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From Cleaner to Operations Manager in less than 12 months…

As I’ve been building the Allied Women in Engineering network these past few months, many people have asked me why I’m doing this . Well hopefully this story will explain a bit about why…

When we acquired XL Engineering last year as part of a consortium, (with Allied Global Engineering becoming a major shareholder) when we turned up on day 1 and stood in front of the 50 or so workshop employees letting them know who we were and what was happening, unsurprisingly I was looking out at a sea of male faces with only 1 woman in the crowd.

As we sat down with people one by one to get to know them, I was excited to meet this woman representing our gender and find out her role in the business. When we finally sat down together, I learned that she didn’t really have a formal job title. Originally from Poland with a masters in Banking Finance, she moved to the UK a decade ago and was originally the cleaner for XL, picking up extra responsibilities around the place because she was so curious and passionate about what the business was doing, taking on key responsibilities which helped the business get the parts out on time and fundamentally keeping the customers happy.

I was also super impressed to learn that Nat had paid off her entire mortgage on a cleaners salary and so I learned very quickly that going ‘above and beyond’ was an ethos that Nat embodied happily and eagerly to create the best life she could for herself and her family.

What we shortly realised a few days later, when we came in one morning to find Nat with a mop and bucket in hand, was that she was still doing the cleaning on a self employed contract and that she didn’t even have an official job or contract for all the other work she was doing at XL. Despite her overwhelming potential and loyalty to the business, the previous owners hadn’t thought to recognise and reward her with a proper role, on a proper salary that she had more than earned.

So within the first couple of weeks we officially promoted Nat to Assistant Production Manager. We then hired a General Manager to oversee the business so we could step back as investors, but he was as equally impressed with Nat’s work ethic, enthusiasm and qualifications, and within a few months made her Finance Manager.

And 2 days ago, at the last Directors Meeting, it was announced that she was being promoted again to Operations Manager, running the business side by side with our General Manager - and let me tell you, no one deserves it more.

As someone who rose through the ranks myself, stepping into a leadership position in a fairly short space of time, I can speak to how much responsibility and influence the decision makers within a business have in allowing their people to perform at their best. A lot of leaders and managers fall into the trap of thinking it’s just up to the individual to perform to the best of their ability.

But actually, if we don’t recognise talent and enthusiasm, if we aren’t open to changing the way “things have always been done” and if we leave it to our people to simply “ask for what they want,” then we as business leaders end up with our best people picking up mops and buckets and remaining voiceless.

An individual's performance is reliant on their leaders to give them the room and the platform to perform at a high level, unencumbered by internal business politics / policies or the fear of “overstepping”.

I’m betting there are Natalia’s in many businesses out there who are currently working their arses off to prove themselves in roles that they aren’t meant to be in and who have a lot to say that can add massive value to the business and to the industry as a whole, but it’s possible that like Natalia, they aren’t being seen or heard.

This is why I started Allied Women in Engineering.


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