A woman in engineering (life in a male environment).

 

As a woman in engineering it is hard not to miss the fact that it is very much a male dominated environment, I would like to say that that is changing but from my own experience there doesn’t seem to be enough evidence out in the working world.

It starts at school and as part of being a STEM ambassador, there is definitely a change in attitude from when I was at school, I left school thirty one years ago though, so not as far forward as we should be and we are trying to encourage youngsters boys and girls to take up STEM subjects. STEM being Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths.

I am no stranger to being in a male environment, I was always a bit of a tom boy out playing on bikes with the boys, climbing trees and going fishing. I also played in a pipe band,
which back then was also male dominated especially in the drumming world with only a handful of female side drummers in the circuits.

In second year at the high school, I discovered my love of electronics. I was lucky enough to have an enthusiastic physics teacher, who ran an electronics club after school. Here we would work on projects, building and testing circuits. It was not unusual for the janitor to be chasing us out so that he could lock up! With this and the fact I enjoyed maths and physics, when it came to choosing my subjects there were no surprises when I opted for maths, physics, engineering science and technical drawing which met with the disapproval of the guidance teacher who said that these were all boys subjects. What? Boy’s subjects? You’re having a laugh, well we certainly did at home where I had the support of my parents and I followed my dreams and went with the so called boy’s subjects, not that that is what any of the subject teachers thought, they were much more encouraging. If memory serves me correct there was a 30/70 split girls to boys in the physics class, 4 girls in engineering and 2 of us in techy drawing so yep getting used to working with male counterparts. 

In fifth year after selecting the higher subjects that I wanted, I had one subject left to take so opted for an O’grade in metal work, yep the only girl in the class. Here it was quite obvious that the teacher wasn’t used to having a girl in his class, he did a fair bit of apologising when he would tend to say boys or would have a bit of banter that he then thought was maybe not appropriate! He was a good teacher and I could see it was something new so I wasn’t about to hold it against him and he soon got used to me being there. I passed by the way.

I was in no doubt that I would progress to engineering and it was more a question of where or how rather than what I was going to do. Initially keeping my options open, degree or apprenticeship, I decided that the apprenticeship was the way to go and in 1986 I started with a company called Hughes Microelectronics, in Glenrothes, as an apprentice electronics engineer. There were six apprentices taken on that year, five of them male. In the first year we were based at a training centre along with other apprentices in electronic, electrical and mechanical backgrounds.
There was one other female, an apprentice tool fitter and we were both featured in the summer special of the Jackie magazine along with a trainee football referee. A wee bit of fun and the guys found it slightly amusing when we had our photo shoots truth be told so did I. I still have a copy of the Jackie and yes it is now cringe worthy but hey not everyone gets to be featured. Generally speaking the instructors in the mechanical departments were older guys that have been in their industries some considerable time and now training others, if anything they tended to be slightly more helpful towards me, which I wasn’t going to complain about, I was still putting the effort in, just maybe had a wee bit more support than some of the others. The electronics trainer treated us all the same and we all just got on with the tasks as required helping each other.

As an, electronics and now senior electronics engineer I have enjoyed working in some completely different industries. I started in an electronics components factory primarily in the defence industry, worked for the UK Astronomy Technology Centre, a government research council based at the Royal Observatory in Edinburgh, moved to the Isle of Wight and worked for a load monitoring company supplying a number of different systems into different industries including oil and gas based around load monitoring. I am now in the oil and gas industry working for Expro, who are a service provider in the industry with a number of different product lines including well testing. I am now based in an office in Stirling with about 25 people (3 females).

Throughout my career as well as working in different industries I have had the opportunity to travel supporting products throughout the world and in a variety of environments ranging from observatories, building sites, ship yards, jetties and offshore.

So what is it like working in such male dominated environments? I can only speak from my own experience and I have certainly been lucky with the people I have worked with. I have always been part of the team and accepted as an equal member and gained respect from my peers and never experienced any discrimination or negativity for being a female in the workplace. Working on site certainly isn’t glamorous, wearing overalls, hard hat, gloves and safety glasses so no wolf whistles on the building site!  I get stuck in and get on with the task, generally engineers are a helpful bunch and if assistance is required it is just a matter of asking, which works both ways. There are times where it has its advantages being a minority in a male environment. A couple of times working offshore when there were large numbers, during a commissioning stage, the accommodation was shared cabins with a six to a cabin with the senior members of staff and crew on the top deck with only one or two at most to a cabin. As there was only two females on board, we were also in the luxury accommodation on the top deck with the added bonus of a telly in the cabin. After a couple of days it was just me so didn’t even need to share. Working offshore, partly as a stranger to the environment and partly as a female I found the normal staff helpful and friendly and I was accepted as one of their own.

I would encourage everyone to release their dreams and follow them, whatever they are. I would also encourage anyone that is interested in a career in engineering. Do not accept “that is for boys” as a reason for not doing something. You can only succeed in what you want to do if you release your dreams and give it a go.

Follow your dreams,

Bren x 

 

5 systems we use to keep us on track

Why is it so hard to stay on track? We have set so many different goals and countless have failed, but this time we want to achieve my dreams.  Our mindset is different this time and feel it is now or never and we want it to be now, but we know that unless we make changes to the way we do things we will slip back into our old ways again.  We have put systems in place this time to keep us on track and put our energies into achieving our goals.

Planning and preparation

 It will come as no surprise that we love food and during this journey the main key to keep us on track with our food intake is to make sure that we have all the food we need for our meals and snacks, for the week, in the house so that I do not need to keep nipping into the shops where I am surrounded by temptation.  I will sit down one afternoon, generally the day before I go shopping, and plan the menu for the week.  This will include breakfasts, lunches, dinners and healthy snacks.  I will then go shopping with my list…I have forgotten it before and that was disastrous. Once the shopping is done and organised I can relax in the knowledge that I don’t have to think or worry about what I will eat today.

Set our goals for the week

 At the weekend, Brenda and I sit down and talk about how well we did that week and set our goals for the week ahead.  What exercise will we do? What do we want to achieve? What can we improve on? We both have different routines but we do like to sit down together and plan the week ahead, this helps us both to stay focussed and it is harder to make excuses as to why we can’t do something, instead we think about what we will do and what else we can do.  It is a great way to keep us motivated.  We don’t set goals for our weight-loss as we do not want to stress about it, we are changing our lifestyle and that is our focus.

Inspiration Board

Inspiration comes to us all in many different forms; stories, pictures, music, quotes, videos and even smells (the smell of baking always inspires me eat cake!) but for us a visual reminder is something that can inspire us both and is easy to implement.   We have created an inspiration board that we can look at every day to help us to remember what our goals are and why we want to do this. We have a couple of photos of ourselves (in slimmer days) that we like, motivational quotes, pictures of the Charity Challenge we want to do and some work out tips for when we want to change it up.  It is great to look at and see why we are doing this.

Keeping Busy

 Before I became ill we used to be quite active but afterwards it was hard to plan anything because it would all depend on how I was feeling, so we stopped doing as much.  In the last year, I have been able to do a lot more as long as I have a couple of rest days a week.  We realise when we sit down to slob out in front of the telly how easy it would be to slip back to the old ways.  To stop us doing this we have created a list of activities for us to do depending on how much time we have.  I am not saying we don’t slob out in front of the telly anymore but now when we do it is to watch sporting events or to relax and wind down with rubbish TV rather than just a habit. The list of activities comprises of local places we want to visit, days out and jobs we want to do around the house and garden. It is good to have a selection of choices so we have something for all moods and weather!  This is really helping us to stay active and not get bored which, it turns out, is great for our waistlines.

Support Network

 We find that having a support network is key to keeping us on track.  It is great that we both want to do this together so that we can support each other.  If one of us is struggling, then it is great to have the encouraging words of support on hand to help.  We also have a couple of friends that we can chat to about hints and tips or recipes, or what worked for them. This kind of support is priceless. Finally, we have the support of our wider network since we started writing this blog.  It has been great to put it out there and find support from places we never expected. We never lose sight of the fact that we are doing this for us but it is a great motivator having accountability to others too.

If you have any more systems or tips to help us with our healthy living, we would love to hear them.

Here’s to living the Dream,

Emma x

How I made early mornings work for me…

It is 06:15 on a February morning, still dark but the birds are beginning to sing and I have just heard a flock of geese flying past. There is something special about being up and about in the early hours and even though I am heading into the gym, it is still a good time with only the early workers up and about and lots of sleepy houses. I will be able to get just over an hour in at the gym before it is time to get showered and head into the office to see what the day will bring. I never imagined the benefits of getting up to go to the gym in the morning, apart from the obvious getting fitter that is. It changes my whole outlook to the day. I am no longer getting up to go to work, I am getting up to do something for me and feel refreshed and ready to take on the day. An early morning workout varying from forty to sixty minutes’ cardio on the bike, treadmill and rowing and whatever time left with some strength exercise, trying to get stomach crunches in whenever possible, leaving the gym after a refreshing shower with a glow about me feeling proud of what I have achieved.
I have had issues with mental health in the past and it is fantastic to feel the mental strength that exercising in the mornings is giving me. I have always been self-conscious getting changed, even at school I hated having to shower or being naked in the changing room. To some extent I was jealous of the other girls that didn’t care. When I started going to the gym in the morning knowing that I had to shower there, it was with some in trepidation that I entered the busy changing room as one of the classes had just emptied. I soon realised that everyone else is busy getting ready for their own day ahead and not paying me any attention. At first I went into the shower cubical in my undies with my towel and clean undies again jealous of the other woman that just stripped of. After a few weeks realising that neither I or anyone else were caring what anyone was doing I started getting brave and can now strip of before heading into the shower. I still take in my clean undies but this is a major achievement and gain in confidence that makes me proud. Who would have thought going to the gym would be such a life changing experience?

Getting back to enjoying doing something before work, this shouldn’t really be a revelation to me as I always preferred the late and night shifts when working a shift rota for that very same reason, the focus for getting up isn’t for work!

Heading out of the gym now, there is a glow in the sky and the day is coming into life. There goes another flock of geese or it could be the same one passing across the morning sky, too slow with my phone though to get a great pic. Off into work now feeling relaxed and ready to take on the day, with a smile and a skip in my step as the day wakens around me.

Oh, no! There is a birthday at work and there is long tradition of bringing in cakes and doughnuts and I do love a doughnut especially a custard one. Morning coffee time and I have managed to resist and thought maybe if there are any left at lunchtime I might have one. Entering the kitchen at lunchtime there is a bag with a few custard doughnuts shouting my name but I have managed to ignore them as I heat up my yummy leek and potato soup and make a cuppa, such resilience to behold.

Early morning gym and I am getting fitter, feeling mentally strong, more confident and can even resist a custard doughnut.

If you have ever thought about early morning exercise, go for it, it is worth the effort getting up on these cold frosty mornings.