“I bet there aren’t many women who do your job?”

We’re celebrating International Women’s Day at Grand Union with an article by Nic Baylis, Assistive Technology Officer, who works as part of an all female team.

My name is Nic. I work in the Barbara Putwain Suite in Clophill, from where we run the Telecare Service for Grand Union Housing Group, Bedford Borough Council, and Central Bedfordshire Council. You may know this as the Community Alarm Support Service.

I work with Dawn, Donna, Sharon, Rachel, Gemma, Sally and Louise, and together, with Judith and Debs, we make up the Assistive Technology Team.

Across the whole of Bedfordshire and South Northants, with all three areas combined, we have around 4,000 customers.

With the exception of Bedford Borough who do their own assessments, we assess all new customers and do all our own programming, installation, maintenance and repairs of the equipment. As well as the standard pendant alarm, we also do a range of other sensors. These include smoke, heat, flood and carbon monoxide detectors, bed, chair and door sensors, fall detectors, and a wide range of seizure monitoring equipment. We have five suppliers, and we are required to know and understand their equipment to put it to best use for our customers.

Our customers are of all ages and from all walks of life. We have families with new-born babies utilising our sensors, and we have a man who is 105 years old living safely in his own home with our equipment supporting his needs. It really is a worthwhile service. As well as knowing the equipment inside out and back to front, we have to have an extensive knowledge of medical conditions to know what piece of equipment would serve what need, what could help or hinder a customer, and how to support someone to stay safe.

As an all female team, we do tend to get a bit of sexism thrown our way, from off-hand comments to well meaning offers of ‘help’ with our jobs, purely because we are female. The most common response is the shock and awe when a female turns up alone to install the alarm system: “Oh, it’s just you is it?!” and “You’re… a girl!” – I’ve lost count of the times I’ve been asked if the man who usually does the job is off or is meeting me here, or been told that they were expecting a man to do the work. “Well done you!” I hear, as if being in a technical job is a big achievement for a woman. This is just the tip of the iceberg.

It can be frustrating at times, but I think our team is an excellent example of how gender stereotypes are shifting, maybe even diminishing entirely, and shows that we have the capacity to challenge some sadly very common but very old fashioned residing attitudes. Women don’t belong in the kitchen any more!

The women I work with are amongst the strongest, smartest and most thoughtful people I know and the work we do is incredible. As a team, we have put together some extremely complex Assistive Technology solutions for our customers, working with several different suppliers to tailor a total solution for someone with very advanced needs. We get some lovely positive feedback; being told the equipment is keeping mum safe, reassuring a family member, or that it has saved someone’s life. It makes it all worthwhile.

I feel proud as a woman working for an organisation with a female CEO, in an all female team of technical experts, who between us have a combined 30 or more years’ experience in supplying telecare solutions to vulnerable people. We are trained, qualified and knowledgeable. We carry computers, and ladders, and a selection of screwdrivers.

At this point in time, challenging stereotypes seems to go with the territory but if we can change just one person’s attitude about a woman’s ‘place’ in society, then that’s a job well done.


Photo shows (L-R): Rachel, Sharon, Gemma, Nic, Dawn and Judith