.

Every industry has stereotypical challenges for both men and women, but largely due to the competencies and successes of both sexes, these ‘glass ceilings’ have been coming down over the past 20 years. The print industry continues to be dominated by men because it is not generally a chosen career path for women as they enter the workforce. However, you will see as the week goes on with some of the stories of my fellow women colleagues, this does not have to be the case.

Where we go from here will largely be determined not so much by industry acceptance or barriers to advancement, but for me by the individual desires and competencies of any women who choose to enter into such a great industry.