In almost 30 years of working at magnetics engineering firm Eriez Europe, Sarah Grain has seen a lot of change. For one, when she started working at Eriez’s Caerphilly offices in 1996 as an export sales executive, Grain was the company’s first female salesperson. In a traditionally male-dominated industry, this came with definite challenges.
“It’s been tough at times in that the industry I work in has typically been very male dominated,” she says. “In the early years you had to prove yourself as there was an expectation that you wouldn’t necessarily understand the customers’ requirements and needs.”
Internally, she also had to win people over, but once she did, she felt supported by the company. She’s gone onto become the business manager for its new German branch and the company has employed many more female staff across its operations. She explains:
“When I joined, I was the first female salesperson they had employed in a very technical sales job.
“Because of the engineering environment, people were a little unsure at first about whether I’d understand the equipment and the applications. Once everybody felt happy that this wasn’t a barrier, things improved greatly and we’ve since employed an awful lot more women in sales roles, as well as engineering positions too.
“Things have really moved on and it’s now a very different environment to what it was 15 to 25 years ago. The bosses at Eriez have been incredibly supportive.”
Confidence through competence
Before joining Eriez, Grain had worked at a woven textile manufacturing company but had grown disillusioned with the role, describing it as “a very misogynistic environment.”
She came across the export sales role at Eriez while studying on a qualification being run by the Institute of Export & International Trade (IOE&IT) in Cardiff.
“I was going to classes with IOE&IT and met the marketing manager at Eriez there. That’s how I got into Eriez when the opening came up for the salesperson role.
“I was offered an interview, along with several other candidates, and got the job. So, it was through my initial IOE&IT studies and training that I got into the role that I’d been always hoping for.”
She’s been a member of IOE&IT ever since and says the qualification helped to give her the assurance and knowledge needed to prove herself in the industry.
“Joining as a student member and going through the qualifications gave me a big degree of confidence, practical knowledge and also a recognition of having reached a certain level of competency.”
She says IOE&IT continues to have an important role to play in educating more women, so that they can also have the confidence and knowledge needed to succeed in international trade.
“The way for IOE&IT to help inspire more women in trade is to become a platform which educates, informs and supports.
“Entering the export market can be a bit formidable and challenging, but IOE&IT can definitely offer young women a pathway into what is an exciting environment with such huge possibilities.”
Source of inspiration
Grain has drawn inspiration from strong female leaders from outside of the world of trade, including Angela Merkel, Jacinda Arden, Christine Lagarde and Canadian journalist Lyse Doucet. She praises each of them for “showing that compassion doesn’t have to be a weakness” but can in fact help women to overcome hurdles and become successful.
In her own role, she says she’s had to be “strong-willed and persistent” as well as “confident in her own ability to get the job done.”
She adds that she is glad that there’s now a more level playing field for young women entering companies such as Eriez than there was when she started and hopes to also give something back to the next generation.
“I’ve been with the company a long time now and I’ve been able to mentor some of the younger female employees, offering support, hints, tips and knowledge.
“The world’s changed a lot though, in that you now have women in high-status positions, including at Eriez. We’ve got women in senior positions in most of our affiliates now; this wouldn’t have happened even 10 to 15 years ago. There’s been a massive step forward, I think”.
Her tips include getting a “solid foundation in terms of the knowledge you need”, being “tenacious” and being inspired by the successful women who the new generation can look up to on social media.
“You can follow all kinds of inspirational women on social media nowadays, so girls should draw on their experiences, energy and inspiration to foster their own ideas and career aspirations.
“You don’t need to be afraid to ask for what you want and to go after it.”