In conversation with… Christine Wilde, Managing Director of Isoclad
Christine Wilde is the kind of business leader people notice. Now the Managing Director of Isoclad and its sister brand Securiclad, and formerly the Managing Director of Catnic for over 35 years, Christine has spent nearly all of her working life in manufacturing – and she has the trophies to prove it.
She holds the 2013 titles of Best Business Leader and Woman of the Year, awarded by Women Who Mean Business (WWMB), and Director of the Year for South Wales from the Institute of Directors.
But beyond the awards, Christine is a force to be reckoned with – a glint of steel and a sense she ‘suffers no fools’ is evident to all who meet her, but her key tool is ‘knowing her stuff’ (more on this later).
Having been in the post of MD for Isoclad for 20 months – a significant portion of which has been spent in various lockdowns – Christine is used to thinking on her feet and adapting to new challenges.
To find out more, we sat down with Christine to talk about women in construction – how they’ve changed the industry, how to succeed in leadership and how to bring more female leaders into a field she’s worked successfully in for 39 years.
How has the manufacturing/construction industry changed since you started out?
“The biggest change for me is the constant drive to improve health and safety in the manufacturing environment, which is definitely a good thing – for directors, it’s our responsibility to ensure that we create a safe working environment for all our employees,” Christine explains.
“When I first joined Isoclad, the health and safety was really in its embryonic stage, so it was critical to embed that culture within the business. Now daily communication around health and safety is the norm and how we start the day, and all employees are keenly aware of any potential risks.
“The level of automation has also had a huge impact on the industry – great for innovative ways of working but unfortunately, leads to a constant focus on headcount reduction. When I started a lot of businesses were still in ‘assembly mode’, but have now moved on to this new level of automation, and this is only going to continue.
“Sustainability, again, is one of those elements in construction that has changed drastically over the years. It plays a huge role in manufacturing, from packaging to waste management, and has led to what I believe is a better quality of build.
“Within steel manufacturing, the introduction of electric arc furnaces (EAF) allows that process to utilise 100% of the steel scrap, and we’re seeing increased use of photovoltaics (PV) in construction, with solar power becoming the norm.
“Alongside the increase in PV comes modular construction – it uses a lot of PV implementation and the demand for modular construction has led to more offsite construction programs, led by the diminishing of the traditional trades (bricklayers, carpenters etc) which is having a huge impact too.
“But importantly, I do believe there’s an increasing acceptance of women in senior roles. The industry that I’ve always worked in is steel and construction – not a huge amount of women in senior roles, but I think the tide is turning. There’s definitely more acceptance that we know what we’re talking about!”
So what significant changes have you seen in the role of women in the industry?
“When I started, women were generally in junior admin posts – this is where we’ve seen a significant change. Today, women have roles at every level in business apart from what I call the ‘C suite’ – the CEOs, CFOs, et cetera – which are still majorly male-dominated roles in business.
“However, I think women are definitely being recognised more and more for their drive and creativity, and this is why you see so many women in the roles of sales and marketing. Women show a lot of passion, drive and empathy and I think this is being seen as more of an asset to the working environment than perhaps previously assumed.
“For me, without good people, you will not deliver success – this is why constructing strong teams around you is so vital.”
Working in a male-dominated industry as a woman can be challenging – how have you dealt with these challenges?
“The most crucial thing, first of all, is know your subject. There’s a much greater need for a woman, especially in construction, to illustrate their knowledge more than their male counterpart.
“The initial assumption can be ‘a woman knows nothing about construction’, so already you’re fighting to correct a falsehood – you don’t start off at a level playing field, so you absolutely must know your subject matter inside and out.
“Another important thing to is to be known as a safe pair of hands. Set goals, hit your deadlines, and don’t ever drop the ball. Otherwise, you very quickly lose credibility and trust,” Christine states.
But it’s not all about flying solo. “Building a strong network has been really important in my career. You have to work hard at it – it’s not something that will naturally just be there if you don’t consistently work at it. You have to create that network yourself and keep building it through your career.”
Some might assume you have to be ‘tough’ to succeed, but this might not always be the case – do you employ other successful managerial strategies? If so, what?
“Being fair, totally transparent and setting clear objectives that can be delivered is critical for effective leadership. And providing an environment for success – take people with you on your strategy and objectives.
“If deliverables are not being met, tough decisions have to be made and you simply have to deal with them – to be seen to be tough, and to react in the right way. I always try to ensure you have a level playing field for all, with a clear set of rules. This way everyone knows why and when the red card has to be issued.”
The word ‘tough’ is famously a tricky one for women of this calibre – the risk of being ‘difficult’ has plagued female leaders for decades1. “I wouldn’t say it’s ‘tough’ – it’s about clear strategies, clear engagement, and everyone knows the part they have to play. Deviation needs to be dealt with very quickly and nipped in the bud.”
How has Resource nurtured you in your career?
“I spent much of my career in downstream businesses for large organisations and whilst that’s given me a great environment for learning and developing, it can also stifle creative thinking.
“Resource has given me the opportunity to be really creative, which I love. It’s allowing me to think big and act at a pace, and Resource provides that environment without any autocracy. You can set your vision and investment plans and very quickly get approval, so you’re on with doing the job.”
The culture of ‘get on and do it’ can also be attributed to our CEO and founder, Nick Williams – a bonafide entrepreneur. “Entrepreneurs work in a very different way, which I love. Every day, there is some excitement that comes into the working environment, and it’s great; I love it!”
Why do you believe more women should join & succeed in the manufacturing/construction industry?
“Our sector is extremely diverse, with interesting products, leading edge technology and complex commercial processes, and it moves at a fast pace. You need a lot of attention of detail and to constantly be innovative.
“In my experience, a woman can stand shoulder to shoulder with their male colleagues and flourish in this industry. But – and I’m saying it again – know your subject matter. Because if you don’t know your subject matter you can quite easily be crushed.”
What are the obstacles for more women joining this industry, and how can we overcome them?
“There are no obstacles!” Christine answers with a laugh. “I’m one of those people who always look on the bright side so to me, there are no obstacles.”
“Know your subject and have the relevant experience,” Christine explains, “and be relentless in your search for the opportunity that best matches your skills and career aspirations. This is what you need to succeed.”
How can women support each other in the industry?
“To me, building that strong network and working to maintain it is key. Making sure you allocate the time to discuss experiences and concerns with other female associates within your industry – I meet with my network on a regular basis (virtually, of course!) to talk about different things in the working environment.”
“Women at a senior level in different manufacturing environments come up against different frustrations and issues, and it’s really good to share those.
“And finally, mentorship is critical to supporting other women.” A keen advocate of female mentorship, Christine mentors several women at the moment, offering support and advice gleaned from her years of experience. “I find it really rewarding but most importantly, I really do hope they find it’s helpful for them and their careers.
“I didn’t have a female mentor starting out, but I was really fortunate that I had a number of male mentors who were incredibly supportive of me and my aspirations; they believed in me and my capabilities.
“Now when I think back, I could have worked a little harder to find a female mentor. Although my male mentors were fantastic, I do think you get a lot more out of mentorship from the same gender.”
What’s the one piece of critical advice you’d give to a woman starting out in the field?
“I don’t think there’s a silver bullet for success, I really don’t, and no piece of advice can work in isolation,” Christine advises.
“And as I’ve said, knowing your subject is critical – but most importantly, always deliver on your promises. That’s how you gain the trust in your leadership and your capabilities.
“Don’t be afraid to surround yourself with good people, because together you become a strong dynamic and that’s what delivers the success.
“This is where women excel – they don’t need to say they can do everything. Recognise your weaker areas and bring in strong personalities to work with you.”
“After all, the sector we operate in is all built on relationships and requires consistent delivery. It’s a great industry to work in and the role of women can only get stronger.”
This feature was written for International Women’s Day 2021 as we celebrate women in construction and manufacturing, and share stories of female leaders who excel in their field.
We’d like to say thanks to Christine for this inspiring interview & share our support for all women in leadership whose hard work and tenacity make this industry the powerhouse it is.
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References / citations in this article
1 ‘Fighting the tyranny of ‘niceness’: why we need difficult women’, Helen Lewis in The Guardian (https://www.theguardian.com/books/2020/feb/15/feminism-feminists-tyranny-niceness-complexity)