Being a woman in Records Management

Mona Lai, Group Head of Business Development
Mona Lai, Group Head of Business Development

To mark International Women’s Day, we spoke to female senior managers in China, South Africa and the U.K. about what it’s like to be a woman in the Records Management industry. From training and hiring practices to female support networks, they explore what can be done to shift gender balances in this male-dominated industry.

Mona Lai, Group Head of Business Development, who is based in Crown’s Hong Kong headquarters points to the physical nature of industry’s operational side as a factor. Chandre Luther, Senior Business Development Manager in Johannesburg worries that this traditionally masculine aspect may prevent women being drawn to the industry. “Male-dominated industries and occupations are vulnerable to masculine stereotyping, Chandre explains, adding, “this creates unconscious bias when hiring suitable candidates.”

However, Chandre sees this being challenged in South Africa’s Johannesburg and Cape town facilities, where warehouse teams are actually predominantly female. “We’re getting something right here,” she smiles. In the U.K., Regional Commercial Manager Rosena Rabbitte has observed a similar shift away from the male-dominated norm. In the east London warehouse where she’s based, Rosena has seen the female workforce rise from four or five to 30 percent in the past 12 months. 

Rosena believes changes in the industry have facilitated this. She explains, “developments in things like health and safety, systems and processes mean that Records Management is less labor intensive than before and this is opening up more varied roles. There’s also automation, so a more diverse set of skills is needed.” Both Chandre and Rosena admit that the positive changes they’ve seen haven’t made a dent in middle and senior management just yet. “I’m still often the only woman in the room, though,” Rosena says.

Chandre Luther, Senior Business Development Manager
Chandre Luther, Senior Business Development Manager

Mona believes that action needs to be taken to address this. She says, “To be able to reach a level of equality, a company must increase their percentage of female employees in senior management.” To achieve balance, she recommends that companies “Inspire female employees, giving them opportunities and proper support to grow their career within the company.”

Hiring practices also have to be addressed to ensure change, according to Chandre. She says, “Senior leadership, which is dominated by men, sets the tone for talent management and that leads to less diverse employment pools.” Chandre wants to see companies, “educate the hiring managers to see that females can be the right man for the job.”

On the journey to middle management, all three women admit to feeling isolated because of their gender. “The fact that I’m a woman in a male-dominated field is always in the back of my mind,” Chandre says, adding that the lack of a female mentor has been one of the biggest barriers she’s faced. Mona has felt the need to prove herself, “I feel as a woman, I have to work twice as hard to make it in our male-dominated environments.”

Rosena has witnessed more women embarking on this journey now and she’s glad to work for a company that’s ready to support their rise. “Crown is on the right path,” she says. “I’ve heard male managers here celebrate having more females on their teams.” Rosena adds that she’s been given great opportunities since joining Crown, “Within my first year, I was given the opportunity to progress to a senior role. I have always felt supported by the business and I owe a lot to my line manager in particular.” Both Chandre and Mona have also felt supported by the company. “I was fortunate to have a branch manager who saw my potential and was willing to give me an opportunity in the records management division,” Chandre recalls. A supportive manager was also instrumental in Mona’s success. “I started in an administrative

Rosena Rabbitte, Regional Commercial Manager
Rosena Rabbitte, Regional Commercial Manager

role and now I’ve been with Crown Records Management for 18 years,” she says. “In that time I was lucky that my potential was seen and I was given challenges and the opportunity to prove myself. I never thought I would be where I am today.”

Rosena sees more positive action on the way, highlighting the launch in 2016 of the Crown Coronets, Crown Worldwide Group’s internal women’s network as a positive step. Mona also emphasizes the need for women to support one another. “Team up with like-minded female colleagues and grow together,” she advises. “We are much more capable than we thought; aim high and don’t be afraid to ask help if you have to.”
 
While Mona, Chandre and Rosena all say that they did not set out with the ambition of working in records management, each of them have found a fulfilling career in the industry. “Records management just makes sense to me because there’s a science to it. I have a natural affinity with it,” Rosena says, quashing the masculine stereotypes. It’s problem solving that appeals to Mona, “It is challenging yet satisfying to solve issues from clients and Crown local teams. I am excited to go to work every day.” For Chandre, the ultimate benefit of working in this industry is the way it’s allowed her to progress. She explains, “It has allowed me to have a sense of worth, continue to learn and enjoy the journey while doing it.”