R.E.S.P.E.C.T for women in industry

Posted on 8 Mar 2010 by The Manufacturer

Jane Gray gives credit where it’s due for women in manufacturing.

For Manufacturing Week (March 1 to 5), I visited a girls school in Moston, Manchester to witness its annual event, Challenging Stereotypes. The event encourages students to broaden their horizons and consider career choices in non gender-typical roles.

The school girls seemed to received the message enthusiastically. At least, they threw themselves exuberantly into the task of making colourful newsletters and reporting back on their activities, and hopefully they were also truly inspired by the verve and talent of the women presenting at the event. I know that I was.

Women from a broad range of local companies came to speak about their career choices and the day-to-day realities of their work. From MDs to apprentices the stories were impressive, but it was the latter group who really bowled me over with their professionalism, passion and the easy confidence. These girls, who were no more than 19 years old, spoke casually about breaking into the male dominated sectors of manufacturing and engineering. All of them said that they were aware of the issue when they made their career choices but equally all of them took the challenge in their stride.

Inspired by the young women I had met at the school, I sought to hear more stories from successful female apprentices and soon found myself in conversation with Charlotte Carr, a production control project engineer for Final Assembly Production at BAE Systems, Warton.

Unlike many young people Charlotte was lucky to attend a school which was keen to highlight the application of skills learnt in class to various career choices. BAE Systems’ collaboration with the teaching process at this school ensured that she was well aware of where her favourite subject, Design and Technology (DT), could take her and, importantly she was supported in her choice to pursue an apprenticeship by her teachers and family. Charlotte says “the only people who were surprised were my friends who were all just heading straight for college, but I never doubted for a moment that this was the right thing for me”.

Since starting at BAE aged 16, Charlotte’s potential has blossomed and in the course of her training she became not only the first woman to receive the Irene Short North West Apprentice of the Year Award, but also the first apprentice from BAE to do so. Other awards followed, including the Peter Hanslope Memorial Award, but for Charlotte the recognition she has received since graduating to a professional job is the most important. “Winning my awards was great but I like to know that the person I am today is built on more than just awards. It’s fantastic when people recognise me for the work I do.”

Having accepted the male-dominated work environment that she trained in, Charlotte is now very keen to get the message across to school girls that a career in engineering can be really rewarding. As an ambassador for BAE Systems, she speaks with pride to her old school about the protégées she has converted from those who simply enjoyed DT and hands-on subjects to fully enrolled apprentices. But she also looks forward to the day when she will have encouraged her first female apprentice to follow in her footsteps.

Examples of female success in manufacturing are growing thick and fast, but there is still a general reluctance of girls to consider the industry. A report published this month by the Science and Society Expert Group acknowledges that gender diversity in STEM careers is an issue to be addressed and looks forward to the impact that a new Equality Bill for careers in the sciences may have.

However, this report and others denounce the apparent inability of industry representatives and training providers to communicate effectively with their target audience and provide clear information about the different opportunities available. Until an effective collaboration delivers on this it is imperative that more women in industry like Charlotte make the effort to reach out to the next generation with direct, positive contact.