Saint-Gobain is a sponsor of the SPRINT Programme at the University of Warwick, which helps young women to realise their full potential in the workplace. Sophie Pearson, Employee Experience Coordinator at Saint-Gobain UK and Ireland, shares her thoughts on the programme.
"Recently, I was lucky enough to attend a day with undergraduates at Warwick University and experience this bespoke programme, designed to support and encourage women’s professional development at the early stages of their career. SPRINT covers topics such as personal power, assertiveness, networking and building confidence in the workplace.
I have had a lot of people ask me: ‘Why women? What about men?’, but as the programme explains, there is evidence showing that women still struggle to achieve their full potential in the workplace. Therefore, SPRINT has been carefully designed to encourage women at the early stages of their career to build self-belief, confidence and positive attitudes. The point is: the SPRINT programme is pro-women, not anti-men.
With the number of women working for Saint-Gobain rising, and our commitment to ensuring every man and woman can have a career without boundaries, this programme aligns seamlessly with Saint-Gobain’s core principles and values. I feel privileged to have been involved.
When I first heard of SPRINT, I found it truly fascinating. During my time at university there was no focus on who I was and what I could do as a woman with drive and ambition. SPRINT is unique in this way.
I attended day one, and although the students were apprehensive initially, it didn’t take the organisers long to get a buzz in the room, with an exercise being held on what makes a ‘strong’ woman. Due to the range of women in the room, perceptions of a strong woman varied considerably, with some noting personal friends, and others sighting women in the public eye as ‘strong’. My role throughout this and other exercises was to facilitate the collaboration of their ideas and perceptions, offering support and advice when required, something that I found very interesting.
The remainder of day one focused upon personal power – the ability to influence or change an outcome. I and the girls learnt that different forms of power can affect our leadership ability and success in various ways, and although we may not know it, we probably have aspects of the different types of power, such as expert or legitimate power, within us. This is just one example of harnessing empowerment.
On each day of the four-day programme, participants get a visit from a senior employee from one of the sponsoring companies. Day one saw Saint-Gobain’s Clare Pickin take to the stage, Operations Director for Saint-Gobain Building Distribution. Clare trained as a manufacturing engineer for many years in the automotive sector and has worked at Saint-Gobain for 6 years. Clare’s presentation was incredibly honest and transparent, explaining that it’s not easy to be a woman in a male-orientated industry, but it is possible as long as you believe in yourself and are prepared to work hard. Sacrifices do have to be made, she explained, but she was highly committed to finding a work-life balance that worked for her and her family. The girls were really well engaged, asking thought provoking questions such as the issue of pay differences between men and women, seeking Clare’s insight into this and how it may have affected her career. I thought this aspect of the programme was fantastic. Overall, the girls meet women at various stages of their careers, so for example they met myself, who is new to my career at Saint-Gobain and working life as a whole, having graduated in 2015.
Following the four-day programme, the young women will meet with a mentor for help and guidance, giving them invaluable knowledge on what it is like in the workplace as a woman, helping them to prepare for their own careers.
Throughout the day I interacted with as many of the girls as possible to understand their personal insight and expectations. A conversation I had with one particular young lady was especially memorable. She said: “I do not feel as though I am employable because I don’t do anything that makes me stand out”. I was surprised that someone who had made the positive and proactive choice to come to a workshop like SPRINT could feel that way. I explained that by simply attending this workshop, she was improving her prospects for employability and taking charge of her future. This conversation epitomised the worthiness of the SPRINT programme for undergraduate women in developing their self-belief and confidence in the workplace.
I believe it is all well and good holding workshops on ‘how to interview well’ and ‘match skills to job specifications’, but without personal empowerment and self-belief, it’s a struggle to realise your potential and take positive steps to achieving your goals.
I hope the young women left with the belief that they can do what they want if they just put their mind to it. It is fantastic that Saint-Gobain are involved in such an inspiring and meaningful project, and I am so glad to have taken part and look forward to what is to come in the future."