Current Affairs is a series of articles in which Mer examines industry issues. We spoke to three women at Mer about what it’s like to hold a senior role in the EV industry.
For decades, decision makers in the fleet and automotive sectors have been middle-aged males. This isn’t due to deliberate policy; it is purely down to the fact that women did not tend to seek careers in these sectors.
This started to change some years ago, and the trend has accelerated recently due to a number of factors. One of which is the rapid development of the electric vehicle (EV) industry, which has helped bring more women into prominent roles. We sat down with three women who hold senior positions at Mer to find out more about their careers to date, how the EV industry is progressing, and why the number of female leaders is growing in our sector. Emma Spark is Head of our SME and Home Charge division, Naomi Nye is Head of National Sales, and Natasha Fry is Head of Strategic Accounts.
In this article
Naomi recently joined Mer after four years at charging infrastructure manufacturer Alfen, but she has been in the EV industry for even longer. “I started at Rolec in 2010, looking after electric infrastructure on caravan sites and marinas,” she said. “The underlying infrastructure is very similar to EV charging and Rolec soon moved into that space as EVs became available. By 2015 I had set up and was running their corporate EV charging division.”
In 2020, the EV Summit event named Naomi in its list of the most influential women in the EV industry. “In terms of women in the industry, I have seen the numbers grow significantly,” she added. We have more and more taking up leadership roles. It is great to see it happening. The EV sector is fast-moving and an exciting place to be, plus it will be around for a long time – we’re just getting started. Traditionally the automotive business has been more geared towards men. So, we need to be encouraging girls to feel confident in joining the industry and to take the right qualifications to enable that.”
“There is a huge range of skill sets required and that is where engagement comes in, along with female mentorship programmes. Young girls need to see women in these roles and be able to engage with them.”
“Mer is playing its part and recently welcomed the daughter of Emma Spark on work experience at its fleet and workplace head office in Consett, County Durham. “It was great to have her take an interest in what I do and we would love to bring in more girls on work experience from local schools,” said Emma, who has been at Mer for four years. “We’re working to engage more with our community because the expectation or misconception is that if you work for an EV charging provider you will be digging holes on site, and of course that is not the case. There is nothing wrong with digging holes of course, but there is a really wide range of roles and careers available in the EV charging sector.”
Natasha, who joined Mer three years ago, is a relatively rare example of a woman who chose a career in the fleet sector, holding business development roles for Northgate Vehicle Hire. “I have always worked in that space of corporate, strategic relationships and in the fleet sector that was very male-dominated,” she said. “I don’t think I had a single female fleet manager as a client. Whereas in the EV industry there are a lot more women coming into this space.”
This is echoed by Emma. “Prior to joining Mer, I worked in the motor trade and I was the only female sales person for six years,” she said. “I really had to prove myself in that environment, it was very challenging.”
Naomi was part of a group called EWIRE – Entrepreneurial Women In Renewable Energy – that aimed to encourage more women into the sector. “Some of the feedback to that group was that women don’t push themselves forward as often as men for speaking opportunities at events, whereas it is a more natural male tendency to exploit those self-promotion opportunities. They have the confidence to try, while women feel that they have to be 100 per cent sure of themselves before they put themselves forward. Of course, that is not all women, we are talking averages.”
For Natasha, putting the brakes on her own career development was down to the eternal challenge for working mothers – balancing climbing the ladder with the needs of her family.
“Sometimes I found it really difficult to put myself forward for more senior roles because I had the perception that perhaps I wouldn’t have the flexibility that you need as a mother to two young children.”
The culture of any organisation is created by the senior management team and at Mer it is one of fostering talent.
“The culture of an organisation has a massive part to play in how you feel about putting yourself forward,” said Natasha. “I wouldn’t have put myself forward for this leadership role if I had been working for another company with a different culture. For example, my experience of the fleet industry was that everyone works crazy hours. That always put me off because I wanted and needed a healthy work/life balance. At Mer I am given the responsibility to manage my own time as I see fit and that is really important to me. Most organisations do not have the culture and the approach that we have at Mer.”
Emma agrees. “I feel as a working mam your career is important, but we work to live, we don’t live to work. Your family still comes first. That doesn’t mean that I give any less than 100 per cent to my job, it just means that I maintain that balance. And at the end of the day, happy workers are more productive workers.”
Natasha added: “The three of us being in these positions is still unusual; you don’t often see a full female leadership team like this. Between us we are responsible for all the client relationships formed right across the fleet, workplace and homecharge arm of the business.
“Mer really invests in its people in terms of training and development. I have learned so much – I never thought I would have the knowledge to be out there assessing a client’s site’s electrical capacity or looking at DNO boards. How the company has enabled my progression has been phenomenal. We have a great team of surveyors, but I like going out and doing my own surveys. It is all part of our consultative ethos. You can’t beat visiting a site and walking around it to really put yourself in the client’s shoes – you get the highest quality of information this way.
“I was apprehensive about going on site at first because in some cases people didn’t believe I knew what I was talking about! If a man turned up on site with a clipboard no one would bat an eyelid. For women sometimes it takes certain people a while to realise that we are just as competent and capable of helping them.”
The EV industry is growing exponentially, as EV adoption is on the rise, but Mer’s solution-based approach remains the same. “Most conversations start from the perspective of people being unsure or even scared about the whole EV piece,” said Natasha. “Most clients come to us with a goal or challenge and it is up to us to map out how we will help them to achieve it. This is still what sets us apart from other providers.”
For Naomi, it is Mer’s ability to be a long-term partner that is the key differentiator. “For us it is never just about getting the charging infrastructure in place, then moving on. It is about making sure that the equipment is as future-proofed and flexible as possible, getting all the facets right in the first instance and minimising the risk of requiring another expensive upgrade further down the line.”
Listening to the customer is the first step. “We can’t simply ask them what charging points they want because they often don’t know how to answer that question – they want us to answer it for them. We ask them the right questions and come up with a tailored solution that suits them. We always persevere until we find a way to help them.”
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