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A career path pitted with challenges – "but they made me stronger". Karen's inspiring story.

Updated: Mar 1

Pioneering Hughenden Gardens Resident, Karen, was one of the first females in the UK to drive a forklift truck. She helped pave the way for women in the forklift industry and here she tells us her story of fighting for women’s rights back then and how she’s never been one for sitting still.


I started my career back in the 1960’s as a packer for a cigarette company in the gift warehouse when I was around 20. There were three forklift trucks driven by young men who would show off and cause a lot of damage to racking and precariously placed pallets on the shelving units. I had heard some gossip about their driving and decided to ask if I could train.  I loved the thought of working on the forklift trucks but was rejected purely because I was a woman.


Several weeks later something changed, and I was invited to speak to the manager who actually offered me the position once I had been trained. I jumped at the chance, completed my training and got my license as a Lansing Bagnall FRER reach truck operator in 1969 at the age of 22. Three months later after an appraisal and the fact that accidents had vastly reduced, the company decided to train more women! On the downside I was asked to be photographed on my Truck for a well-known industrial magazine in a ‘sexist’ pose of course!


I worked with the company for three years, but we had no union and after some time as a driver I decided to enquire why my salary was not in line with the men’s salary. Mine was half what they earned!  Not getting anywhere I threatened to resign, they did call my bluff and I resigned very reluctantly – but I felt I had to make a stand.  Six months later I was contacted with the premise that I was getting my job back. Delighted, I sailed through the interview until I enquired about the salary. I was told the salary would still be the same, so I got up and left.


From banking to health professional


I switched paths then and went on to work for Midland Bank working steadily through the ranks. I went through ups and downs there including 32 years ago at a sub-branch when I faced an armed attempted robbery!


At retirement age I continued to work and after retiring from finance and banking I took 18 months out and qualified as a Foot Health Practitioner. My husband built me a clinic at the side of the house where I set up my business for ten years until my husband died. It was then I decided to come back to High Wycombe and bought my apartment in Hughenden Gardens Village. My two children are delighted I am here.


Since living in the village, I have continued to be very busy, I helped set up the Residents Association and eventually became Chairman. I resigned after five years to concentrate on other things and helped set up the choir, a bop night, and until my hip played up I ran a line dancing group. I also help run bingo, quizzes and race nights, have a number of other responsibilities and volunteer on reception. I had the privilege to be nominated and win ExtraCare’s Liz Taylor award in 2022 for going above and beyond. I am not happy unless I am busy doing something.


Try to understand others' perspectives

There are things in my life I would like to change, but the challenges in my life have made me much stronger. Having a wonderful husband who I sadly still miss after nine years and to whom I was married for almost 50 years gave me two wonderful children. I am proud of the fact that everything I do here has allowed me to make so many friends. That is what I love the most.

To young women coming up in business all I can say is it is best to try and understand the other person's perspective on how mistakes have been made or an attitude has come about. It is always best to speak on a one-to-one basis to ascertain why there is a problem and try to resolve it constructively. It’s important to always remain professional and to stay calm which works well to get your point across. I do feel my guidelines have always kept me in good stead and gained the respect of all I have worked with.

Interviewed by Charlotte Millions, PR & External Communications Manager at Extracare Charitable Trust

*Karen at age 32 pictured with daughter Luan and son Stuart.

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