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Helen Downer: All Access interview

Helen Downer is President of Tyman’s UK & Ireland division, which comprises the ERA, Zoo Hardware and Access 360 brands.

Before you began working in this industry, what was your perception of it? And who, or what, has helped you, in your career journey?

I was first introduced to the construction industry and the opportunities it could provide at a graduate fair, by a HR Manager from Tarmac, whose name I still remember today. She inspired me with the many possibilities the sector could offer, and I decided to join the business as a graduate, spending the first three months within its operations division and moving around the business to learn more about the various activities it undertook

Over the next 10 years, I had the opportunity to immerse myself in all core business functions, including commercial, operations and finance. This provided me with a strong understanding, not only of how successful businesses operate but the down to earth nature of the construction industry.

Crucially, it gave me insight into the importance of all functions of a business working in partnership to succeed.

My first experience in the fenestration industry started in 2019, when I joined Tyman’s UK and Ireland division – this was initially in the role of Divisional Commercial Director and Zoo Hardware Managing Director.  Reflecting back since I joined the industry over two decades ago, diversity and inclusion has improved significantly as a broader more diverse workforce has entered the industry.

Throughout my career, I have been privileged to work with some great line managers who have provided me with both the exposure to challenging situations and good support in equal measure. They also embraced diversity - I was the first female Commercial Director at Tarmac Building Products for example.

The role of a leader is a crucial one. It is the foundation to a great business and ensures colleagues feel safe and valued. At Tyman, we are committed to continuously analysing the role of leadership in a variety of ways and identifying how we can develop our team members. For example, we have given colleagues access to business management courses from the Institute of Leadership and Management, supported professional and industry specific qualifications such as the Guild of Architectural Ironmongers, and have given on-the-job coaching for individuals to develop their skills, experience and leadership qualities.

Helen Downer.jpg

Has surviving the Covid pandemic enabled greater inclusion in your opinion?

COVID has changed the way we look at work and our personal lives. I think that businesses are now more cognisant of the pressures people are under and the balance that is needed to help juggle life’s many challenges. More and more people want a better work-life balance and businesses like Tyman have to adapt to that.

How to give our people more flexibility and balance is a real consideration at Tyman UK and Ireland. Since the pandemic, colleagues have more scope to work remotely and there’s flexibility around working hours. This includes starting to recruit some roles to consciously fit around school hours, and we’ve given all colleagues the option to purchase additional annual leave. 

I also hear from many that the pandemic has prompted individuals to re-evaluate what is important to them, and for many, they want to feel part of a collective that is having a positive impact on society and they want to have a sense of belonging.

Results of our colleague engagement survey have prompted us to look into this idea to understand how we can create a sense of belonging for each colleague. We work with a cross-functional team from all levels in the business to discuss what matters to our workforce and what can we do to improve a sense of belonging. One aspect is around developing dedicated programmes of activity, such as a volunteering policy, to support colleagues in giving back to our local communities. We always support an annual charity and we have various fundraisers throughout the year.

These findings are also fed into the Tyman Sustainability Roadmap and the Group’s ‘One Tyman’ cultural approach, which is committed to inspiring, growing and investing in its people to ensure they feel engaged and able to contribute their best to help create long-term value for not only the business but the local community and wider society.

We also see challenges that young people across all areas of society face when trying to enter the world of work. That’s why we continue to look at how we can increase potential routes into all aspects of the business for the next generation, including student work placements for local and international student apprenticeships and in addition we have run employment schemes for individuals from underprivileged backgrounds. 

To what extent is your working environment inclusive, diverse and representative of today’s society?

Without a doubt, the strength and diversity of our workforce is our most valuable asset. We operate in 16 countries globally and we continuously identify opportunities to proactively improve the diversity of our workforce, whilst also creating inclusive environments that respect, encourage and fulfil the needs and potential of every colleague.

We have an annual process, the Organisational Capability Review, that actively assesses our team and part of that exercise is developing actions to ensure we consistently create and maintain diverse and inclusive workforces.

We brought recruitment in-house around 18 months ago, led by a Recruitment Business Partner, Freya. She works closely with candidates and alongside the usual recruitment processes, we utilise, in some instances Occupational Personality Questionnaires (OPQs) to analyse how people approach different situations through psychometric evaluation. It is a useful tool to use in interviews to explore people’s preferences, their approach under pressure and how they like to think and operate. There is no right or wrong answer, it is about recognising individuality and exploring with someone how they approach a role.

 We also attend regional recruitment fairs specifically designed to support local individuals in re-entering the workplace, whilst actively recruiting international students for projects to provide them with exposure to UK business operations. Our recent student joiners worked hard on a calibration project within the Quality team. They brought insight into the latest technology and fresh ways of thinking which combined with our existing team’s expertise produced a great outcome.

Each of these activities also reflects the core Tyman values and purpose. Diversity of background, experience and thought enriches our decision-making and make our business better to achieve sustained growth.

Fundamentally, we need to recognise that our working environment continues to evolve and the expectations of people and the way in which we as a business engage with communities and stakeholders needs to adapt. We want to challenge our views and traditions to improve what we as Tyman bring to the industry, our customers and society.

The only way to achieve that is by ensuring that diversity and inclusion is core to our approach and that we continue to strive for a workforce that is truly representative of all aspects of society and every team member feels valued, respected and supported.

Further information on Tyman