Julie Bickerdyke is managing director of engineering firm, Austin Hayes, having joined as company accountant, becoming finance director in 2008 and managing director in March 2015. The company has over 50 years’ refurbishment experience and over 30 years’ experience providing coatings solutions for a range of sectors, including nuclear energy, oil and gas, wind, water treatment, transport and defence.
“…For women wanting to succeed in engineering my advice would be to work hard and to be yourself… I’m not going to pretend to be a man or change my personality to fit a stereotype of being rough and tough. I can be as firm as the next person and I do it with compassion, remaining true to my personal values…”
Transitioning from professional services into engineering
I began my working life working in accountancy practices. Before I had my daughter I spent nine years with Sagars in the business services department. Each month I would visit various clients to prepare management accounts; Austin Hayes was one of these clients. I kept in touch with Austin Hayes after I left Sagars to have children; I loved the people there and the family atmosphere.
A couple of years later the position of company accountant became available at just the right time for me to want to get back into the workplace. I had always found Austin Hayes a fascinating company and was interested in the services they provide. I jumped at the chance to join them and become part of a great team. Working in industry rather than practice also gave me the opportunity to get involved in all parts of the business and to influence decisions made.
My role as managing director
My daily role involves managing a team of two directors and three senior managers, whom I involve with major decisions. We are currently working together on our future strategy. I spend a lot of time guiding my staff and talking to our customers. I also take the lead on our PR activity.
Everything I do revolves around ensuring we are meeting our objectives:
- To protect the business and build for the future
- To make profits: for re-investment, for the shareholder and for reward
Markets and services
Austin Hayes provides specialist refurbishment and protective coatings application services. The company was formed in 1953 and worked primarily for the MoD [Ministry of Defence] refurbishing ammunition containers, which is still the core of our business today.
Since the 1980s we have also worked for the engineering industry applying specialist protective coatings to metal fabrications, valves etc. Our main market is currently oil and gas but we also work in the water, nuclear and rail industries. Our coatings range from epoxy and phenolic paint systems to dry film lubricating coatings and thermal arc-sprayed aluminium or zinc (metal spray).
Exports are vital to our work although we do not export directly. We work for the UK MoD and UK fabricators. Many of our customers export goods around the world and our work is present on many deep sea oil rigs in every ocean where oil has been found.
Workforce gender split
We have a great split at board level with two female directors and two male directors. The senior management team of three includes one woman. We have a KTP (Knowledge Transfer Partnership) associate who is female. She is working on research into optimum paint curing methods. The remaining office roles are predominantly taken by women. The shop floor roles are male dominated.
Advice for women working in male dominated sectors like engineering
For women wanting to succeed in engineering my advice would be to work hard and to be yourself. This is difficult to advise on as how you are perceived will often depend on who are you talking to and their background and influences.
Personally, I remain as feminine as possible. I’m not going to pretend to be a man or change my personality to fit a stereotype of being rough and tough. I can be as firm as the next person and I do it with compassion, remaining true to my personal values.
Goals for the future
My goals for the future include building upon the strengths of the company to ensure we protect the business and build in sustainability for the future. We are looking at improved production methods and updating our equipment alongside ensuring exemplary health, safety and environmental practices, along with staff development. A happy, motivated workforce is key for us to reach our objectives.