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International Women’s Day Spotlight: Hearing the thoughts of Pennie Cooke

With today being International Women’s Day, we felt it was the perfect time to round off our  week-long series of features where we sit down and find out more about some of the amazing women working at McCann.

In this fourth and final instalment, we get to know our Head of Planning, Pennie Cooke. Pennie is a long-serving member of the team and well known by our clients and suppliers alike. In her feature we discover what it takes to be Head of Planning for a company of our size, the unusual female inspiration in her life, and how she stands out from the crowd and makes her voice heard within what has always been a traditionally male dominated industry.

Thank you for sitting with us Pennie, let’s start by finding out how long you’ve worked for the business and what your role involves day-to-day

I started working at McCann in 2016 and I celebrated my seven-year work anniversary in October last year. The M6 Smart Motorway Jct 16 – 19 was my first scheme as a planner and after a challenging start, I gained confidence and experience and before I knew it, was promoted to Senior Planner. Gaining the respect of the team I had started with on day one was also a key milestone for me. 

In 2021 I became Head of Planning for the company and now have my own team to manage and develop.

The Head of Planning, like any department head, is important for the organisation and its leadership. I manage the planning department by setting the bar and leading by example. It is my goal to raise our standards and understand the difference that planners make to a scheme and our profitability. I strive for my team to be seen as competent by not only our colleagues, but also our clients.

As well as managing and supporting the team and looking at their workflows, I’m also a planner on my own schemes within the company. The complexity of some of McCann’s schemes certainly keeps me focussed. Understanding the vital part I play on a day-to-day basis on a job by producing robust programmes and substantiating claims for events that didn’t go to plan are not only challenging, but also critical as part of supporting the commercial team –  so I must evidence and document every detail I can and be able to look back weeks, months and occasionally years if it is called for. This can only be down with the support of the site teams I work with.

I am developing two talented assistant planners to help them achieve status as Planners in their own right. We are coming together to make a formidable Planning Team which I am proud to lead. 

What does International Women’s Day mean to you?

It’s a great opportunity to celebrate the women of McCann and let everyone know more about some of the women we have in the company. I believe we can use the day as a platform to empower women and inspire those around us.

For me it also serves as a reminder that all is still not equal and where advances have been made, there is still work to be done.

The theme for 2024 is Inspire Inclusion, what does this theme mean to you?

I think the theme means to make women more visible and valued. Giving women a voice and not allowing exclusion, calling out poor behaviours, and taking action. 

Taking the opportunity whenever we can to change negative mindsets about women and their role in society is crucial.

Could you share with us a woman who has inspired you either in your personal or professional life?

I think this is a hard question to answer because there are so many great women I could say I admire who have done great things and made great advances – however they haven’t truly inspired me.  

Therefore, my choice is a somewhat unusual one, but it’s someone who from an early age I have been inspired by and that is Ursula – the sea witch from the original The Little Mermaid cartoon. 

Ursula is just fabulous and has a no-nonsense attitude, a plus size larger than life character whose armour is her make-up, clothes and hair. I think she was hugely misunderstood and was judged on appearance. She was a businesswoman who gave people what they wanted in return for something back. 

There are two sides to Ursula that I can relate to. Beneath the most confident outgoing appearances there is sometimes a more sensitive unknown side to a person, and Ursula taught me that that’s ok and people really shouldn’t judge me – like they shouldn’t have judged her.

One of her quotes in particular stands out to me: “Women don’t know how precious and powerful their voices are until they’ve lost them.”

This inspires me to never let this happen. If I have the power to be taken notice of, then I will make use of the opportunity. I will always have a voice and my daughters and granddaughters will always be heard.

We have the power of a voice within McCann and our wider industry and we need to continue to ensure that we are being paid attention to because we are knowledgeable, experienced and deserve to be listened to.

In what is historically a male dominated industry, how do you succeed and make your mark?

Unfortunately, in my experience the industry is still male dominated. 

Very often I am the only woman in attendance during internal and external client meetings and still feel very much in the minority, especially at a more senior level.

I’ve found that I have to work to earn the respect of those who don’t know me in order to prove that I’m knowledgeable and have valid points and information to share. I do feel if I were a man, I wouldn’t have to do that.

I make my mark by being unapologetically myself. I am confident, sometimes bossy and like Ursula, I know the power of having a voice. Most importantly, I know my job and the schemes I work on inside out. I’m not afraid to say when something should be done better or when I or anyone has been treated unjustly. I will not lose my voice or be afraid to use it. 

How do you feel McCann successfully creates an inclusive environment for its people?

From a personal point of view as a woman in this industry, it does feel we are still the minority. It can be frustrating and definitely testing at times, however McCann has supported me and helped in my development to become who I am today. 

Last year I was enrolled on the National Highways Road Academy Aspiring Leaders programme, which is a fantastic opportunity to be given by the company. I believe I am the first female at McCann to join this programme.

With that said, I do feel McCann has work to do to ensure that women are represented across all levels of the business.

How do you think the civil engineering industry is evolving to meet the needs of its female workforce?

From my point of view, the evolution has been in people’s attitudes and perceptions, and the progress of women, as opposed to the industry as a whole. 

Over time, women have broken away from the preconceived female career positions and gained the realisation and embraced the fact that we can do and be whatever we want. 

As civil engineering has been male dominated for years, it’s challenging to change set ideas about the presence of women, let alone our importance within the industry. We can only improve this by encouraging and training women while demonstrating that it’s a great sector to work in. 

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

“Be the change you wish to see in the world” – Mahatma Gandhi  

I couldn’t agree more with this quote and I will endeavour to influence positive change for women in the industry by being the best I can be. If I can educate, make a difference or influence anyone on my journey, whether professionally or personally, then I will consider that a success.

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