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Women Mean Business- Interview with Karen Silk

Women Mean Business- Interview with Karen Silk

Written by Becky Edgoose

Last edited May 5, 2023

Women Mean Business- Interview with Karen Silk

Following our ‘Women in Recruitment’ roundtable event we wanted to shine a spotlight on women in business, so we have conducted a series of interviews with successful women in our industry, to hear from them about the challenges they face and what inspires them. Following our ‘Women in Recruitment’ roundtable event we wanted to shine a spotlight on women in business, so we have conducted a series of interviews with successful women in our industry, to hear from them about the challenges they face and what inspires them.

The third interview in the series is with Karen Silk.

Karen is the Joint Owner and Managing Director of Capital international Staffing Ltd, which specialises in engineering recruitment throughout the UK and Europe. Based in Burgess Hill in Sussex, it has been established for over 30 years and specialises in the aerospace, automotive, defence, and telecoms sectors.

Some of Karen’s achievements include:

  • Sussex Business Woman of the Year 1996
  • Semi Finalist Entrepreneur of the Year 2000
  • APU Success in Business Award 2004
  • Member of the APSCo Representative Committee 2014
  • Speaker at the Go Global Telesummit May 2014
  • Speaker at the Recruitment International Gender Diversity in Recruitment Conference Oct 2014
  • Meet the CEO Interview for Recruitment International June 2016

Karen is committed to the promotion of Gender Diversity and is helping young girls with their GCSEs who have an aptitude for Mathematics and Physics to continue their studies into A-Level to keep their options open to considering a career in engineering. She is passionate about the recruitment industry and has a strong interest in encouraging young people to consider a career in engineering, as the UK is facing a critical shortage of engineers, which will ultimately impact our ability as a country to compete in the global market. She is encouraging these young people by working with them on interview techniques and personal brand awareness.

Now we have some background information on Karen, let’s dive into the interview to find out more:

Q: What inspires or drives you as a leader?

A: Firstly, I am very lucky in that I love the recruitment industry and the Technology sector in particular. I love playing a part (albeit a small part) in the exciting developments and life changing technologies of our clients.

Q: Do you have a female role model, if so who and why?

A: Anita Roddick of The Body Shop. I read her book Body and Soul in the early 90’s and the challenges she had faced in building the Body Shop, I found to be truly inspirational.

Also my Mother who always said ‘if you put your mind to it you can do or be anything you want’. In the early years of Capital, she would come and stay with me and do all my accounts and VAT Returns, she would handle the VAT inspector and hold the ‘fort’ when I had to go out on client visits.

Q: What would you attribute your success to?

A: The support of a good team. When you are starting out you need to employ people who believe in your core values and what you are trying to achieve. People who are prepared to work shoulder to shoulder with you. The need for good strong committed team is vital to success.

Q: How did you get to where you are today and who helped you along the way?

A: Well as I said before my Mother.

My old boss from my days at Phillips Industries Ash Dasgupta. He became my Chairman when he retired in the early 90’s and stayed with me until 2014 eventually retiring aged 76!! I still call him for advice!

Mike Nunn who started with me in 1990 as a Recruitment Consultant and was Sales Director for 8 years until he left in 2005.

Hazel Constantine who has worked with me for 15 years and has been working with me ‘shoulder to shoulder’ during that whole time.

Q: After all your success, what challenges do you continue to face?

A: The great thing about being in recruitment is that no two days are ever the same; it is ever changing and a constant challenge.

Some of the key challenges I face at the moment are:

  • Recruiting employees to enable me to grow the Company
  • Compliance relating to placing candidates across Europe and that is before we even get to BREXIT
  • GDPR
  • The international shortage of engineers, which has been ongoing for a number of years and hence my interest in engaging with young people

Q: Have you ever struggled to achieve work life balance, or achieved it?

A: Work life balance is a constant struggle. The trouble is I love my work and I love my home life and depending on the situation depends on which area has the upper hand. Perhaps that means I have a balance after all?

Q: What is one leadership lesson that you have learned in your career?

A: If you believe and are passionate about the business, people will get behind you. It is important to recruit individuals who have the same core values, if there is a mismatch it will never work. I think that is two lessons, but they are related.

Q: What have you learned about leadership and entrepreneurial-ship?

A: You need energy and to be prepared to make mistakes. If it goes wrong then communicate and have a plan to move forward. Never leave the Company or yourself open to gossip and Chinese whispers, it can be very damaging to morale.

Q: Do you or have you ever mentored others, is there value in this in your opinion?

A: Yes, mostly my own team, and there is great value on both sides as there is always something to learn from other people.

Q: What is the best and worst decision you have ever made?

A: The best decision was getting involved in the start-up of Capital and being on board from day one.

No worst decision, there is always something to learn which can be turned into a positive for the future.

Q: Do you think there are barriers for women looking to climb the ladder?

A: I’m lucky, being my own boss for the past 35 years has removed the barriers.

This is how I overcame the problem, I just removed the barrier and I think more and more women are starting their own businesses for this very reason.

This is not solving the problem and there is more work needed in the corporate culture to overcome these preconceived ideas about women and what they can achieve.

Q: What advice would you give to women who are looking to become leaders in a business?

A: Be very good at what you do and know your value. Have confidence in your ability and expect to be treated with equality.

Q: In your experience what do you think a business can do to encourage diversity?

A: Equal rights to both sexes regarding flexible and/or remote working. A clear policy on emergency childcare or dependent care absence. Recognition that childminders/nurseries are inflexible regarding collection time. A commitment from the Company to provide at least a week’s notice of business commitments which are outside normal working hours. I know this is not always possible, so a culture of understanding when a person with carer commitments cannot get last minute back up.

Q: In your experience, what can a business do to attract female talent?

A: At Capital we offer all of the above plus we operate a flexitime system for all employees, not just those with children.

Q: In your experience, what things make it easier to retain female staff?

A: Good communication. A defined career structure with clear salary expectations. Flexibility in working hours, with the opportunity for remote working for all.

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