The UK furniture industry remains a male-dominated environment, but women are increasingly making the decisions which shape the sector. In April's Furniture News, we asked some of the trade’s leaders to offer their views on gender politics, female recruitment and the rate of change – here's what Resident's Angela Crouch had to say …
Angela is the UK MD of Resident, the California-based bed business which is targeting growth this side of the pond through its sustainable D2C brands Nectar (now made and distributed to the UK trade by GNG Group), DreamCloud and Cloverlane.
Day to day, how aware are you of the furniture industry’s gender balance? Is equality important to you?
For me, equality – and promoting it – is core to my being, particularly having been held back in the past. It’s almost impossible not to be aware of the gender imbalance in the furniture industry, as it’s so starkly represented in terms of who has a seat at the table. In my 20-30s I was often the only female in the room. I’m now in my mid-40s, and I am seeing a slow and steady change – perhaps around 25% now have a seat. I hope that in the coming years we’ll finally have an even representation.
At the start of your career, were you made to feel welcome by the trade, or did you have more obstacles to overcome than a man might?
I did feel welcomed by the trade, but that’s not to say I didn’t sometimes feel lonely in a male-dominated space. Sometimes it’s hard to know at the time whether something is normal or if it’s just you, as a woman, who is challenged with it. Either way, I didn’t have an option but to get on with it, prove my worth and slowly dismantle any gender bias through sheer achievement. Now, as a leader myself, I hope women are facing fewer obstacles than I may have had to.
Is there anything you know about women and the workplace now that you wish you’d known sooner?
In my late 20s I started to work with a business coach, and I’ve been working with her on and off for the last 20 years. She really helped me navigate some business challenges I faced, and helped me get ready for new opportunities. It really helped my confidence.
I remember a significant lightbulb moment when she told me that I might be intimidating to my male colleagues. It never crossed my mind before that, I was too busy giving myself a hard time and thinking I wasn’t good enough. It taught me to ask for feedback and look for the evidence of being the imposter I thought I was – when you look for that data, you may come to realise its not there!
It was very powerful and impactful work we did together, and it’s something I continue to personally invest in.
Can you share an anecdote/example of a time you felt held back or discriminated against due to your sex?
Sadly, yes. It’s the age-old story of being in line to get promoted from a management position to a director, then falling pregnant. Where this obviously shouldn’t have made a difference, when I told the company my news the position was suddenly no longer available to me, as they felt I wouldn’t be able to cope with the extra responsibilities as well as being a mother.
After this, I was made redundant. It was a devastating time for me. I should have taken them to a tribunal as it was a clear-cut case, but I was a new mum and, to be honest, didn’t have the confidence/energy to (like many mothers who have been in the same position).
The outcome of this saga, though, was that I became determined to achieve big things, and since then it’s clear that I have accomplished more than I may otherwise have. Our failures and knockbacks can really be the ones that help shape us.
Conversely, can you identify any stand-out gestures of fairness/equality?
Early on in my career I was in the fortunate position of having a very senior female leader sponsor me. She championed me at every opportunity she could, and this put me front and centre for new opportunities, promotions and compensation. This had a huge impact on my career, and I’ve been ‘paying it forward’ ever since in any way I can.
Do you feel things are generally heading in the right direction? How can other people/the industry make a difference?
I feel positive about the direction we are heading in, but I would like it to move faster. Leaders have the opportunity to shape and build a company that both they and their employees are proud of, nurturing an environment where people enjoy working with one another. It’s important that everyone has a voice, because in turn everyone then has the opportunity to effect change.
What would you tell young women who are thinking about entering the furniture industry?
I can’t speak to everyone, but here are a few things that have worked for me:
Before you can influence change, you have to demonstrate your impact through results. Understand the business goals and objectives, and deliver against them.
Have empathy for people you work with, but remember you aren’t their counsellor – women are often considered too soft, and it’s important to find the balance.
Find a mentor who you admire and trust (ideally who doesn’t work in the same company). Get tips and advice from them about how to get ahead, and soak up their knowledge.
Find a sponsor within the company who can advocate for you and elevate your profile.
Remember your worth. As a line manager, it’s always fascinated me how men and women approach compensation differently. Men are very direct – this is what I want, why, and the data to back it up. Women find it very difficult and are much more passive, waiting for the business to present the opportunity. Don’t be passive – if you feel undercompensated or feel you deserve a promotion, then ask for it.
Get comfortable with the facts/data. Men are typically more comfortable with remembering and articulating data points quickly, so get under the skin of the data that drives the business.
Network, network, network. Connect with your colleagues on LinkedIn – you never know if they might be a key decisionmaker in a new opportunity for you and/or can make an introduction or recommendation.
Finally, imposter syndrome is real for all of us. Your excellence can be intimidating to men – don’t dim yourself to spare their egos.
Read the complete feature in April's Furniture News.