Linda McVittie, sales manager for J & E Hall in Scotland, explains what it’s like to be a woman working in an industry dominated by men and how this has not stopped her from forging a successful career.
Tell us about your job
My job is to assess and calculate clients’ cooling requirements, then design and propose the best solution. If I am successful with my technical proposal, I hand over the project to my contracting team to install and commission the turnkey project. The industries I encounter include food, beverage, pharmaceutical, building services and leisure. I have specialised in the design of ice rink refrigeration plant since the late 1990s. The projects I’ve been involved in include Murrayfield, Braehead, Aberdeen, Dundee, Kirkcaldy, Stirling, Lockerbie, twin rinks in Sheffield, Newcastle and North Ashfield.
As one of the handfuls of female pioneers trying to forge a path in a male-dominated environment, what were the key qualities you needed?
When I decided to embark on gaining technical knowledge, initially, it was to improve my capabilities in my job role as a sales office administrator at Star Refrigeration.
Some people thought I had gone mad attempting to combine degree studies with having a husband, two young sons and a full-time job. Having been away from academia for nine years and only completed on-the-job learning about refrigeration for six years or so, thankfully, I didn’t go full throttle into the Engineering Degree and CEng accreditation. I started by completing Refrigeration City & Guilds courses via distance learning.
At that time, I felt that, as a female, I needed this level of qualification to gain credibility in the refrigeration industry. I was meeting on site with engineering managers, and some would look over my shoulder and watch for the refrigeration engineer to appear – thinking it couldn’t possibly be me. I am grateful to Star Refrigeration, especially Andy Pearson, who I worked alongside in technical sales, for their support and encouragement at the time.
In 1993 my Higher qualifications in maths and sciences, City & Guilds qualifications and on-the-job training gained me entry on to a four-year one-day plus one evening a week BSc degree course in Building Services Engineering at Glasgow Caledonian University. The course comprised a perfect mix of relevant subjects and designed for mature students. I was with a group of seven male classmates and really enjoyed my years at the university.
What advice can you give to a young woman starting now?
No matter where you start, access and learn about all the diverse areas of refrigeration, and if you need additional studies or training, don’t be afraid to seek it out. It might not happen overnight, but you can eventually settle into a long and rewarding career in an area you enjoy. I am involved in the Women in Refrigeration, Air Conditioning, Heat Pump (RACHP) network, and this is one of its initiatives.
I see a tremendous increase in the support, encouragement, and opportunities available for young people to join the refrigeration industry. It’s great to see J & E Hall taking on more new apprentices this year and continuing to support women in industry initiatives. Refrigeration was a very male-dominated industry, and there were no obvious opportunities for females when I first started my career unless you sought them yourself. I’m sure there will be a levelling out in the ratio of males to females in the not-too-distant future.
What are some of your career highlights?
Apart from working for great companies, meeting great people and completing some exciting projects throughout my career, I’d say:
- Achieving my degree in Building Services Engineering (BSc) at Glasgow Caledonian University and continuing to work and learn the remainder of the week and holidays as a sales technical engineer (1993 to 1997).
- Achieving Chartered Engineer status (CEng) through the Engineering Council after a technical appraisal and project submission (2004).
- Becoming a Member of the Institute of Refrigeration (IOR) (MInstR) (1998).
- Joining the Committee of the IOR Scottish Branch in 2001 and being part of a team that actively support the refrigeration industry in Scotland by providing training courses and seminars, social events and the ever-popular annual IOR Scottish dinner.
- Taking on the post of treasurer of the IOR Scottish Branch.
- Becoming the first female chairperson of the IOR Scottish Branch since its formation in 1975 (2007 to 2009).
- Being nominated for Fellow Membership of the IOR (FInstR) (2009).
- Taking on the post of secretary of the IOR Scottish Branch.
Linda presenting the IOR Scotland Kooltech Award at the IOR Scottish Branch Annual Dinner during her term as chairperson
What changes have you noted in your 38 years in the industry, and how do you see things evolving
There have continuously been new things to learn and challenges to face. These range from refrigerant gas legislation and phase-outs to technical developments in equipment, components and control systems to increase plant efficiency, reduce energy usage and minimise the impact on the environment. The future for refrigeration is in natural refrigerants such as ammonia, CO2 and, in applications where the use of these may not be feasible, the relatively new options of low GWP HFOs and HFO/HFC blends. It will always be a balancing act to achieve the most efficient, environmentally-friendly solution that meets current regulations and is within the client’s budget for every application.
How challenging has the past year been?
Refrigeration is a relatively small, close-knit, specialist industry. Due to Covid-19 restrictions, it has been disappointing not to visit clients and sites, join workmates in the office and meet up with ex-colleagues, friends and acquaintances.
What are your hopes as you experience the late stages of your career?
In the autumn of my career, I want to share my knowledge and experiences with others. I’d also like to put my name to a few more refrigeration plant installations as I look back and see many of my previous installations still operating successfully or, if they are very old, now replaced for new ones.
When I eventually hang up my refrigeration, calculations and design books, I’d like to think I will be remembered as having worked hard and positively impacted the refrigeration industry. Through the things I have done in my work and IOR activities and encouraging people, both male and female, into the industry.
What do you enjoy doing when you are not working?
I enjoy family life and socialising. I am married and have two sons – one is employed in refrigeration – and two (soon to be three) young grandchildren. I enjoy activities such as swimming and yoga. I took up golf a few years ago, and I enjoy being out in the fresh air, the associated social events, the 19th hole – and hitting the ball sometimes!