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,