The place of women in the rental business

Testimonial from Alexandria Rawcliffe, Project and Product manager for the Powered Access at Sunbelt Rentals UK and Ireland.

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Alexandria Rawcliffe is Sunbelt Rentals’ first Project and Product manager for Powered Access in the UK. She joined the company back in January 2020, starting off as a field sales manager, and was successfully promoted into her current role 18 months ago. Alexandria is at the forefront of Powered Access innovation and is used to leading several projects at any one-time including liaising with customers, and internal & external stakeholders and partners. Haulotte is one of them. Alexandria has generously shared with us her very own experience as a woman working in the rental industry.

Can you tell us a bit more about Sunbelt Rentals UK and Ireland?

Sunbelt Rentals is part of the FTSE 100 Ashtead Group, and is the UK’s largest and greenest equipment rental company. In recent years we’ve invested over 135 million in green solutions, from low carbon and electric products.

We operate in several markets from Construction, Events, Facilities Management, Government, and Film & TV. Sunbelt Rentals has over 4,000 employees in the UK, spread across different regions. We also have a sister company in North America, operating in the US and Canada.

In May 2020 we launched the Sunbelt Rentals brand identity at the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic. Before that every division has its own brand name. It was quite fractured and launching Sunbelt Rentals into the marketplace made a huge impact and it helped to bring everyone together: employees and customers alike. We are very much of a big happy family now!


Alexandria Rawcliffe, Project and Product Manager at Sunbelt Rentals

How about yourself?

I started in car sales and moved to Field Sales for Powered Access while working for one of Sunbelt Rentals’ competitors. When I joined Sunbelt Rentals, there was a huge opportunity to build something. I did sales for a year and a half, before stepping into my current position which is Product and Project Manager.

Although I did love my sales role and my customers, I wanted more. I wanted to learn a different side of business and to develop my skills, as I’d not completed any form of higher education previous to this In my current role I often get involved at different levels of the product: engineering, operational, sales and commercial. This has given me a massive overview of the business which I think is very cool.

I am enjoying being at the forefront of the innovation and being able to speak to our customers and ask questions like: “What are you looking at? What do you need?” It’s kind of nice to be right at the front of that and pushing the trials through by working with the customer.

Do you find it easy to feel credible in front of a very male audience?

I’ve always found that having an almost photographic memory of the specifications of our machines, and being able to go well, owning my thing and being able to read that off gives you more credibility.

On a positive note, you’ve got a younger group of employees coming through into construction and rental industry now.  A lot of the Project Managers and the Directors are younger.

They’re more open to innovation and I’ve had a Project Manager turn around and say: “My daughter wants to come into construction and it’s really nice to see a young woman like you running around and taking the world by storm”. So, I think it is challenging and you do have to work hard for it. It’s just making sure that everything is factually correct.

According to you, is it a preconceived idea that women are better at managing than men would be?

No, quite the opposite. There’s this preconceived idea that men are better at business management. As a woman, you must work so much harder and you’ve got so much more to prove, especially in this industry, because it is so male dominated and has been for so long. I think that’s kind of the manual labor aspect of it.

You really do have to work so much harder to prove that you have the skillset and that you can do the job.  You must be so on top of everything that you do and make sure that you are completely, factually correct, which is quite hard.

Would you say that women are doing a better job than men when it comes to including people and kind of building a participative and inclusive management?

Women must work so much harder to be recognised and noticed and because of that, as a female manager, you give a bit extra to the women because you know what they go through. I know that they’re going to work hard, and they deserve the opportunity to prove themselves. I think you’ve got to have that person to bet on you.

What are the most challenging things that you must deal with on a daily basis and what are the ones you find the most rewarding?

I’m a bit of a people pleaser, so for me, managing the expectations of not only our internal customers and the other depots and the engineers but also the external customers. I would grab everything and try and run with it and completely overload myself.

I must remember that I am just one person. That’s kind of my biggest challenge because I just bulldoze my way through and try to do absolutely everything.

When something goes well, and you get into the end of a project, it’s always exciting for me to know that you’ve made a bit of a difference.


If you were working with some women and things weren’t going the way you would want it, would you be less tender with them than you would if they were men? Because of the self-projection and empowering thing?

I think if it was me and if it was someone on my team, I’d possibly feel like it would be my fault. As a manager, I should have nurtured and looked after that person to get the best out of them and I think in that case, it’s not necessarily a male or female thing. You should be able to help and support your team.

As a product manager, what are the key qualities to succeed at what you do? How about the people you are working with?

For me and the people I am working with – I manage a team of two – the key qualities are attention to details, factuality, and the ability to prioritize. I get pulled from project to project and being able to just sit back, take a breath and ask: “What are the deadlines? What is the most important thing?”

Another top quality that I am learning is being able to delegate and to rely on other people to help support you. You can’t do everything by yourself and that’s why we have teams and other people in the business.


Do you feel prouder having to work with other women within your own team?

Yes, but also when you look around Sunbelt Rentals as a business, we have a lot of women. Two of our board members are female, which is just great to see, Angela Turner who is our Strategic Programme Director, and Charlotte Bennet our Director of People.

 We’ve got exceptional female depot managers and drivers. I’ve seen female apprentice engineers join the business and I think it’s nice that Sunbelt Rentals is able support that because it does make it easier for other women entering the business.

I think it will take a long time because we are not going to change the idea that men are better than women in this industry overnight. Still, we are taking the right steps and I think it is getting easier day by day.

How do you see yourself in 20 years? How do you see the industry in 20 years?

Probably still fighting fires and very reactive in what we do. I still want to be the leader and in the forefront of the implementation and the improvement of all the safety. I want to see a woman at the top of the business, and I want it to be me.

As for the industry, I hope it will become safer. I think there’ll be a race to keep up with new technology and I’d like to get to the point where instead of competing over certain things, we’re competing over who can bring the best new innovations and initiatives to the industry.

Would you have any advice for women, you know, either starting in a similar industry or just graduating with big dreams?

Make sure that you are 100% right in your facts, logic, and working because as a woman that one tiny little mistake can knock you so far back.

Do you have a mantra or something you'd like to share?

Keep going. I think you always get setbacks. I have days where I just think “Oh my God, I can't do this”, but you just keep going. It's not easy. It's never going to be easy but keep going. You will get there in the end.

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