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Roni Savage: a female in a male-dominated industry

Roni Savage
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NatWest everywoman award winner Roni Savage is a rare female CEO in the still male-dominated construction industry, where just 12% of the workforce is female. As founder and CEO of Jomas Associates, she continues to break through barriers and inspire others to step up. In our latest everywomanEntrepreneur webinar she discusses the mindset needed to successfully challenge the status quo…

 

1. Challenge negative perceptions – especially your own

The biggest challenge for me has been getting past stereotypes and perceptions, working in a male-dominated environment. Having grown up with four older brothers, a male-dominated environment was a norm to me - but a comfortable norm, with people who loved me dearly. Going into the engineering world and expecting it to be exactly the same was a shock. When I started my career about 20 years I would turn up on a construction site as a graduate engineer and the guys who were working there would stop and just stare. It was quite off-putting. Also, I find that generally [as women] we can have ‘imposter syndrome’ [and] when nobody looks like you, you can feel as if you just don’t fit into that kind of environment. Trying to get past the perceptions in my own mind and the minds of others was interesting in the beginning.

 

2. See through every issue to find opportunity

Everybody has two voices in their head as they go through their day-to-day activities; one of those voices can be quite negative and the other is positive. My approach is to focus on the positive side of my brain and push aside negative thoughts and sensations. I have a solution-oriented approach to things, and so I don’t really dwell on the issues or the problem; I am always asking myself, ‘What’s the solution?’ I compare myself to water sometimes, in that I look for a crack and get through that way. Mindset has been critical to everything I have achieved in my life. To combine the different facets of my life, whether career, personal life or motherhood, it's important that I stay in that positive realm. That is what enables me to deliver and to get past challenges.

 

3. Once you’ve created your support structure, make sure you use it!

When I do things, I like to do them to 100% perfection, but over the years I have learned that sometimes 80% is okay and that I also don’t necessarily have to do everything myself. In the early days [of being a mother] I desperately wanted to do everything for my boys, especially when I had my first. Even by the third, when I had my mum around to help, I would rather do all the bathing myself and so on. Everyone talks about ‘leaning in’ and grabbing opportunities, but I’ve learned that you also need to delegate too, otherwise you will just drop the balls. You need to make sure that you take on what you are able to deliver – but having a support structure and learning to actually use that support has been fundamental in being able to juggle all the roles that I have.

 

4. Always ask yourself ‘Why?’

I am purpose driven in everything I do. I don’t do anything without asking ‘why?’ – that is the big question I have in my mind all the time: ‘Why are you doing that?’; ‘Why are you sending that email?’; ‘Why are you opening up a new office?’; ‘Why are you starting a new company?’; What am I trying to achieve, basically? The big business phrase is ‘What is my value proposition, what makes me different?’ And I think it’s important to ask yourself these questions before you do anything, because that is ultimately your vision. Doing that gives you clarity and confidence that you know what you’re doing and trying to achieve.

 

5. ‘Coming out’ as the real ‘you’ – whoever that might be

My mum has been my role model from day one - she taught me that nothing was impossible. In 2009 when I set up Jomas, I remember her saying, ‘You can do this’ and thinking ‘You’re mad, how can I run an engineering company on my own and build it?’ I thought small at the beginning, and I hid behind the name ‘Roni Savage’ for the first eight years. I didn’t have photos on social media or on my website and I let people make their own judgements on who they thought Roni Savage was. But after finishing the Goldman Sachs small business programme in 2017 they tweeted a video of me and I call that my ‘coming out’ moment. Suddenly there was a video on social media showing I was a female – and I quickly realised the opportunity I had to inspire and empower others.

 

6. Be the change that enables others to follow

Putting yourself out there is key to changing other people’s perceptions and mindsets – and showing that there are people who have successfully challenged the status quo. Winning awards like the NatWest everywoman Award gives me a platform to talk and tell my story and inspire others to step up. It’s very boring being the only one in the room who is female or a person of colour – and it’s so important to bring others along and show them what is possible. My eldest brother Anthony always says, ‘ Just get on with it’ and that’s how we’ve been brought up. Don’t dwell on negativity, just try and find the solution – that’s my mantra.