Becoming a woman in manufacturing….accidentally!

March 2024
Stakeholder Engagement Manager at Encirc, Becky Dilworth.

Encirc’s Becky Dilworth writes on overcoming barriers in work and in life 

Two things I never expected in my life: I never expected to be a mother, and I certainly never expected to be a woman in manufacturing.

Like any child, I was often asked the age-old question “What do you want to be when you grow up?” For a few years, my answer was “mermaid.” Then, eventually, I realised you had to be a strong swimmer for that and my love of hair dye and hatred of getting water in my eyes meant that mermaid was off the cards.

I switched to vet after that, until I realised I’m the type of person who feels things in extremes. The combination of mega sensitivity, and chronic squeamishness soon ruled vet out too.

Finally, when I was around 16 years of age, a family friend told me, “If you can’t change the world, you might as well see it.” I didn’t love that advice, because I wanted to do both; a few years later I headed off to see the world on a series of meaningful work and travel programs and dedicated my career after to doing just that.

At no point, over the years, did I ever think of the manufacturing industry as an option for me. I wouldn’t say I was averse to it, it just didn’t register at all. I loved English at school, and I’ve always loved weaving words, but I didn’t know, outside of becoming a teacher, what you could even do with that. Time spent in a smaller business, think start-up vibes, meant that I got to really explore and develop my skills and interests in marketing and PR, and thus began my journey into the world of comms and engagement.

Fast forward a few years and the career I had built around travel no longer worked for me. Years of gynaecological issues and a large dose of trauma had meant I’d never written ‘having kids’ into my life plan but lo and behold, I became a mum to a tiny human. Prior to giving birth I hilariously didn’t think my life would change much. I know, right? I pictured myself jetting off, just like before, all around the world, bringing back fridge magnets or snow globes for my son and teaching him all about life on different continents until he was able to join me.

Well, as some of you may have experienced, once said tiny human was placed on my chest, everything I pictured for myself changed, so when it was time to head back to work, I knew I needed to find something a little closer to home. I spent the next while trying to find somewhere that felt like the right fit. It was around this time that I started to realise how ill-equipped many businesses are to handle working mums, and mental health in general. One manager took me into a meeting room, made up of four entirely glass walls, and told me I could sit in there to express milk for my son. Another manager, when I asked where else I could pump, deposited me at the toilet door.

I settled down for a year or so in my ‘dream’ job, working in employee engagement at a world-class tourist attraction… until COVID hit. Of course. And being that no one could visit tourist attractions during that time, I was made redundant. Of course. And because, when you’re not feeling at your most mentally resilient, and life happens, it’s hard not to take it personally. I felt like the universe was kicking me when I was down. It wasn’t until I got a phone call from a recruiter about an amazing job opportunity that I started to feel that ‘meant to be’ sensation. I had my interview and accepted my position at Encirc and I knew in that moment that sometimes life has a funny way of showing you the path you’re meant to take.

Shortly after, my Encirc journey began, and I took my first steps into the world of manufacturing. I’d never stepped foot inside a factory, and suddenly, here I am, the happiest and most fulfilled I have ever been professionally, working alongside almost 2000 people, as we all do our bit to manufacture three billion glass containers and fill 90 million cases of wine every year, on a mission towards Net Zero.

Coming into a male-dominated industry, in a sector that I knew nothing about, I learned quickly. I’ve had to; about the merits of glass, about the sheer magnitude and pace of what we’re doing, and how, in an environment like this, equity, as opposed to equality, is the way forward.

Back in 2020, Encirc launched a Women In Manufacturing (WIM) committee, to act as a support network by women, for women, although 2024 saw us open our doors to all gender identities and we are proud to welcome our male members. As a collective voice for positive change, the WIM committee collaborate with our executive directors on issues that our women are facing, and where we may need support. For example, we’ve helped tackle the issue of unisex work wear, instead supplying female-fit uniforms, to ensure our women can feel comfortable at work, in clothes designed to fit their height and shape. Wherever possible, we’ve committed to ensuring there are no solo females on shift, and we’ve implemented unconscious bias training to help eliminate gender bias from the recruitment process.

We also partner with different programs offering mentoring sessions to young girls from underrepresented communities, to provide them with advice around topics like resilience, confidence, and independence, but also shining that vital spotlight on a career in STEM. I love the thought that I could be a role model for a young girl unsure of her future. There is a well-known phrase that we use a lot here, “You can’t be what you can’t see”, and for a storyteller with big ideas and that triple dose of sensitivity I mentioned earlier, I didn’t know that I could use my words, my empathy and my creativity to build a career. I certainly didn’t know that factories need storytellers too. Yet, here I am, walking the halls of a market leader in container glass design, to engage people through comms, enhance their experiences at work and empower them to make positive change.

As a working mum, I often feel like I’ve lived a full day before I even get to work. Very little sleep, battles over cereal, getting shoes on the right feet, no, we don’t have time to watch Bluey (although honestly, I wish we did), no, you can’t walk to school backwards, yes, I did forget it was own clothes day… On top of trying to juggle my child’s booming social life, extracurricular activities, and the responsibilities of my day job, sometimes the mental load can become quite heavy. I truly admire the women of Encirc who are also working on varying shift patterns too, which just throws another layer of organisation into the mix.

I was so proud to launch International Women’s Week this March, on behalf of the WIM committee, with virtual sessions being held every day, open to all, on a variety of topics. One such topic was a Sync With Your Cycle session by the amazing charity, Period Reality. As a woman in a support function role, I’m fortunate to be able to work from home at times, or to at least be sat down at my desk on days when I am struggling with my period, but women in production don’t have that option due to the nature of their jobs. This session really opened my eyes to how difficult it must be to work in a labour-intensive environment on a 12-hour shift if you’re affected by your menstrual cycle.

I’m extremely fortunate that I joined the business at a time when becoming advocates of diversity is at the forefront of people’s minds, but resources like our engagement survey feedback and our WIM sessions show me that there is so much more still for us to explore and implement. There is so much more that we can do to ensure Encirc is a safe and equitable place for all, and to help women find lasting employment in an industry they may not have considered before. The progress we’ve made so far has been amazing, but I’m so excited to keep driving positive change. I can’t quite believe sometimes, that this is actually my job.

I never expected to be a mother, and I certainly never expected to be a woman in manufacturing. But every time I hear my son tell anyone who will listen that mummy is a glass man (gently influencing him on this one!), I really do feel very grateful, and very proud, to be both of those things.

This article first appeared on the Women in Business website, marking International Women’s Day 2024

‘Coming into a male-dominated industry, in a sector that I knew nothing about, I learned quickly. I’ve had to; about the merits of glass, about the sheer magnitude and pace of what we’re doing, and how, in an environment like this, equity, as opposed to equality, is the way forward’

Becky Dilworth

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