23-year-old law graduate Zoe Maynard credits a chance encounter with a stranger as her inspiration to break gender stereotypes and follow her long-time career ambitions. And the stranger? She now Zoe’s colleague.
From a young age Zoe, from Abergele, had always been interested in manual jobs and traditionally male-dominated industries. At six-years-old Zoe had aspirations of becoming a bailiff.
However, as she grew up Zoe’s career ambitions were disparaged, and she was instead encouraged to explore different career paths.
Zoe said: “Everybody laughed at me when I said I wanted to be a bailiff because it’s stereotypically not seen as a job for a woman. Throughout my education, I always felt that gender stereotypes were holding me back. I was the only girl in my Science A-level class and was often told that the boys would be better than me at certain tasks, even before I’d had a chance to give it a go.”
Zoe excelled in her STEM A-levels and went on to attend Chester University to study Law and Criminology, believing attending university was the only option available to her.
Despite feeling some uncertainty soon after enrolling as to whether she’d chosen the right career path, Zoe achieved a 2:1 Degree in Law and Criminology.
Following her graduation, she continued to work part-time at a supermarket while weighing up her options, and it was there that she noticed a woman wearing a high-vis uniform.
“It was quite uncommon to see a woman in high-vis and that caught my attention. I presumed from her uniform that she worked in a manual, hands-on job which I’d always wanted to do but had been made to feel wasn’t a suitable choice for a girl when I was younger.”
Inspired and fueled by the desire to defy expectations and prove people wrong, Zoe began to look into a career in engineering.
“I noticed Welsh Water’s branding on the stranger’s uniform, so I researched more about the company and came across their Apprenticeships Programme. This was very new to me; I had never considered an apprenticeship before. However, it seemed like a great way to help me break into the industry and access the right training to progress in my career.”
After completing online tests and attending an assessment centre, Zoe was successful in securing a role as an apprentice distribution inspector at Welsh Water.
“Initially it was daunting being a female and going into a ‘man’s world’, but by doing so, I became a stronger and more confident individual. Apprenticeships are a great way to gain new skills and real experience, while earning a wage and building your network.
“Working with the Water Services Distribution team has given me the opportunity to learn everything there is to know about how the company delivers over 800 million litres of drinking water to our customers every day.”
Zoe now works alongside the stranger she saw at the supermarket, Leah Edwards, and has thanked her for inspiring her to follow her dream career.
Leah, who is a network technician at Welsh Water, said: “It’s great to see more females coming into operational roles within the company, the Apprenticeship Programme has played an instrumental part in allowing women to get their foot in the door and access these positions.
“I had no idea that I had been the one to inspire Zoe to take up her apprenticeship when she first joined the team. It was so lovely to hear and I know she’ll be one of many more females who will join the company in the months and years ahead, inspiring yet more women to do the same.”
Since starting her apprenticeship, Zoe has won Welsh Water’s Apprentice of The Year Award, proving once and for all that woman can, and do, excel in roles and industries that are traditionally male dominated.
Zoe has attended careers fayres to talk about her career journey with school leavers, urging other young women to pursue apprenticeships and roles in male-dominated industries.
“There are so many ways to start your career and a variety of options to explore. I wish I’d known more about apprenticeships earlier; it is so important other students are aware of all the options available so they can choose the right path for them. Apprenticeships are a great way to gain new skills and real experience, while earning a wage and building your network.”
The Apprenticeship Programme in Wales is funded by the Welsh Government with support from the European Social Fund.