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Karen Boot: InstallerSPOTLIGHT Series

The InstallerSHOW Spotlight Series: Karen Boot
In association with Grundfos

Throughout this series, our host Jess Shanahan is profiling influential figures in the industry and hearing their thoughts on the challenges and opportunities they have faced in their careers. Watch or listen to the full interviews below.

In our latest spotlight on women in the industry, we meet Karen Boot, better known to many as Kaz Gas.

Kaz has been working in the industry since she was 20 years old but she is the first to admit that she didn’t fancy any of the ‘traditional female roles’ at school. When she attended the open day at her local technical college, she was thinking that she might want to be an electrician. She soon discounted that: “I actually thought that looked quite boring and I fancied the plumbing course more!” She left college at 18 with a plumbing NVQ in hand, but unfortunately at that point she had no experience to go with it. After a long search for companies that would take her on, she decided to apply for an apprenticeship with British Gas. Out of around 8,000 applicants, she was accepted for one of the firm’s 50 places. They were clearly made for each other, as Kaz spent the next 23 years at the company, the majority of which was at the sharp end, fixing and servicing boilers.

But, like all the women we have spoken to for this series, she notes that the journey hasn’t always been easy: “I think I have had to work that little bit harder to prove myself as a woman in a man’s world. It’s something you sort of get used to. You do find that you doubt yourself more, but you sort of get used to it. Then when you get confident in yourself, that confidence spills over to the customers and they have confidence in you back. Once you have proven yourself, you reap the rewards.” And amongst those rewards has been industry recognition, in the form of an apprentice of the year award and a regional technical engineer of the of the year.

Tellingly, what made Kaz leave British Gas – a company that she’d spent two decades at – was a proposed change in her work hours. “You’d have to be available for work from 7am till 10pm and that just wouldn’t have worked for me, as a single parent bringing up a son. So I made the decision, that I was going to set up by myself, and that’s when I set up my own company, Kaz Gas, three years ago now. And I’ve not looked really looked back since.”

She thinks that the treatment of women with children is a continuing problem for employers: “I think any woman with a career, who then decides to become parent, changes their priorities. But you can have a career and be a parent. It’s just that companies don’t always support that. I’ve got friends who have had really good jobs, but have sort of been pushed out of them when they’ve decided to have a family, because they can’t commit to the hours that the company wants. I believe companies should do more to support women who want to be parents – things like job shares or reduced hours. That’s what businesses need to do to promote women and keep them in higher positions. There are companies out there that do support women, but there are a lot that don’t.”

Although she notes that her experience at British Gas was generally supportive, there were still managers who didn’t quite get it: “You’d be sitting in a room full of male engineers and although the manager was looking directly at you, they’d still address the room as ‘lads’ or ‘chaps’. Although it is a minor thing, that’s the sort of thing that really used to bother me because I’m not a lad. I’m still a woman and I’m proud to be a woman.”

On the subject of support, Kaz singles out a particularly helpful former colleague: “I worked with Leah at British Gas, but after working for a few other companies, she decided to set up her own business. She was a big advocate for me setting up on my own, because I saw how successfully she was doing and she encouraged me, she helped me, she supported me. That’s why I always like the social media aspect because you can show what you know to other women – show them what is possible and that they can do it too.”

She points to the benefits of the community that has built up on social media: “I’ve met a lot of other female engineers through social media, which is amazing. I’ve made some really good friends. If you’re not on social media and you’re not working for a big company, you are often the only female around who does this sort of work. There are more coming into it now, which is amazing. But there’s still very little organised support for each other. So I think the more publicity we can give, the better, because it encourages women to think of the trades as an option.”

Importantly too, Kaz has seen how customers often prefer to see a woman on the doorstep to fix their heating or electrics: “In the last few days, I’ve had two female customers who both live on their own, who have said to me that they much prefer to have me in the house. One said she wouldn’t have had the job done if it if she couldn’t get a woman in, because she just wasn’t comfortable having a man in the house…It’s surprising how many female customers do feel better because they may have had a male plumber or electrician who didn’t really talk to them on their level.”

Kaz leaves us with her top advice for other women: “Believe in yourself. You are going to get knocked. You’re always going to get people that are negative towards you – and not always intentionally either. They don’t even mean it in a bad way – they’re just a little bit ignorant and not expecting a woman to turn up. But I would say for every negative comment you get at least 10 that are positive.”

Karen Boot will be appearing alongside other Spotlight panellists in a special discussion at InstallerSHOW on Thursday 27th June in the Climate Solutions Theatre. Register for your free ticket to InstallerSHOW, including the Spotlight panel discussion on day 3 HERE

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