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IWD2021 - Sandra's Story

Updated: Aug 2, 2021

In celebration of International Women’s Day and to celebrate the achievements and successes of our female team we took some time to interview them about their careers.

This is Sandra’s story..

Sandra McCabe joined Packaging Automation in 2014 and is Continuous Improvement and Quality Manager.

Q. Sandra, can you tell us do you have a role model?

Yes, I do, and she would be Hilary Clinton.

I admire the way she has taken on new challenges, dealt with issues over the years and still always wanted to be the best she could be and, showing resilience to stand up and go and try and get elected as a female President, hats off to her.

Q. Please can you tell us a little about your experience/career history in the manufacturing sector?

I started my career in the Automotive Industry, my sisters worked at the site, and I really only went in a temporary role as a means to an end - to purchase my motor bike (which I got, much to my mum's shock).

I began on the shop floor and always loved to hit the targets whether working in teams or alone. During a career review I was asked, have you ever thought of being a Manager, and my response was - never, so I started to study. I funded this myself, studying in meal breaks and weekends; at that time in Manufacturing, the only funded training had been for the chaps, not women.

Only after I had demonstrated my ability did the company fund my study. I saw this as an opportunity to show I am equal to anyone.

I must confess at times I did wonder what I was doing but my friends said, keep going; you can do this. I believe that mindset really matters and, it is a goal for me to get on and a driver to succeed. I practised visualisation when I was trying to get the Plant Manager role.

In my first role as a Manager of the OEM packing team, I had jumped several levels, I was the first woman to ever have achieved this, from the shop-floor to several levels up, and the 2nd woman to run the Assembly packing in the history of the plant.

By the time l left my role at the company, I had become the first woman ever to run the whole Assembly plant.

My mindset, work hard, keep my word. #actionnotwords has been the driver in my career. I have held many high-level roles since, Plant Manager several times, Performance roles, Continuous Improvement and Change Management, working in many industries: Construction, BMC (Boots) and Improvement Specialist.

Q. What is it like working in a male-dominated environment?

Some of the best supporters have been men; it does not matter who is in charge, who you work with; you are equal; you are your brand. You have to think of yourself as good as anyone, or you will struggle with the challenges, no matter what business you are in.

Q. What are the benefits/ advantages?

It's really interesting; who would not want to work in this environment? You get to design; you get to problem solve, be creative, propose new machinery to improve the flow. I have re-designed several shop floor layouts over the years, making processes smoother, I have run million-pound projects as well as smaller projects.

I have taken on all challenges, knowing I perhaps have not got all of the skills which might be needed, but I have learned how to reach out and ask for help if I need it and picked up the new skills as I went along. It's never dull; each day can bring a new opportunity, especially in high volume production.

I can say I never want to leave Manufacturing. I have learnt lots about myself and grown my skill set. I have had lots of laughs along the way, sure I have made mistakes, but I have learnt from them.

Q. And what are the difficulties/disadvantages?

No matter what industry you work in, there will be challenges, and you might not always enjoy them; you must be resilient.

The best advice I have ever been given was from a shop steward when I was in my first role as a Manager. I gave the team the things they asked for, and that no other Manager had given. He said to me, be the leader, manage the results, be fair and keep your word. I thanked him; he took the time to help me, not due to me being a woman but just helping me to succeed.

Q. Have you had to overcome any difficulties throughout your career?

When working on the shop floor, we ran projects 1 hour per week and also did our everyday roles. The project work was a group of five women, previously all the other teams had been chaps.

The team decided to revamp all the toilets on the Assembly plant; we went green before it became widespread, putting in a greener water system on site.

The lessons I learned along the way were to always get involved, do not be afraid, learn from everyone, and remember no idea is a bad idea.

When we presented the team proposal, sitting in front of all chaps on the Steering Committee, we were scared but, agreed ahead of the meeting, no matter what, whether we get a yes, or a no, to ask questions, book another meeting, go back with facts/data to make sure we get the yes.

We got the go-ahead and we felt proud. Afterwards one chap said, we knew when you all came into the room, how determined you were, we have never seen that from other projects presented, he said never lose that.

I never thought the projects I had been involved with when working on the shop floor would help me in my career. Stay true to yourself; my core values have helped me stay grounded, keep focused and no matter how challenging, you will overcome any situation.

Q. Have you developed any specific skills?

I have always learned from experience first; then, I gained the qualifications. I have formal qualifications that I have taken whilst working, which I am very proud of. It is not easy to do, full-time working and studying. I have an Executive Degree in Management, Diploma in Management, Diploma in Change Management, BSI Process Improvement Practitioner, to name a few, learning is for life, never stop learning.

I had a great opportunity in 2017 when I was invited to present at the LPPDE conference in America to share PA's story, and our road to improvement, the story of all of the hard work that everyone contributed to. I had never been to an overseas conference before, was I afraid, oh yes but I believe it is good to step out of your comfort zone, feel the fear but do it anyway.

Don't forget to have fun no matter what. Yes, there will be tough times; that's part of life. Don't regret any lessons you have to learn along the way.

Here’s to the next exciting challenge; bring it on.

We hope you enjoy Sandra’s story as much as we have enjoyed interviewing her.

The lessons we have learnt from her are numerous but include:

· The power of self-belief

· Resilience

· Feel the fear and do it anyway

· Keep learning

Thank you, Sandra, for sharing you journey, we’re proud to have you on our team. #TeamPA

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