From education to employment

Women in Decorating: The Past, Present and Future

Did you know just 4.8% of workers are women in the painting and decorating sector?

In this article, painting and decorating contractor Bagnalls has interviewed five women in different roles at the company to discuss their experiences, challenges and wins within the sector.

Ranging from senior management roles to trainees, five Bagnalls employees have provided unique insights into working in the painting and decorating sector …

Key takeaways:

  • “My Mum had wanted to be a joiner when she was younger but was told it wasn’t appropriate for her as a woman – but for me, I had a lot more support going in. My Mum was really happy to see me pursue my chosen career in a way she had never been able to.”
  • “In 2016, I became the first female on Bagnalls’ board of directors in its 145-year history.”
  • “Competitors complained that I would be named the winner because I was the ‘token’ female… 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. 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.”
  • “I occasionally receive sweeping statements or surprised reactions when people find out that a woman will be managing their project – I prove with time on the job what I’m capable of.”
  • “The impact of my work was that our staff and customers remained safe throughout and Bagnalls carried on its legacy of responsible work despite the challenges the past year has brought.”
  • “Don’t pre-judge what opportunities there are; the roles for women are vast. With the right training and development, you can become the supervisors, managers and even directors of the future.”

The Rise of Women in Decorating: Five Women in the Sector Provide Insight

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.

Despite the industry being traditionally male-dominated, progress is coming to the sector slowly but surely. National painting and decorating contractor Bagnalls recently sat down with five of their female employees, ranging from managerial roles to trainees, to discuss their experiences and insights in the sector.

Please could you each provide a quick introduction to who you are and what your role with Bagnalls is?

I’m Abi Johnson. I’ve been a painter and decorator at Bagnalls for the past year, having previously worked as an apprentice.

I’m Joanne Gualda, Group Marketing Director for Bagnalls and Director of our Special Projects division. I joined the company 22 years ago in January 2000, starting as a Group Marketing Manager. I was also the first female director on Bagnalls’ board of directors in its 145-year history.

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.

I’m Katie Booth, a Contracts Manager at our Wolverhampton branch heading into my third year of the Management Trainee programme. I quickly got stuck into managing contracts and have been doing so ever since.

I’m Becky Slater, Head of SHEQ (Safety, Health, Environment and Quality) at Bagnalls. I joined Bagnalls in January 2020, coming from a background in quarry management and the manufacturing sector, and currently oversee Bagnalls’ standards of quality, safety and environmental responsibility.

What attracted you to the painting and decorating industry?

Abi: I’ve never been much of a fan of sitting behind a desk or working in retail. When I left school, I wanted something more active and engaging, so an apprenticeship fit the bill perfectly.

Joanne: Having worked in marketing for some time, I was approached by an ex-Managing Director of mine who was doing some consultancy work for Bagnalls. He said they were looking for a specialist in Marketing and asked if I would like to be considered for the post. I didn’t even realise until I did my background research for the job that Bagnalls was a national painting contractor and undertook such huge contracts!  Once I met Stephen, our Group Managing Director, and had several interviews with him, I knew that having a career with Bagnalls would be amazing. I set my sights high even before joining the company, telling Stephen that I wanted to join the board eventually.

Jane: 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!

Katie: I’ve always been interested in the property market and architecture. Whilst renovating my own property I took a very hands-on approach to managing the works, hiring contractors, and scheduling the stages of the project myself and found I enjoyed the process. When I saw a job advert on LinkedIn, I decided to apply as I had some relevant experience and skills, which led me to my career at Bagnalls.

Becky: My Dad worked in the quarry sector, and growing up I always found it interesting, so it was a logical progression for me to start my career there. As I spent more time in the quarrying industry, I began to step away from operation activities and moved into the environmental and safety management side of the business. When I moved to Bagnalls, it seemed an organic evolution of the steps I had been taking in my career to embark on a role that included Safety, Health, Environmental and Quality Management.

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

Abi: My family were immediately supportive when I decided to do an apprenticeship. My Mum had wanted to be a joiner when she was younger but was told it wasn’t appropriate for her as a woman – but for me, I had a lot more support going in. My Mum was really happy to see me pursue my chosen career in a way she had never been able to.

Joanne: All of my family and friends were pleased that I had found a new position that offered challenges and potential promotion. With Marketing as my specialism, my skills are very transferable and I transitioned into the sector with relative ease, although there was nonetheless a degree of adaptation required. Having worked in the wire rope industry for Bridon and then in the packaging industry for Portola, I knew that even though painting is a male-dominated industry this would not be a problem for me.

Jane: 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.

Katie: People were initially confused! It was quite a sudden career change for me, but once they got over their surprise my family and friends were encouraging.

Becky: My Dad has backed me throughout; with his experience in quarrying, he was a mentor figure for me and advised me on the qualifications and skillsets I would need to take my career in the direction I wanted.

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

Abi: For me, a definite highlight of my career was being invited to Slovenia in 2019 to take part in a charity event with the Painting and Decorating Association. We travelled there to decorate a school as part of a community support project and were allocated a portion of the project to complete.  Being introduced to everyone there and getting to contribute to improving the school for local school children and teachers was amazing. Whilst in Slovenia, we also got to do some wine tasting and tour the capital city, visiting the market there and getting to see the local crafts and foods – all experiences I never would have got outside of my apprenticeship.

Joanne: I have so many career highlights, but for me, the standout was becoming the first female Director appointed to the Main Board in 2006. I am also hugely proud of the success of our Community Paintbrush Scheme, which I established in 2012; the scheme has helped numerous organisations over the years through paint donations, volunteer painters and charitable support. More recently, I have been trained in being a Mental Health First Aider (MHFA), a subject I feel passionate about and have been involved in more throughout the past year as we have expanded our mental health support systems to help employees deal with the impact of COVID.

In addition to my personal achievements, many of my career highlights so far have also been due to the success and dedication of my colleagues; our project wins at the annual PDA Trophy awards, our apprentice success across the UK and our specialist awards such as RoSPA Gold for investment in safety to name but a few.

Jane: 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.

Katie: I’m proud to have been to university and completed my master’s degree in Business Management and Marketing. My involvement in the renovation of Resorts World in Birmingham was a definite highlight. The project was different, ambitious and creative, and went on to win the Retail category of the Johnstone’s Trade Painter of the Year Award 2020.

Becky: The past couple of years have been particularly challenging, but also rewarding in its own way. I formed part of the team at Bagnalls responsible for reacting to the changing coronavirus situation, which carried a lot of pressure but was also rewarding to implement successfully. The impact of my work was that our staff and customers remained safe throughout and Bagnalls carried on its legacy of responsible work despite the challenges the past year has brought.

What is something you excel in or gives you fulfilment in your role?

Abi: I’m very proud of the finish on my work. As a painter, I’m a bit of a perfectionist and take my time on things to ensure they’re perfect. I’m also quite proud of my wallpapering skills – it’s a slightly more technical area and difficult skill to learn, but it’s an area I do well in.

Joanne: Seeing people succeed gives me a lot of fulfilment in my role. The small things that colleagues contribute are something I’m immensely proud of. When reviewing customer satisfaction surveys, it always makes me smile to read positive comments from customers about individuals who have worked on their project, seeing how they have got to know our painters by name and thank them for their courtesy, care and excellent work.

Jane: 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.

Katie: I love seeing a project go from start to finish; it’s extremely satisfying to watch a location transform. Some of my most fulfilling projects have been working in care homes and mental health facilities, where I truly know that the work I do will make a real difference to the people there.

Becky: Coaching and helping others to develop is always the most rewarding part of my job. As the head of safety, I do a lot of mentoring to help Bagnalls employees to develop their safety skills. This work not only helps people within the company to gain new certifications and progress with their career but also means that I’m helping our sites to remain as safe and secure as possible.

I also love the variety of my role – when people hear “Health and Safety”, they think paperwork and trawling through regulations. Whilst that’s one side of it, my role involves a lot more, from site visits to getting creative with the ways we can reduce our environmental impact.

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

Abi: For me, adjusting to the pandemic and a completely new way of work was a struggle in the beginning. We’re always strict with hygiene and health and safety, but the pandemic required bringing that to a whole new level and fundamentally changing the way we operate day-to-day. I like having a routine – so having it thrown off during those first few months was strange and took some adjusting to, but I overcame it and I’m now used to our new processes of work.

Joanne: An important lesson I learnt is that you can do it – but that does not mean you have to do it alone. My colleagues at all levels are so supportive and there are times I need to ask for their support and engagement to do the best I can in my job. I often take on too much for my own good; but I know when asked, a colleague will help me achieve my goals and vice versa. 2020 was no doubt a major challenge for many businesses, but again I was so proud of the way we pulled together and adapted to the ever-changing environment as a team.

When it comes to challenges in my career, there have been a few, I started work in 1990 when the same standards of equality and behaviour applied in the workplace today were quite different. This ranged from lewd comments and subtle remarks about women being successful. However, in all the roles I have had I have persevered and proven my worth and as such, I have been recognised and rewarded. At Bagnalls I have completed an MA, been promoted, and had a daughter; challenges are just hurdles to be overcome.

Jane: 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.

Katie: Entering into a new role with no past experience in the sector was a challenge for me, although a welcome one. There is a noticeable lack of women in the painting and decorating industry, and I occasionally receive sweeping statements or surprised reactions when people find out that a woman will be managing their project, however, I prove with time on the job what I am capable of.

Becky: The biggest challenge during my time here was joining Bagnalls at the start of the coronavirus pandemic. The result of the virus outbreak was that our standard project schedules and methods of work were turned completely upside down. I have learned a lot about taking things one day at a time and ensuring that all the decisions we made continued to place the safety of our staff and customers as a priority.

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

Abi: My first teacher in the decorating industry was a woman named Robin who I still look up to. In addition to the technical guidance and support she offered, having a female role model there was important for me.

A woman named Sandie Webster has also been a big source of inspiration for me. I first saw her at the PDA awards ceremony a few years ago when she gave a speech about being the first woman to win an award in painting and decorating.

Sandie started her own business at age 30 but couldn’t apply for a grant as it was for under 25s only; instead, she applied for a loan through the Prince’s Trust and began entering painting & decorating competitions and used her prize money to purchase a van and kit it out for herself. She is truly an inspiration to all trades women. I’ve been fortunate enough to meet her multiple times, including when I competed at the 2019 Skill Build competition where she was a judge.

Joanne: My colleagues and the industry at large are always a source of inspiration. I feel lucky to be part of an industry where so much is going on; although painting has been around for thousands of years, there are still innovations constantly occurring, from paints that combat viruses or reduce the spread of flames to steps forward in making paint packaging recyclable and reducing our carbon footprint.

Jane: 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.

Katie: There are so many people within the company who have provided me with a wealth of knowledge and guidance. We have periodic conferences which have been invaluable in terms of receiving guidance from many different people.

Michaela Wain was on The Apprentice a few years ago and immediately inspired me; I’ve listened to many of her podcasts on women in construction which have been very influential.

Becky: My peers and wider team are always a source of inspiration for me. I’m constantly being inspired by them in my work, from the way they react to unforeseen circumstances to their determination to continually improve.

Who has been your biggest supporter during your career?

Abi: My boyfriend has been there for me throughout – when I lost my previous job role, he helped me keep my head up and look for work again.

Joanne: It has to be our Group Managing Director, Stephen Bagnall. He has challenged, supported and praised me over the past 21 years and remains approachable for me and all my colleagues.

Jane: 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.

Katie: Our contracts and branch managers have always been supportive of me. A lot of time goes into the training for Contracts Managers, and I’m proud to be part of a company so invested in personal development.

Becky: My parents have always been there to offer direction and advice throughout and I’ve been incredibly thankful for their backing.

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

Abi: You’ll need thick skin sometimes in such a male-dominated industry – but do it. Having said that, the people at my current role in Bagnalls have been lovely and even though I’m often the only woman in a given situation, I’m rarely made to feel excluded or like I’m facing any prejudice. My overlying experience within the industry has been extremely rewarding and given me so many incredible opportunities that I don’t regret it at all. In short, just go for it – we need more women in painting and decorating!

Joanne: Don’t pre-judge what opportunities there are in any industry sector. The painting industry is so vast – from working with major blue-chip companies such as Akzo Nobel (Dulux) through to small scaffold companies, the roles for women are vast. Bagnalls is absolute proof that there are so many opportunities for women and no role is off-limits, from being a painter on-site to a Main Board Director. Regardless of whether you start as an apprentice, school leaver or graduate, this is an industry where, with the right training and development, you can become the supervisors, managers and even directors of the future.

Jane: 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!

Katie: Be yourself and always strive to be the best you can be. Stay up to date with the latest qualifications, industry standards and management skills as the time you invest in these will be invaluable. At the same time stay one step ahead and don’t shy away from opportunities as they arise; remember that everyone is human and it’s okay to make mistakes as you learn.

Becky: Be confident, believe in yourself and never be afraid to ask questions.

What’s your next career step from here?

Abi: I’d like to run our work on heritage sites in the future, as the more technical elements involved will give me the scope to show what I’ve achieved within the industry. I know that I want to move up within the company, with the goal of eventually becoming a manager.

Joanne: My key role moving forward will be to support the growth of our business and its staff and secure the future of the company for the next generation of Bagnalls’ employees. I am committed to making sure that when I retire, I have created a legacy to ensure that our company not only remains successful from a commercial perspective but also continues to build upon our investment in sustainable improvements.

Jane: 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.

Katie: I’m currently gearing up for the final stages of my training programme, which forms the immediate step into my chosen career. Longer-term, I would love to become the main Contracts Manager at my branch.

Becky: I want to remain within the health and safety side of the company as I love my work. My main ambitions are to develop the department and ensure it continually evolves over the years and take the opportunities that present themselves.

Related Articles