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Women in the industry

Women in the industry Posted on 13 September 2023

Maureen Turner, President of the Scottish Association of Painting Craft Teachers

Women are playing an increasingly important role in the painting and decorating sector. Their numbers are still relatively low, but growing all the time. And, as these three ground-breaking professionals show, women are ready, willing and able to lead from the front.

The painting and decorating industry used to be a predominantly male domain, however, things are gradually changing. More and more women are applying to be apprentices and progress is being made on the management side too. We speak to three women who have achieved ‘firsts’ in their fields. 

Maureen Turner – impressive career

Maureen Turner, President of the Scottish Association of Painting Craft Teachers

Almost 35 years ago, Maureen Turner applied for work experience as a painter and decorator “for a laugh”. Earlier this year she was appointed the first woman president of the Scottish Association of Paint and Craft Teachers (SAPCT).

Maureen, now a lecturer with the University of the Highlands and Islands Inverness (UHI), Maureen explains: “At the time all my school friends were saying they’d volunteered for electrical work, joinery and so on, but I was the only one who got a place.”

Two weeks with the local contractor David W Henderson turned into working over the summer, turned into an apprenticeship, turned into a time-served painter, turned into contracts manager.

“Eventually, I was supervising approximately 40 people,” says Maureen. “The company kept growing. When I started there were five of us and my employer was on the tools. I live in Speyside, the capital of whisky country, and we became experts in decorating distilleries. Now known as Hendersons, the firm works across the world.”


During her apprenticeship, Maureen excelled at college, winning the Painter of the Year Award and becoming one of the first women to win an award at Moray College.

In 2009, she returned to education to do her advanced craft and became self-employed at the same time.
“I carried on for about four years until I became pregnant. However, my intention was always to get into lecturing. After working in other businesses I secured a job at the college on a supply basis. Eventually, I was offered a permanent contract. I’ve been here for eight and a half years and absolutely love it.”

If anyone knows what it’s like to be the only woman working on site, it’s Maureen. “I experienced that for a good decade,” she says. “It could be daunting. The mindset was different back then. I had some people say I shouldn’t be there, but in the kitchen. Fortunately, that thinking is mostly consigned to the past. I had quite a lot to put up with but I’ve got broad shoulders and just got on with it.
I found I had to work extra hard compared to some of the male apprentices, just to gain respect and prove myself.”

She believes that some men who were not used to having women in the workplace did not know how to deal with it. “Some were really nice and always ready to help,” Maureen says. “On occasion it seemed my employer was harder on me than on others – I don’t know if that was just to push me to succeed. In any case, I’ve no regrets.”

These days, Maureen’s task is to promote the sector to all, but she acknowledges that we still need more women in construction. “At the moment getting people in regardless of their gender is very important. There’s a skill shortage across all trades. We have very close ties with employers and try to help by running a pre-apprenticeship course. If companies come to us looking for apprentices we have ready-made candidates.”

Last year, UHI Inverness had three female apprentices. Two of them – Jacqui Ramsay and Emma – Mackenzie featured in the spring 2023 issue of Decorating Matters. Maureen suggests the numbers applying have been steady if not spectacular. “In some years we have a high number of female applicants, in other years it’s lower,” she says.

Giving women a voice

Needless to say, Maureen was delighted to become SAPCT’s first woman President. “I’ve been involved with the Association for some time and a committee member for about five years,” she explains. “My first encounter was with the annual competitions arranged by SAPCT, which are hosted at colleges across Scotland, including UHI Inverness. For lecturers, the competitions create networking opportunities and I’ve made some really good friends through that. SAPCT is primarily about sharing good practice and mutual support and it provides the opportunity to speak to people of a similar mindset.
It’s a fantastic organisation and when they asked me to be Vice-President, then President, I felt it would be useful to promote the fact that women are out there and we do have a voice.”

Like many others, the organisation was affected by Covid-19 and one of Maureen’s main priorities is to recruit more members. She says: “Many colleges have new, young staff who may have come straight from industry. They will want to transfer their knowledge and skills to the next generation but may not have the educational experience to help them do that most effectively. Switching from being a painter and decorator to becoming a lecturer is hard work. You don’t get a huge amount of training. To some extent you have to fly by the seat of your pants.

“I’d like us to set up a networking support group for new lecturers and assessors. At the same time it’s important to modernise the SAPCT approach. We need to be taking advantage of social media and other platforms to increase our engagement with new members, apprentices and others.”

Meanwhile, at UHI Inverness she will continue to equip students with the huge toolbox of skills required by painters and decorators.

“I love my role,” Maureen says. “It’s great to see people who are passionate, entering competitions or completing their four-year apprenticeship, and skipping out the door after passing their skills tests and obtaining qualifications. It gives me a huge amount of satisfaction to know the industry is in safe hands.” 

If you’d like to find out more about the SAPCT, contact Maureen at

Roz Keenan – SDF pioneer

Roz Keenan, past President of the Scottish Decorators' Federation

Roz has the distinction of being the first woman President of the Scottish Decorators’ Federation (SDF). Her path to becoming a trailblazer began when she and her husband Brendan started their own business, Dumbreck Decorators, in 1973, just one year after being married.

She says: “I was always very involved. Among other things, I prepared estimates, did the accounts and we both attended meetings of the Federation, which we joined a few years after starting the business. Being part of the SDF was important to us and Brendan was made president in 1989-90.

“A few years later, one past president asked me if I’d consider becoming senior Vice-President, the role you take on before being voted President. I wasn’t sure because it was a daunting prospect. But around the same time, I met someone who was in a speakers club. I attended a few meetings and that proved very helpful, covering areas such as constructing an agenda and public speaking. I accepted the offer and in 1995 became President.”

Although Roz’s appointment was controversial in some quarters, she says she got strong support from 75 per cent of members. That was fortunate, because the job was hard work. “In those days, the President had to organise the conference and it was an onerous task,” says Roz.


Being a woman in the sector was a rarity at that time.
Roz recalls: “I can’t remember any other female members. Unlike today, few women had their own companies. There were one or two, but often they’d be so busy that it was difficult for them to come to meetings. I was hoping that if I became President it would encourage more women to come along and join in, not just the Federation, but the industry as a whole.”

One duty she relished was visiting colleges to speak to students. “It was great to see young people coming through and there were one or two girls showing interest,” she says. “As well as encouraging them I’d warn them that they’d probably have to try harder than some of their classmates.”

Equally enjoyable were regular visits to counterparts in Ireland and England. Roz notes: “In Northern Ireland they found it very strange that I was President and when it came time for speeches, the Master of Ceremonies would put the microphone in front of Brendan. But they were always very welcoming. Nobody made you feel as if you had no right to be there.”


Roz’s pioneering role helped raise the profile of the couple’s business. As well as featuring in newspaper articles, she appeared on STV discussing rogue traders and the best way to find a reputable painter and decorator.

Meanwhile, Dumbreck became one of the first companies to take on women apprentices. “Some people were concerned at the beginning,” says Roz. “They didn’t know how a girl would find a toilet on site or be able to lift ladders – all sorts of potentially negative issues were raised. But women are adept and usually manage to find their way around problems. What’s more, it was useful having women apprentices because they were welcomed in places like nursing homes and some female clients preferred to have a woman in the house rather than a man.”

Looking back, Roz realises it was an honour to be President. “People took a chance on me but the year passed without too much controversy,” she says. “It’s good for the Federation to have as much diversity as possible.

“The experience gave me more confidence, which in turn helped the company to expand. It was a good experience and it went down well with most people.”

The family’s link with the industry has continued. While the couple’s daughter, Barbara, is a designer their son Chris has his own business, Greenbank Decorators, and is also a member of SDF.

Roz and Brendan keep in touch with SDF, attending the annual conference and exhibition. “There’s always a stand that features apprentices and these days it usually has a couple of girls. The industry is in a good way and if you’re good at your job, you’ll do very well. There are plenty of opportunities for boys and, I’m happy to say, for girls.”

Sharon Harte – making history at BCF

Sharon Harte, President of the British Coatings Federation

Sharon Harte of Dacrylate Paints became the first woman President of the British Coatings Federation (BCF) in its 111-year history when she was elected at the organisation’s 2023 Annual Conference.

Describing the honour of taking on the role, she says: “It’s a unique opportunity to support and lead an award-winning, progressive Federation with a committed membership and an outstanding team of exceptional staff, reinforced through a highly accomplished board and non-executive committee.

“That said, I look forward to the day when a woman being elected President of a manufacturing trade organisation is no longer newsworthy by virtue of its uniqueness and gender association.”

Sharon has worked in the coatings sector for a decade and been a BCF board member for much of that time. She is passionate about UK manufacturing and believes the broader coatings industry is a vital but unseen part of the national economy. Indeed, one of her priorities is to make sure more people know the importance of coatings to everyday life. She says: “Our members’ products are everywhere – they protect, enrich and enhance the beauty of the world around us, as well as enabling communication and self-expression. They prevent decay and corrosion, make products last longer and have a massive role to play in improved sustainability.”

She’s equally passionate in advocating for gender parity and inclusivity in manufacturing. Sharon says: “I’m determined we will progress the Federation’s wider Equality, Diversity & Inclusion goals.”

Sharon believes her achievement shows there are women in senior roles in the sector and positions of leadership are increasingly open to them. She said:
“I was elected not because I’m a woman but because I was a long-standing BCF board member and my colleagues saw me as someone to help drive through the organisation’s and sector’s priorities for the next few years. I hope that as more women take senior and visible leadership roles it will inspire even more young women to enter the industry.

“This is part of the answer to recruitment. BCF, for instance, has four regulatory affairs managers, all of whom are women. The BCF board has more women than ever before and our member companies are increasingly employing more women in a variety of jobs.

“However, there’s still more to be done to encourage more young women to take STEM subjects at school and university to widen the pool of available talent. This outreach is something BCF is looking to work on over the coming year.”