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Enterprising Women Case Study - Emily Smith

Managing Director of AVW Fabrications and Operations & Finance Director of Michael Smith Switchgear, Leicester

Case Study

Tell us about the companies you work for and your roles within them?

Michael Smith Switchgear manufactures low-voltage switchgear panels, along with various other electrical panels for either the end user directly or for electrical contractors that manage the whole project from start to finish. Our products are used in many different markets, from hospitals to data centres and distribution warehouses. We cover the whole of the UK and are Leicester’s largest switchgear manufacturer.

At Michael Smith Switchgear, I am responsible for the management of the accounts team, HR, health and safety, as well as production and operations.

AVW Fabrications specialises in laser cutting, sheet metal fabrication and powder coating. We provide services to a wide range of customers including automated storage companies, gun cabinet makers and ducting companies.

At AVW, I have overall charge of running the business and work closely with my management team, which takes care of the day-to-day running.

What challenges have you faced within your roles and how did you overcome them?

Where to start – there are so many, but I’ll focus on the two biggest ones.

When I first came into the business in 2013, there was a real “1980s feel”, and I quickly recognised it was time to drive modernisation and cultural change. As a young woman who had limited knowledge of manufacturing, I had a lot to learn and a lot of barriers to overcome. I drew on my experiences of working with my clients in accountancy, and spent many hours researching, asking questions and really understanding the processes.

That was the easy bit though. Despite consultation and keeping people updated with what I was doing and why, the resistance to the change from the team was difficult.

Manufacturing is a male-dominated industry. I have been met with some awful comments over the course of my career, from people telling me I shouldn’t be a managing director because I’m a woman, to people assuming I’m “just the receptionist”.

I’ve now learnt not to let these comments get to me, but overcoming this and not allowing these to fuel self-doubt was a real challenge.

When were you introduced to Enterprising Women and how has the network supported you since?

I was introduced to Enterprising Women a couple of years ago and enjoy attending a variety of events on offer. To get to network with businesswomen who have experienced the same things and share your challenges is so valuable. The network supports us, and we support each other.

How did it feel to win an Enterprising Women Award last year, and how has it impacted your career so far? 

Absolutely amazing! To be recognised among businesswomen I look up to and who have influenced and inspired my career is incredible.

Business Woman of the Year is such an accolade, and to have independent recognition from people outside our businesses is really great.

What do you think is the main importance of networks like Enterprising Women for women in business?

Bringing us all together to discuss our experiences, share our challenges and our achievements.

There is so much value in listening to others, and you soon realise that, no matter what the sector, we all share common challenges. There is so much value in being in a space where you can talk to fellow businesswomen, who give you encouragement and share their ideas or solutions with you. And not only that, but the social side is also great too.

Even though the industry has come a long way, what steps could be taken to make the manufacturing industry more inclusive?

Women currently only make up 29% of manufacturing workforce, 8% of apprentices and 18% of board positions.

I believe this comes down to ensuring women have the opportunity to enter the manufacturing world without having anything to deter them. I was recently at a careers fair and one of the female students said to me she didn’t want to stop by our stand because “it’s a man’s job”. It really made me question where this thinking had come from?

It really highlighted there is still a large amount of young people who believe certain jobs are determined by gender. Although that may be true in a select few specialist cases, on the whole it’s about making young people (young women especially) understand they can do anything and that does not have to be defined by gender.

Schools, employers and parents need to give them access to information on all career paths and the variety of different workplaces they can be a part of. I believe manufacturers need to take steps to work with schools and colleges to try to tackle any bias and make the industry much more inclusive.