As a dedicated member of the Women’s Leadership Network, Kath Halstead is passionate about achieving gender equality and breaking down the barriers that hinder success of women in the workplace. She shares with us her own experiences and how she’s working for a future where there will be “no need for minority group networks, as diversity and inclusion will be a given.”
Building a Brighter Future for Her Daughters
After working in our Quality Control labs while taking a degree in Environmental Science, Kath first considered teaching. But, as she says, “two weeks with 30 six-year olds sent her running back to the factory” to come back to what she is passionate about.
She is now our environmental group leader for Architectural Coatings, UK, and responsible for environmental management activities at the Birstall and Morley sites, helping minimize our environmental impact and increasing sustainability.
Early in Kath’s career, she was often the only female and felt left out. She felt like she couldn’t contribute to sports chat or attend out-of-work golf trips. She even started learning football results purely to join in conversations.
I finally became ‘one of the guys’, but this meant I only ever exposed half my personality.
Kath believes there is still a stereotypical view of jobs within science and technology fields but that this is changing drastically, especially with the focus on encouraging female students into STEM careers.
I am motivated to help build a future for my two daughters where they can express who they are and celebrate their uniqueness.
That is one of the reasons why she is a passionate member of the Women’s Leadership Network (WLN). But what exactly is it about the WLN that keeps her so motivated?
A Passionate Leader of the UK Chapter
Six years ago, Kath attended a WLN workshop about barriers to career progression, the ‘glass-ceiling’, and self-limiting beliefs and was hooked.
When she was later invited to coordinate the UK WLN launch event, she jumped at the chance. She teamed up with female colleagues from SBUs all over the UK who were just as passionate as she was.
She recalls the launch was a huge success. Following this, a steering team was formed and over 40 colleagues expressed a wish to develop their expertise and join affinity groups, helping to promote the case for gender equality and to address unconscious bias, work-life balance and career development.
I now consider these ladies my friends and can count on any of them for advice or support whether during work or not!
Why Inclusion Is More Than Numbers
Kath sees eliminating unconscious bias as a big challenge because our brain naturally forms biases due to our experiences and we are instinctively drawn to people similar to us.
We have to constantly be aware of our unconscious biases and be willing to step outside our comfort zone.
Kath with AC UK colleagues during BCF Awards ceremony in 2019
Cultural change requires many small changes over time, she says. While our focus on representation, statistics, and ratios is super important, we must also consider whether people feel included, confident enough to speak up and that they are being heard.
Without the feeling of inclusiveness, no matter what we do to increase the representation of minority groups, we will always have an issue with retention.
Empowering Colleagues with Flexible Work Arrangements
One objective of the WLN is to empower colleagues on paternal leave and make their return to work as smooth as possible. This is something Kath had first-hand experience with as she struggled with her return after maternity leave.
She was worried about missing her child, her child missing her, whether she could be a good mother and a good employee, and whether she’d be able to achieve a work–life balance.
I always think it is best to be open with your colleagues when you need support. I’m lucky to have always had supportive managers.
Kath started a flexible work arrangement that meant she could work part-time with compressed hours. This gave her the work-life balance she needed.
I can see how I can change things for the better – for now and the future – in my role as environmental group leader, in my role within the WLN, and as a parent.