Rotherham’s best-known businesswoman Dame Julie Kenny CBE has urged schoolgirls not to let sexism stand in their career path.
Heading up a Sky’s The Limit careers event at Wentworth Woodhouse, the Rotherham stately home she has played an important part in resurrecting, Julie told 60 schoolgirls from Sheffield, Barnsley and Rotherham about her own journey to success.
“When I was at school the expectation was for girls to get a job to tide them over until they got married and had children,” she said at the February 25 event.
“I was ambitious, though - I wanted to be a secretary. I succeeded and loved that job, but it had never been discussed with me to aim for anything else except a job in a shop,” said Julie, who was later encouraged by bosses to train as a lawyer.
“If anyone had said I’d one day set up Pyronix, a global alarm manufacturing business, I’d have thought they were nuts.
“While running the company I often encountered male dominance because it was everywhere. In meetings all over the world people would assume my salesman was actually the boss. I got used to it. Thankfully, today’s young women don’t have to.”
Wentworth Woodhouse Preservation Trust, of which Julie is chair, is running three Sky’s The Limit events for schoolgirls this spring, and a further event for women in May.
The programme aims to open girls’ eyes to career possibilities in male-dominated sectors of engineering, construction and heritage, and is inspired by two successful pilot events staged in 2019 at the mansion.
Added Julie: “Women like me, who have made their mark in male-dominated careers, need to give a helping hand to the next generation of career women.
“Our Sky’s The Limit events encourage girls to consider futures in construction and regeneration, which are still very male-dominated but offer women really exciting and rewarding careers.”
The University of Sheffield’s Faculty of Engineering and the Women’s Engineering Society are supporting the project. They gave talks to pupils from Wath Academy, Sheffield College, King Edward VII, Rotherham’s Abbey Special School and Barnsley’s Horizon College.
Pupils sampled a mini careers fair and met women helping to make the Grade I listed stately home great again, including WWPT Facilities Manager Julie Readman and Rachel Joshua of RDG Engineering, who helped design the scaffolding shell now shrouding the mansion to enable vital roof repairs funded with a grant from the Chancellor’s Autumn 2016 Statement managed by Historic England.
Attendees also met Amy Stamford, Woodhead Group Quantity Surveyor, who ensures repairs to the mansion’s roof run to budget, and transport planner Sophie Dunhill of Fore Consulting, who has helped identify new car parks for visitors.
The women explained how they found their way into their careers and took students onto the roof to see repair work and around the grounds.
Professor Gwen Reilly, Director of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion in Engineering at the University of Sheffield, said: “The Sky's the Limit careers event is a fantastic platform to reach out to local young women and highlight how they can do anything they put their minds to. Many elements of everyday life require engineers - from scaffolding to x-ray machines, make-up to aeroplanes. It's a privilege to be able to inspire the female attendees to take on future engineering challenges and change our world for the better."
Bethany Wood, 15, a pupil at Abbey Special School in Rotherham said: “This event has broadened my knowledge on the careers available to women.”
Emily Binney, 13 from ,King Edward VII School in Sheffield said: “I found out there are lots of different ways to gain a career in the construction industry. You don’t have to go to college or university, which can often put a lot of pressure on people.”
Another Sky's The Limit For Girls event will be held at Wentworth Woodhouse on March 24, The University of Sheffield Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre’s #AMRCTribe campaign, a network for teenage girls interested in STEM subjects, will attend with its manufacturing transporter, MANTRA. The vehicle contains machinery and simulators to give aspiring young engineers a hands-on experience with cutting-edge technologies.
A further schools event will be held on April 28. On May 12 there is a public event for women considering careers or hobbies in construction.
All events are funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund and Arts Council England as part of the Great Place programme.