To continue our ‘Women in the Spotlight’ series, Heather Heward, FD at NPIF investee business JH Mechanical talks about her biggest role models and the best pieces of advice she has been given on her business journey.
– Explain your role in the business and what your business does?
I am the Financial Director of JH Mechanical. We are a Stockton-based mechanical, electrical and water management services provider, working with clients such as British Land, Durham County Council and Northern Education Trust. We provide a range of commercial and domestic installation, maintenance and repairs services across the North of England. The team has grown rapidly in the last year which has been helped by winning major contracts such as Newcastle University.
– How has NPIF helped your business?
The loan we received from NPIF – FW Capital has provided us with the cashflow to continue to provide the highest quality service to our existing customers. It has also enabled us to deliver larger projects, upskill staff and strengthen our apprenticeship programme. I’m really excited for the future of the business and to grow from this continue this momentum we have built.
– Do you work in a male dominated industry and, if so, would you say it’s impacted your career?
It is only recently over the last 3 years that I have moved full time into the engineering sector, having previously worked in a strategic investment planning role for the North East LEP and the Tees Valley Combined Authority, and I have never looked back!
When I first joined, I found the sector quite traditional in its approach to business development and how it communicates with its networks.
We need to see more positive change and new ideas that challenge the norm in traditional industries. We need the right people in the right jobs, irrespective of gender, but that means more women joining the sector as they are significantly underrepresented at present.
We have seen a positive impact from bringing more women into our business. Amongst our new team members, we have appointed a female plumber and a female Comms Lead who came from outside of the engineering sector – and we are all the better for it. Traditional norms within the team are successfully merging with fresh and innovative ideas used in other sectors, and this has been instrumental in helping us become a high growth business.
I would love to encourage more people from other sectors – both men and women – to consider moving into the engineering sector and to bring their fresh approach to work with them. The engineering sector is NOT just for engineers; there are a significant number of roles which support the engineering teams out in the field, and these roles are crucial to help strengthen, build and grow the sector!
– Who would you class as your biggest influence/role model/mentor and why?
I have been lucky to have had many positive role models during my working life which have had an influential and positive impact on my life, but the greatest by far is my husband John who is also the MD of our company. John is very entrepreneurial and regularly comes up with fantastic ideas which he challenges me to help him find ways to deliver them.
– What is the best and most inspiring piece of advice you have been given on your journey to far?
When John and I set up the business six years ago we were told the first five years are the most challenging and this was definitely true for us. You need to be prepared to work harder than you ever have in your life, to develop nerves of steel, and to learn quickly. My advice to anyone starting out is to keep believing in yourself – even on the tough days – and talk to other businesses and people who know what you are going through; it really does help so much.
– Would you say more needs to be done across all sectors to create a better gender balance?
From our work in schools and from attending careers events, I would say that we have a lot of work to do to change young people’s perceptions of what jobs are out there and the potential pathways to employment, and this applies equally to both males and females.
However, we have noticed that 11 and 12-year-old girls are often the most positive about enjoying STEM subjects, but unfortunately by the time they are choosing their GCSE options and thinking about their future careers, they have often dismissed many career paths that apply their considerable STEM skills. Why is this? And how do we change their perceptions?
I think first and foremost it requires more young women in STEM related industries to come forward as role models and promote their own career pathways; but it also needs more businesses to get involved and to play a part in educating young people and the wider school community about the fantastic job opportunities that we have in the Tees Valley and the sectors that are crying out for skilled people.
– What does International Women’s Day mean to you?
IWD is an opportunity to celebrate female talent and to showcase the fantastic work being done by women from all backgrounds in helping to create a fairer and more egalitarian world. On a more personal level, I hope it encourages more women and girls to think again about joining traditional male dominated industries when they may have previously ruled them out.
The Northern Powerhouse Investment Fund project is supported financially by the European Union using funding from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) as part of the European Structural and Investment Funds Growth Programme 2014-2020 and the European Investment Bank.
FW Capital Limited is regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority as a small authorised UK Alternative Investment Fund Manager under firm reference number 506719