Women at work – the push for gender diversity in print

Rhys Handley
Monday, March 4, 2019

Emily Faithfull was the daughter of a vicar in the middle of the 19th century. Inspired by her friend Bessie Parks, she trained as a printer and typesetter during a time of booming industrial growth for Britain.

In 1860, Faithfull established the Victoria Press print factory, taking on teenage girls as compositors and printing assistants.

Appointed publisher-in-ordinary to Queen Victoria in 1862, Faithfull’s firm in Farringdon Street was uncommonly progressive in its  practices of profit-sharing, lunch breaks, housing, decent lighting and ventilation.

It is Faithfull’s prestige and success, achieved by driving equality of opportunity, that Sainsbury’s print management controller Kelly O’Sullivan seeks to evoke in her latest project, the Victoria Print Network.

Unveiled at the BPIF’s apprentice event at the Bluetree Group in Rotherham on Monday 4 March, the network will first establish itself on LinkedIn as an online community where women of all experience and seniority levels can exchange stories, advice and support to bolster the prospects of women in the sector. Men are welcome to join, too, as enthusiastic advocates.

In time, O’Sullivan seeks to establish mentorships between female print leaders and the young women entering the industry via trainee posts, and she also hopes to run a networking event later this year.

She says: “Emily Faithfull took women into her company and taught them how to work within the industry. Commemorating her in this way felt like the right thing to do.

“Ultimately the network’s goal is about women at all levels empowering each other to be more confident, but also to advocate for more progressive and flexible employment practices like part-time and home-based work which would help many women.

“I have been in this industry for more than 20 years and I remember those difficult meetings in the early years where I was the only woman in a room full of men who did not want to listen. I wish I’d had someone to talk to about how to deal with it, so I hope the network can provide that for print’s new generation of women to reach their full potential.”

The important point for O’Sullivan is that the network encourages women to help other women in a sector of fierce business competition where it can be tempting to pull the ladder up behind you as you climb. BPIF marketing director Amy Hutchinson, who marks nine years at the industry body in 2019, remembers late BPIF chief executive Kathy Woodward as a key inspiration.

“When I first started in the printing sector it certainly felt like a more male dominated industry,” says Hutchinson. “For me I would say that changed when Kathy was appointed – a woman who was completely fearless and passionate about print, and also who garnered great respect from the industry. She lead by example and brought women up with her.”

The Victoria Print Network emerges in an environment still favourable towards men. The latest BPIF figures in 2018 found women currently make up 31% of the sector – robust compared to some industries, but still short of properly representing a demographic that makes up half of the population.

Findings in the McKinsey report ‘Delivering growth through diversity’ confirm a representative workforce is nothing but beneficial for a business. Its 2017 dataset found companies with the highest executive-level diversity had a 21% chance of outperforming those with the lowest and a 27% chance of higher long-term value creation.

CSM Live head of public sector and client operations Beccy Young, whose storied career in print has spanned more than 24 years, says: “Every organisation needs to accommodate women, the benefits are obvious, not to mention that women tend to be primary decision-makers when it comes to family finances.

“In order to be a company that appeals not just as a place to grow careers and retain talent, but also to the consumers looking at the content our brand clients produce, it pays to have equal representation in the workforce.”

Fight for the future

British print is not only afflicted with a gender problem, it struggles to communicate its relevance to all young people as they enter the world of work.

The BPIF’s Apprentice Council is chaired by a woman (see Q&A, p27) and is a rare example of female dominance in print with women making up four of its five members, including Amy Elrington and Jennifer Miller, both of Webmart. It is working on its own outreach to the enlightened youth of today, in the hopes that a switched-on young workforce is part of the solution to redress print’s gender imbalances and keep Emily Faithfull’s business philosophy alive and well in the present day.

“The industry is still very male dominated, but the experiences that I have had with women in print have been very positive,” says Miller. “The women I have worked with seem very enthusiastic about the industry and what can be done with print.

“My biggest concern is that people still define print as an old, outdated industry. People don’t realise how  targeted print can be, and that it can really boost and support the marketing mix.”

Elrington concurs: “For the most part, working with women in the industry has been very much like a sisterhood, and I’m always so happy to meet another woman in the trade. Especially ones who love it like I do. 

“Women supporting women is strong in our generation, and it’s been evident in lots of the teams I’ve been a part of. At the minute, print companies are making huge positive steps to stay current and ahead of the game, and with many incorporating a more creative aspect into their work I think more women than ever are likely to join us.”

  • International Women’s Day is on  8 March


Women coming into the  industry need role models

terrye-teversonTerrye Teverson, owner and former managing director, KCS Print

My time in the print sector started by running a computer supplies business in Cornwall in the 1980s, through which I started buying paper. I jumped from that into buying the company that would become KCS Print from liquidation and installing a Morgan press.

From the start I noticed instances where it was difficult to be a woman in print. My male rivals would host golfing holidays that were exclusive, men-only events. I probably lost a few contracts by not being able to attend, especially being a young mother at the time.

I set myself and KCS apart by emphasising our reliability and quality; we were always honest to our customers about what we could do for them and, along with strong relationships with suppliers, this was crucial to our development. I have certainly come up against sexism in the business, but I like to think that by being good at your job you can gain the respect of men.

New generation

Now I am retired and studying fine arts at Falmouth University, having passed KCS on to my daughter, Zoe Deadman. I chose the right person for the job because Zoe has vision which is often lacking in our industry and is young enough to cast her mind around for new ideas and technology.

I have spent time on committees and at dinners where I have been the only woman, or I have had to listen to men make chauvinist jokes. But these men look increasingly like dinosaurs and I believe things are getting more equal because young people  realise this.

I think it is important for women to see role models they can aspire to and now there are women selling plates and chemistry or operating presses, there is less of a physical barrier like there was for my generation.


Is print now a better industry for women to work in?

jacky-sidebottomJacky Sidebottom-Every, joint managing director, Glossop Cartons

“Glossop Cartons is a family business I entered with my two sisters, dad and boyfriend. I didn’t stop to evaluate it as a place in which women might want to start a career – it was my blood. I never felt that my gender placed me at a disadvantage, but one change I have noticed is a significant increase in the number of women in the industry over the last 10 years and that’s great. A supportive environment both for men and women is crucial for the recruitment of young people into the sector.”

alison-branchAlison Branch, managing director, Park Communications

“I started in print after university at a local printer in costing and wages. There were only really women in accounts. When buying our first business, I was in my early 30s addressing teams of men shocked to see a young woman in charge. I think advances in tech have eliminated some of the heavy lifting and you do see more women in production now. Print needs strong links with schools so we can attract young women into the sector. Young people want creative jobs so we must offer them that as print must evolve too.”

debbieDebbie Read, group commercial director, Walstead Group

“After my A Levels I became a trainee at Alabaster Passmore. In three years, I was night production supervisor and the only woman onsite. It was a challenge putting up with the sexist comments, so I left but wanted to keep using those skills and went into publishing. Print is still male-dominated but it has changed dramatically. My gender doesn’t factor into my current role, but women have still not been given certain opportunities. We need young people in print and if they come, the gender imbalance will even out.”

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