05 August 2021
Karen Perry, regional business manager for Daikin UK and chair of the Institute of Refrigeration's Women in Refrigeration, Air Conditioning and Heat Pump network, explains why overcoming barriers early in her career has helped identify the changes needed to attract young females to the RACHP industry.
I am currently working for Daikin UK as regional business manager for our Northern regions, including Scotland and Northern Ireland, as well as the North of England. I work with our board of directors to define strategy and plan future initiatives for our sales business as well collaborating across the business to deliver new ideas and opportunities.
I’ve been part of the Daikin team for 22 years, starting out in the office in an internal sales role and then securing the opportunity in a position as an external sales representative before starting my journey into sales management. One of the great things about Daikin is the different opportunities I have been given to develop my skills in diverse areas of the business. I’m often challenged by learning something new but given the time and the support to succeed. I’ve rarely felt the pressure of being a female working in a male-dominated industry. Still, I entirely recognise that this is an issue affecting the whole industry more so now in seeing how we attract new and diverse talent to support our future.
Finding my feet
When I first started, I became frustrated about a lack of trust in my ability, but this made me work harder to prove myself to others. I admired some of our design engineers and wanted to learn more about how they would design a project or approach a technical query. Time, plenty of training and support from others helped me to develop my knowledge further.
I was always envious of the golfers, too. So many industry golf days and a lot of business done on the golf course left me side-lined, so I just took on the task of driving the golf buggy on our company golf days. Everyone’s happy to see you appear with the refreshments at the 9th hole and a cold beer at the 19th! I never had any desire to take up golf myself.
I now recognise myself as a manager within a global company and part of a great industry. Obviously, after 22 years, this is easy to say; however, when I first started, I didn’t see this future for myself, which in hindsight could be very daunting for anyone. However, I enjoy what I do day to day, I love to travel and visit some of our factories and European offices, and I’ve overcome my fear of presenting to be able to talk on stage at conferences and events.
I work with some great people in Daikin, which is what drives me, and I want to make sure that everyone feels part of the future of the company and enjoys what they do. The last year was a huge challenge for everyone, but we adapted, and everyone has worked so hard to get back to doing what we love doing, and there’s hopefully a lot to look forward to.
Women in RACHP
Outside of Daikin, I am also chair of the Institute of Refrigeration’s Women in Refrigeration Air-conditioning and Heat Pumps (WiRACHP). I got involved with the group in 2015 as part of the steering committee. Of course, to begin with, we wanted to do so much but because everyone volunteers their own time, we started to plan in small steps and now we really see an impact. Our Linkedin network has grown to 800 members. We have focused very much on those already in the industry to form a support network and act as mentors advising how vast the opportunities are in this industry.
You don’t have to have a technical background, and you don’t need to be an engineer; I hope I am proof of that. Working closely and supported by the IOR we run regular career days. In the days of covid we have turned these into webinars - realising that these reach a wider audience, we will continue them into the future.
I’m really proud of how passionate the IOR committee are, so I was glad to take up the chair position in 2019. Some of our groups are doing so much amazing work with schools and colleges through the IOR stem ambassadors program, along with local councils, business groups, colleges and apprenticeships. The most important factor now is to attract a more diverse workforce. Diversity brings strength and creativity, and when we attract new talent, we need to keep them in the industry, which is where the IOR is such a great resource.
Don’t be afraid to ask for support
Challenges for the future will be attracting people into our industry through apprenticeships and different initiatives. Educating STEM subjects in schools and attracting more girls to take up these subjects is needed—showcasing refrigeration as an exciting field for everyone, male and female, from any background to raise the industry's profile. I am one of many who stumbled into this industry; however, we need to entice more youngsters for the future workforce. I hope with the revolution of renewables, more concern for the environment and the increased effort to teach STEM in schools and the initiatives and talk around these subjects gain the interest of the younger generation and, importantly, more inclusion of young girls. It really is an exciting and changing industry to be a part of and has an even more exciting future.
I hope that one day we won’t need groups like WiRACHP, although we do encourage others to develop different networks to create their platform. Celebrating 800 members of WiRACHP recently made us think about where we started and how far we’ve come.
For any young females joining the industry, I would say to not be afraid to ask others for support and training, feel confident to push yourself and get involved. If you want to do something and develop your career further, go for it and prove your value it really will bring rewards in the future. It doesn’t happen overnight, but it shouldn’t either; the more experience you gain, the more you will be respected for what you do.
I appreciated the new challenge that the pandemic has brought. Although a really tough time for many, it has taught us so much and challenged the way we work and the way we live our lives inside and outside of work. I would love to get back to see some of our fantastic industry colleagues at industry and company events in the very near future, as it’s just not the same virtually.
I look forward to continuing my chair with WiRACHP and starting to consider who should be my successor! I would encourage anyone who wants to get more involved to put your ideas and interest forward. I’m sure many are already working with their local schools or colleges and may need some more ideas and support, which the IOR can bring. I have enjoyed growing my network within the IOR and have found so many allies to call on and work with. I’ve been recommended to several training courses to develop myself and always take advantage of these. Some admirable women are working effortlessly to develop their careers and, with allies, support the development of other females, they know who they are, and I have huge respect for them all.