07. March 2022

Viessmann celebrates International Women's Day

To coincide with International Women’s Day 2022 (March 8th), we caught up with Melissa Puryer, to discuss the current state of play for women working in the male-dominated heating industry.

To coincide with International Women’s Day 2022 (March 8th), we caught up with Melissa Puryer, to discuss the current state of play for women working in the male-dominated heating industry.

Melissa is the southern regional sales manager for Viessmann. Until her recent promotion, she was an area business manager for the southwest. Driving three to four thousand miles per month, she was the face of Viessmann for the installers and merchants in the area. She is a mother of two and describes herself as a survivor of lockdown parenting, something she says she has got through only with the exceptional support of Viessmann.

When/how did you get involved in the industry?

After leaving school prematurely due to an accident during my A Levels, I fell into my first low paid admin job. I had my first child at 21 and towards the end of maternity leave, I knew I couldn’t go back to admin where the wages wouldn’t even cover childcare. I thought about teaching, so did an access to higher education course before studying English at the University of Exeter. By the end of the degree, I’d changed my mind about teaching and got on board with a recruitment agency with my options well and truly open to anything.

I was offered an interview with Viessmann in 2016, which was at the time, trialling the graduate recruitment route, as an alternative to the usual hiring method of recruiting within the industry. I was the first guinea pig. After a great interview with managing director, Graham Russell and sales director, Ian Brookes, I started as an area business manager two weeks later. I stood out, not just for being female but for being young too!

What made you want to join the plumbing and heating sector?

I’ll be honest, I was desperate to get a decent job and had absolutely no preference in terms of industry. A lot of females would be put off that it’s such a male-dominated industry but I’ve always got on well with men and I’m used to the banter. Through my farming upbringing and working at a sawmill, it didn’t feel like a big step to enter into the heating industry.

Did you find that there were any barriers to becoming a woman in the heating industry?

There have been times when I’ve gone into a merchant or met with an installer and got the feeling they were trying to ask particularly technical questions to prove I didn’t know the answer, or when I have been spoken to in a sexualised way that they would never use on a man. It’s not a barrier though. It doesn’t faze me; it is more the source of a lot of eye rolls. It has driven me to improve my technical knowledge though as I do enjoy proving some of them wrong in their preconceived ideas that I won’t have the answers! There are plenty of guys out there doing this kind of job that are not technical either. My focus is customer service. If I don’t know the answer then I will go and find it out for them.

Do you think it is easier now for women to join the industry? And if so, why?

Probably yes. Viessmann is actively trying to change diversity within the company. And I’ve noticed there are more younger people and female apprentices being considered by engineers when you speak to them. You can see a real shift and support for women as engineers on social media.

What advice would you give to other women thinking about coming into the industry?

Unequivocally, it’s stand up for yourself. It’s the hardest piece of advice though because just how much do you let people get away with? I’ve struggled with that. We naturally don’t want to cause aggro or make a fuss. But unless we speak up and call out unacceptable behaviour, things are not going to change. Unfortunately, there are still some people in our industry that think it’s still 1970 and they can get away with behaving in an unacceptable way. It’s important to say that this is about a minority – the support I’ve had from the majority of installers and merchants as well as my Viessmann colleagues has been immense.

What else do you think needs to change to encourage more women to get involved?

More discourse about what we do in the heating industry and the jobs that are available. The conversation just doesn’t happen. You have to know someone who does the job. You wouldn’t know how to get into it. For me it would be amazing if there had been a session at school where women came in and talked about their jobs and what the opportunities looked like. Although you see plumbers driving around town, not many people know what the job actually entails. The good news is that apprenticeships are prominent these days.

What is Viessmann doing to make working at the company better for women?

A very positive initiative is the Women’s Influence Network which is all about driving cultural change within the Viessmann Group, so that both women and men are perceived more in terms of their specific strengths. Initiatives have included networking events, a mentoring programme, improvements in childcare provision and information on maternity/paternity leave, as well as a seminar programme.

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