‘I am a firm believer in equal opportunities’

Victoria Anderson, kbbreview100 member and category manager at Elliotts Living Spaces in Lymington, feels she has bean treated equally in the industry and believes we must engage with further education to help encourage diversity within it

Q: What’s been your experience as a woman in the KBB industry?

A: I’ve had a very positive experience of being a women working in the KBB industry. I started designing kitchens at Homebase when I was 16, while doing my A-Levels. Then I worked at Rapid Hardware in Liverpool while I was at university and finally Hardleys (later bought by Elliotts) after I graduated. At all of these, I worked under a female showroom manager, so have not seen a lack of women in the industry in my personal working life.

I’ve worked my way up to where I am now and have been offered the same opportunities as my male colleagues. I feel that I have received equal pay and have been encouraged to get involved with the wider industry and the buying group that we are part of.

The only thing I have been judged on in the past is my age. Designing kitchens at the age of 26 after 10 years’ experience, I would get customers that didn’t think I knew what I was talking about. So, they’d ask my older colleagues the same questions, and get the same answers.

Q: What advice would you give to other women looking to emulate your success as a manager?

A: To be successful in business, it is important to always want to learn. That is the only way you will become a better manager/ business owner and therefore increase your successes. Always look for how you can improve, what you can do differently. And think about how the people you work with feel and lead by example. It is not just about you; to have a successful business, you need a successful team.

Don’t hold back either. If you want to apply for a senior management role – do it. If you are good at what you do, then there is no reason why you would not be considered for the role.

To be a successful KBB designer, there are two key areas.

Knowledge – be thirsty for knowledge. Learn about products, the latest trends, how to get the most out of your CAD software. Take part in as much training as you can and learn from those that have been in the industry for longer than you.

Listen to your customers – if you don’t listen to what they want and fulfil their brief, you won’t get their order. By all means suggest ideas, but ultimately it is the customer’s space and they need to feel happy with the proposed design and cost.

There is no point in trying to increase female numbers in your team if they don’t have the right skills

Q: Do you feel women are under-represented in the KBB industry?

A: I have a team of 17 designers and eight are female, so we have nearly half and half male to female. As I mentioned earlier, I have worked under three female showroom managers, so in my personal working experience have not come across a shortage of females working in the KBB industry. Interestingly, the females in my team, myself included, whereas the males are 35 or over.  But in the buying group we’re part of, the majority of the people in the room are male.

I think the majority of males who are in senior management roles are there because they have worked hard throughout their career, and at the time they joined the industry there was a big difference in social expectations in what a male and female should do.

This has changed dramatically over the past 15 years, with more females completing design courses and ultimately becoming KBB designers. It takes time, hard work and experience to progress into senior management roles, and the younger females that are in our industry at the moment will grow into those over time. 

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Q: How do you think the KBB industry as a whole would benefit from having more women in a variety of roles?

A: Balance is a good thing. We hear about it all the time regarding many aspects of our lives. Having women in a variety of roles would benefit the KBB industry because they may have a different approach, or see a problem in a different way.

It is important, though, to be good at your job. There is no point in trying to increase female numbers in your team if they don’t have the right skills, and equally men who are good at their job should not be penalised because a company wants to increase their female-to-male ratio.

I am a firm believer in equal opportunities, which we hear a lot about in the news, but men’s opportunities are equally important and we can’t lose sight of that.

Q: In your experience how do consumers – male and female – react to female designers?

A: In my experience consumers, don’t mind if they deal with a female or male designer. Working with a customer and designing their dream space is about relationships, and you either get on with the customer or not, and that has nothing to do with being male or female. It is also part of a manager’s role to make the most of their teams’ skills. If you have a customer that wants a very traditional kitchen, pair them with a designer that loves that style and everyone will have a much better experience. As I said before, the only thing I have been judged on is my age. Both young female and male designers are judged on their age by consumers, and will look to have the advice they have been given fact checked by an older colleague.

Q: Who do you find makes most of the decisions when it comes to the design and purchase of a kitchen or/bathroom?

A: We find that the majority of style choices come from the female in a relationship, and there is usually one person in a same-sex relationship that has the say over their partner. We see a slight shift in the technology and appliances choices, with the majority of males more interested in these.

There are always exceptions and I think most KBB designers will agree they have had to learn some form of mediation skills.

Q: As one of the few women that holds a prominent role in the industry, do you feel you have a role to play in encouraging other women to pursue a career in the industry?

A: I’m flattered to be considered as being in a prominent role in the industry. Nine years ago, when I left a long-term abusive relationship, I didn’t think I would be here writing this.

I definitely feel that I have a role to play by encouraging other women to join the KBB industry. My own team is just about half and half, and I will do what I can to help and support anyone that wants my help or advice. I recently helped a young lady who is studying at Bucks New University on the Kitchen Design Course with her course work.

But my help and support is not limited to women. Anyone who shows promise, willingness to learn and works hard gets my vote.

Q: What do you think is the future of the KBB industry when it comes to diversity? A: I think we are already seeing an improvement in diversity within the KBB industry. With more females given the opportunity to complete design courses, including the Kitchen Design course at Bucks New University, we will see this continue to increase.

Education establishments have a huge role to play as they are often a key influence in a young person’s career choices. Engaging with further education establishments and bodies could help to diversify the KBB industry.

Listen to the International Women’s Day Special on The kbbreview Podcast.  on The kbbreview Podcast. Listen now using the player below or search ‘kbbreview’ in a podcast app.

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