Let’s embrace diversity and inclusion

Elizabeth Pantling-Jones, the co-owner of Lima Kitchens in Milton Keynes, talks frankly of her experience as a woman in the KBB industry and why we need to address gender and diversity imbalances


The first challenge tackling a subject like diversity and inclusion is how to engage people – many of whom see the issue being a female representation concern only. The second is where do you even start communicating on such an all-encompassing and emotive topic?

Before I share some of the experiences that have led me to conclude the industry needs to change, I want to caveat it all with my strong belief that the right people need to be in the right jobs and not simply hired to tick a box. Having the right skills, knowledge, approach, enthusiasm, and outlook are of the utmost importance.

There will be people reading this who already understand the issues surrounding diversity and inclusion in this sector and those that are working hard to help move the industry forward on this.

Then there will be others who – if they’ve even got this far – will brush this off as a rant by a sensitive snowflake, or a raving feminist. And it is these people I wish to educate by sharing a snippet of some of the attitudes, actions, and comments I have personally experienced over the past 17 years in the sector.

My concern is for the next generation
– the future of this industry –
that we are so desperately trying to attract

Elizabeth Pantling-Jones

Having been just 21 when we started our business, ageism is something that took a while to pass. In terms of sexism, I have had reps and clients insist that they needed to speak to my (awesome) male business partner over me. I have been disregarded at industry events as the likely wife of the business’s male owner, with little knowledge or influence. Not that there is anything wrong with that, but it is not me and shouldn’t be a default presumption.

I’ve even had to deal with inappropriate advances and unsolicited attention and physical contact when people have enjoyed a few too many free drinks at an industry event.

And finally, there were assumptions of sexual preference based on gender. As a result, I know there will be people reading this who will be convinced we have spoken about my husband as I am not always open about being in a same sex relationship. Discretion is key as it can generate a variety of reactions.

However, discretion is not a luxury everyone has. Ethnicity and disabilities are not always an optional disclosure. With little to no representation, attracting and retaining diversity becomes more difficult.

Next generation

So, what am I hoping to achieve by sharing all of this very personal information with you?

I am of a generation that has learnt to handle and, unfortunately, accept these behaviours and cliques. These days, I can even laugh about some of my past experiences. However, my concern is for the next generation – the future of this industry – that we are so
desperately trying to attract.

By being so open about my own experiences, I hope that it makes you take action – or at least call into question – the next time you witness any kind of exclusion and segregation within our industry. If not only to improve the culture and help everyone feel welcome, but to improve the performance of your own business. After all, the consumers we serve are also constantly changing and diversifying and the best way to sell kitchens, bedrooms and bathrooms is to understand your clients.

This is a really sensitive subject for everyone. Not only for those who feel excluded, but also for those who fall into the industry’s main demographic. Are they perpetuating the cycle? When we talk about the need for diversity, are they themselves being victimised, alienated, or penalised? Or are they helping change the outlook and future?

The KBB industry must evolve and embrace diversity in line with a changing society, to enable our businesses to survive with a personable and relatable service. To achieve this, we must be open to sharing and hearing various experiences and challenges. We need to recognise it in others, ourselves and acknowledge our own biases, becoming comfortable with questioning behaviours and patterns that continue to repeat.

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