Skip links

International Women’s Day

Friday 8th March 2024 is International Women’s Day, and this year’s theme is Inspire Inclusion.

When we inspire others to understand and value women’s inclusion, we forge a better world. When women themselves are inspired to be included, there’s a sense of belonging, relevance, and empowerment. Collectively, let’s forge a more inclusive world for women.

This week we spoke to some of the inspirational women in the Shepley Group, and learnt more about what inclusion means to them, what challenges they have faced in their careers and what they would like to see in the future

Debbie Adair-Fieldhouse

Group Finance Director

Debbie Adair-Fieldhouse was appointed to the Board in February 2024, the first female director in our history!

I had no idea what I wanted to do when I left school so I did a Masters degree in chemistry and worked in a lab for 2 years after that. During this time I decided to retrain as an accountant and did a graduate training programme with the NHS for 2 and a half years, gaining my CIMA professional qualification. A couple of moves later I worked as a management accountant for a pharmaceutical manufacturing company. My previous work in the lab helped me understand the practical side of this role. I then moved to Cumbria, worked in the waste management industry and had a family and started with Shepley after my maternity leave. I was lucky when applying for the role with Shepley that they were flexible in allowing me to maintain my part-time working in order to combine working and having a young family.

Trying to manage parenting and working, combined with severe sleep deprivation!

I have had the good fortune to work for some lovely people in the past and currently. I have always been inspired by people who have made they own careers, whether it be working their way up through an organisation or having the courage to start a small business from scratch.

Equality should be second nature. We all deserve to be treated equally with the same opportunities.

Young women are in such a great position now, there are so many opportunities in all different industries. If you have a goal, go for it, hard work definitely pays off. If you don’t know what you want to do, don’t be afraid to try something, you can always change paths.

I hope that we don’t have to talk or think about diversity in the future because equality and diversity are no longer issues as the world we live in treats all people equally.

Charlotte Todhunter

Group Health and Safety Advisor

Charlotte joined Shepley Engineers in October 2023, and is currently the only female in our health and safety team.

My interest in health and safety began when I was working at GSK as a process technician. The site I worked on was, at the time, classified as a COMAH and so I, along with all other operators, were required to understand and adhere to strict safe systems, procedures and control measures. I completed my IOSH managing safely and NEBOSH General Certificate whilst employed at GSK and was trained in internal auditing of building, plant and processes involved in my work area. I also joined the emergency response team, attending emergency drill training days, including fire fighting and emergency rescue. My experience at GSK inspired me to follow a career in health and safety.
I started as a Health, Safety and Wellbeing advisor for, what was, Cumbria County Council in 2022. During my time in that position, I was responsible for conducting health and safety audits in local authority schools and care homes, including day care centres and workshops, writing associated reports. I resigned from my position in the council after receiving confirmation that I was successful in securing the trainee SHE advisor position with Shepley Engineering. I am currently in the process of completing my NEBOSH Diploma and I am enthusiastic in becoming a fully-fledged SHE advisor in the Shepley Health and Safety team.

The biggest challenge for me was having such a long break in-between gaining for safety qualifications, leaving GSK and finding employment which progressed my career in health and safety. This was largely down to maternity leave after my second child, and, at the time, lack of opportunities in that industry sector. I found it extremely discouraging at the time which made me question my career choice.

I think my proudest achievement is being a full-time working mum of two. My girls make me so proud; they just amaze me in all that they do every single day. I feel that I have finally accomplished a work-life balance that allows me to progress in my career as well as spend quality time with my family, support them in every way that I possibly can, and have a bit of time left over for catching up with friends.

All individuals should be treated fairly and given the same opportunities and access to resources regardless of factors such as race, gender, religion, or any other characteristic. Everyone should be treated equally; no-one should be subjected to discrimination.

It means encouraging a more equitable, diverse, and inclusive society where everyone has the opportunity to thrive. To empower people to contribute their unique talents and perspectives and be their most authentic selves.

For me, especially being the mother of two girls, I think the most important message to send to young women is to have resilience, knowledge, self-belief and confidence. These are the building blocks to being successful in all aspects of their future, giving them the ability to navigate through various opportunities and setbacks they may experience on their journey, and empowerment to achieve their aspirations. I try to tell my girls every-day before they go to school, ‘You are smart, and you are brilliant, and you can do anything you set your mind to. If you can’t do something the first time, don’t worry, take a breath and try again until you get it right.’

I think for women, in terms of diversity, things have positively progressed though the years, with more females in trades that have previously been male dominant and more being in positions of leadership or management. My hope is that this progression continues, not just for women, but for all diversities, giving those equal career opportunities and to have their voices represented and heard in decision-making processes, leadership positions, media, and other influential spaces.

Andrea Birkett

Project Engineer

Andrea started her career as PPS Electrical’s first ever female apprentice. She was nominated for a “Woman in Industry” award, finishing third in the national finals. Through training and development she has progressed to a fully qualified Project Engineer, engaged on multi-million pound projects.

In my final year at school I didn’t really know what I wanted to go on to do? I attended a college open evening and initially I came away thinking that I would maybe train to be a massage therapist. When I discussed it with my father he said why follow the traditional path, why don’t you do something that will provide you with greater opportunities for a future career and that will always keep you in work – maybe like an electrician.

The thought stuck and I began to research the opportunities available in my area and the more I researched the more I became interested in becoming an electrical apprentice. As well as the subject matter I found the mix of classroom and on the job training particularly appealing. What also attracted me to an apprenticeship was the prospect that I would be able to earn as I learn.
I applied and was successful in being awarded a four year apprenticeship to train as an Installation Electrician with a local CE&I contractor, PPS Electrical, and it was from there that my journey began.

After successfully completing my apprenticeship in 2013 I received my competency card as a fully qualified Installation Electrician. After two years post apprenticeship experience I moved up to advanced craftsperson status and soon after I was appointed as a chargehand.

I was proud of how I had progressed and was nominated by my employer for a “Woman in Industry” award, finishing third in the national finals. That achievement was recognised by my employer and they approached me to see if I would be interested in becoming a project engineer. After accepting the opportunity I embarked on a personal development plan that saw me undertake comprehensive further training and return to college to take an HNC in Electrical Engineering. Upon completion of the training and under the mentorship of the project team I have now advanced from a trainee to a fully qualified project engineer engaged on multi-million pound projects.

It allowed me to develop the skills and technical knowledge to become a fully qualified electrician. The working life experiences and support I gained from that environment has really helped me grow into the confident person I am today. Meeting and working with so many talented individuals has provided me with the foundation on which to build my future career.