IWD sees a number of MISSIONS to help forge a gender equal world. Celebrating women's achievements and increasing visibility, while calling out inequality, is key.”

At Checkmate, our MISSION is “To forge inclusive work cultures where women's careers thrive and achievements are celebrated”. We are choosing to challenge!

With this in mind, we have taken the opportunity to catch up with Checkmate’s Head of HR, Natalie Toas, to see what being a senior woman in construction is really like….

Q: First up, you are a young woman in a very senior position within a male dominated industry – what does that mean to you, and how did you get here?

"After a complete career change from nursing, I worked for my father temporarily within his construction based aluminium fabrication and fixing company, followed by a short stint in construction recruitment before I made the move to HR, so my latter years have always been within male working environments.

Both my parents had fantastic careers; they worked hard to provide the best for my brother and I, so I’ve always had good role models and have been taught ‘you reap what you sow’ in life.  I always knew I wanted a career as opposed to ‘just a job’; I wanted to make a difference, somewhere where I mattered and my voice could be heard (although this is a challenge at times amongst 7 blokes on the Checkmate SMT!).

My first HR job was as an HR Administrator at a seasoning manufacturer, where I was lucky enough to be supported with my CIPD qualification which I did part time for three years alongside full-time work. Lots of text books, library visits, evenings, weekends, blood, sweat and tears later, I qualified in 2012, and quickly progressed through the ranks to HR Manager for the group, leading on all things people for their rapidly expanding business.

Sadly, and somewhat ironically, after a huge fire at their Bradford based Head Office, I decided that following the birth of my daughter, it was time for pastures new and somewhere that could offer me career development alongside flexibility to fit in my new responsibilities as a first-time mum.

It meant the world to me to be confirmed as a member of the SMT at Checkmate. To quote our CEO, John Lewthwaite, “our people, alongside planning and processes, are the foundation of everything we do”, and it gives me a great sense of pride to know I can lead and support the continued investment and development of the people within our organisation."

Q: What has been your biggest success in your role at Checkmate?

"Alongside setting up the HR department from scratch, being recognised as an integral member of the SMT is right up there, and it’s a career highlight that I had set my sights on a long time ago. It is a huge confidence boost to know I am respected enough in my area of expertise to be at the forefront of the leadership team that’s driving Checkmate to be the success that it is!

I feel privileged to be involved in and party to decisions about business growth and future opportunities, and I can see that this will only further expand my experience and develop my career within the business."

Natalie deserves so much credit for the way she has settled into the Senior Management Team and the contribution she makes.   I value her opinion and the team is a better team because she is in the room.”

- John Lewthwaite, CEO

Q: What progress have you seen on gender equality in your life and work?

I’ve seen a huge change in gender equality both in and out of work. Gone are the days - although I appreciate it still happens - where women have to give up their careers in favour of family, staying at home to cook and clean! Most of the women in Checkmate are working mums, and my maternal friends all have fantastic careers, successfully juggling the balance between career and family life.

We’ve seen more and more in the press about inspirational females; Michelle Obama, Kate Middleton, and Nicola Sturgeon to name a few. There’s a saying isn’t there, that behind every great man is an even greater women…is it that or behind every great man there’s a woman rolling her eyes?! haha. My point being, even if women aren’t at the forefront, we’re in there somewhere, doing our bit!

"In my time at Checkmate, I’ve seen an increase not only in the female workforce, but also an increase of females in senior leadership positions. These include, but are not limited to, you; our Marketing and Communications Manager, Sinead as Finance Manager, Sophie and Charlotte as Heads within the finance team, and Carla, Hayley and Caroline doing fantastic things to develop the commercial and sales arms of the business - it makes me so proud!"

Q: Why do we need more women in leadership?

"Research has shown that gender-diverse businesses have better financial outcomes than those dominated by one gender, so it’s there…the proof is in the pudding!

Having a diverse workforce only brings one thing…benefits! Having a healthy mix of both men and women from different backgrounds creates opportunities for differing viewpoints, better problem solving, access to a wider array of knowledge and industry insights, and the ability to serve the needs of a wider customer base. Honestly, it’s just a win-win situation!"

Q: How can men contribute more to women’s empowerment?

"It’s well-recognised that typically, men hold important positions of power and influence within businesses. You could argue that this is well and truly the case at Checkmate, with little ol’ me sat amongst 7 men on the SMT.

However, I am pleased to say we do recognise the plethora of benefits the women of Checkmate bring to this company. 

We empower our women with the autonomy to run their departments as they see fit, so long as it sits with the overall business strategy. We give them the same opportunities to be heard and voice their opinions, thoughts and suggestions regularly through open communication channels, as well as regular business performance reviews.

As previously mentioned, I think times have changed in society as a whole towards gender equality. Particularly in the world of HR, with the introduction of things such as shared parental leave back in 2015. We’ve moved away from the historic stereotypes and we now recognise the amazing women in the world and the contributions they make! 

There’s still a way to go to achieve total equality, but we’re on the upwards trajectory."

Q: Where are you feeling empowered or disempowered in your own woman’s story?

"Whilst I am not massively into mindfulness, I think I know myself well enough to recognise my own strengths and abilities as well as limitations. I know I am probably supposed to say this as HR Manager, and it’s a bit cliché, but I think I am just lucky enough to have found myself a supportive employer that will encourage my strengths as well as support my weaknesses, and I’ll just keep going until I am told otherwise. I will try and learn from my colleagues and develop my understanding of the passive fire protection industry which will hopefully, in turn, reflect in my personal life as I continue to succeed and strive to tick things off the bucket list!"

Q: You have a beautiful young daughter, what do you want her to believe about being a woman?

"Oh wow, I wasn’t expecting to get emotional during this interview. It feels a little crazy to say that my daughter is the reason I do everything that I do, given that four years ago she didn’t even exist! But it’s true. Everything I observed during my childhood and everything I have worked hard for in terms of my qualification and career have all gone towards making the fantastic life I have created for the two of us now. 

She’s the reason I smile in the morning (although I am sometimes a bit grumpy when she shouts me at 5.30am!), the reason I wear my metaphorical ‘Checkmate badge’ with pride, the reason I push the sometimes-stressful times aside to sit and play ‘mummies and daddies’ with her and her dolls after a long day at work. She’s everything!

It’s imperative that I set a good example for her, to show her that if you work hard, you can play hard too, and surround yourself with the people you love and the things you want in life.

The one thing I want her to learn from me is to have confidence to stand alone, be smart enough to know when she needs help but most importantly be brave enough to ask for it! I’ve learnt this along the way and think this has helped get me where I am today. Ultimately, I will be proud of her no matter what, but if she takes inspiration from what I have achieved, I will know I have succeeded as a mum."

Q:What does the theme #ChooseToChallenge mean to you, and what’s your IWD message?

"#choosetochallenge leapt out at me immediately when I saw the possible themes for this year’s IWD. Having come out the other side of some tough and challenging times in life, I am a strong believer in ‘if it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you’. 

I’ve learnt the hard way that life’s too short. I’ve overcome my challenges, and whilst it didn’t feel like it at the time, I am a better person for it now. My drive and determination has seen me through a lot!

My message to others would be never give up…if you believe in yourself, anything is possible. Strive to be the best version of you…a little tenacity never hurt anyone, in fact it’s a bit of a running joke in our family that I am like a dog with a bone when I want something…my dad even calls me ‘Natalie Tenacious Toas’.

We well and truly have some amazing women within Checkmate, I can only hope the campaign this year for IWD gives them the opportunity they deserve to shout about their success!