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Jane Potter on the Past, Present and Future of Women in Decorating

Bagnalls | 4 May

Although 60,972 more women joined the construction industry between 2009 and 2019, CareerSmart data shows that women make up just 4.8% of painters and decorators.

We recently sat down with Jane Potter, our branch manager for Leeds and York, to discuss her experiences and insights from her career so far and to discuss some of the obstacles she’s overcome as a woman in the painting and decorating sector.

 

Could you please introduce yourself and your role at Bagnalls?

I’m Jane Potter, Branch Manager for Leeds and York. I joined Bagnalls over 30 years ago as an apprentice; since then, I’ve come full circle and now help to manage the development of our current apprentices.

What attracted you to the painting and decorating industry?

When I was younger, I used to help my mum do the decorating at home and I always had her influence growing up. One day at school, we had a talk from someone about apprenticeships in the sector and it seemed a very natural way to go. Here I am, over 30 years later!

How was entering the industry for you? How did your friends and family react?

My parents were very encouraging and helped give me the push I needed to get started in the sector. There were some friends and colleagues who were a little dubious when I began work – but they were quickly won over once I started to thrive in my role.

Can you give us an overview of some of your career highlights so far?

A definite career highlight for me was competing in the WorldSkills Olympics in Amsterdam as an apprentice in 1990. As the only woman in my category, I came up against some backlash from other competitors who complained that I would be named the winner because I was the “token” female. After a couple of comments like these, I suggested that all names be removed from our work when the judges were scoring them, meaning that gender couldn’t play a role in our performance. That quickly put an end to those complaints; I was there to win on the basis of my skill and didn’t want to give my critics grounds to find fault should I win.

In the end, I got a bronze medal; at the time I was disappointed as I had pinned my hopes on gold, but looking back now, I realise the achievement that this was and the role it played in my career.

What do you find most fulfilling in your role?

As a former apprentice myself, I love bringing other apprentices through the company and backing them to succeed. I want to give each apprentice I manage the same opportunities I had and the choice to follow in my footsteps if they so choose.

What’s the biggest lesson you have learnt or challenge you have overcome during your career?

For me, a large part of the learning curve has been understanding how to work with different people and find ways to achieve what’s needed as a team. There have also been plenty of career highlights in terms of ambitious projects we’ve taken on, such as working 24 hours at a time to get an entire ballroom painted in 5 days; these projects are hard work but also incredibly rewarding.

Who do you look at in the industry as a source of inspiration?

The directors here at Bagnalls have always backed me and been people who I look up to. I’ve received invaluable guidance from them throughout my career and continue to do so now; it’s something I hope to pay back to junior employees now that I’ve taken on a more senior role within the business.

Who has been your biggest supporter during your career?

My parents have been my supporters throughout. Stephen Bagnall has also been a huge help to me, helping me to get on development courses I expressed interest in and making sure I was provided with an environment that supported my progress.

What advice would you give to women currently looking to join the painting and decorating industry?

Get stuck in! Don’t be afraid to take opportunities as they come – understand what you want to achieve and grab it with both hands. There are so many great possibilities for people to join the sector regardless of age and gender; seize them!

What’s your next career step from here?

I’d love to keep rising through the ranks, possibly reaching director level. I’ve been supported so well during my time here that I truly feel that I’ll be encouraged whatever my career ambitions are.

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