According to Women in Science and Engineering (WISE), women represent only 14% of engineering graduates in the UK; nevertheless, an increasing number of women are earning senior roles in manufacturing.
So, what stories can these successful women tell us? The path to the top for women is actually no different than it is for a man: hard work, dedication, mentoring and strong role models – and the unshakeable belief that they deserve great careers every bit as much as anyone else.
UL (Underwriters Laboratories) is a global company advising businesses on safety, compliance and product testing. The company has long believed in recruiting talent irrespective of gender or ethnicity.
The three UL engineers The Manufacturer spoke to exemplify the success of that policy.
Hima Chetty, a medical device safety engineer, talks about the need to shift perceptions:
“I would like to see a change in the thought processes that lead anyone to believe becoming an engineer or succeeding in any STEM-related subject or job is difficult for us girls. It’s a myth, and I’d love to share more with young girls and help them. I want girls to realise their true potential, not what others have led them to believe.”
Emma Hudson, senior engineer and PCB industry lead, says that organisations such as WISE and apprenticeship programs encourage gender diversity, but women currently in the field can also help:
“As I become more senior in the company, I find myself being a role model for women in other parts of the business. I enjoy directly supporting and offering advice to these engineers, but sometimes I find it’s leading by example that helps to show that they can achieve whatever they want.”
If the figure for women graduates is low, it is even worse in apprenticeships, where women represent only 8.2% of those entering a STEM apprenticeship.
If they genuinely want to shift that dial, it is incumbent on employers to encourage young girls into STEM and provide visible female role models.
There is no better example of one of those than Bahar Korda-Borojeni, an electronics engineer who struggled to gain a foothold in the industry, despite a first-class degree.
Her advice to young women is always take yourself to the challenge:
“I encourage women to believe in themselves – in whatever field. If you don’t try – how do you know? Don’t put yourself in a category – don’t say, ‘this is not me’. We are all humans. There’s no difference between us.”
Inspiration: by example
In 2016, Lisa Pogson became joint MD of Airmaster, a mechanical services company that designs, manufactures, installs and maintains bespoke, energy-efficient heating and air-conditioning, plumbing and ventilation systems for most market sectors across the UK.
She started with Airmaster in its early days as part-time book-keeper; part-time because revenues were so modest. Twenty-five years later, it is a £12m-a-year company and Lisa’s role in driving that progress has been properly rewarded.
Nowadays, as well as co-running the company, she is regularly called on to share knowledge within the industry and the community through appearances on BBC and local radio, promoting Rotherham, the opportunities and benefits of the STEM sector, and engaging with other businesses.
In 2016, she was also appointed as the first elected female President of Barnsley and Rotherham Chamber, she is a board member of their Women in Business group and is a rare female Freeman of The Cutlers Company.
“It’s all a far cry from my early working life which started when I was 14”, says Lisa. “I managed to get five O-levels, in what was then a poorly-performing school, thanks to two inspiring teachers.
“I became a youth trainee office administrator at an architect’s design practice, where I was privileged to work with an amazing office manager. At 23, I decided to improve my education by studying accounts, and business and finance at college. Another inspiring teacher pushed me through to Masters level.
“At 30, this formerly ‘under-achieving’ 16-year-old school leaver had gained an MSc degree in resources management from the University of Hull.”
Her background inspires Lisa to actively promote development, employability and opportunities for women across the UK.
Since 2016, she has mentored and worked closely with 80 people while fulfilling her roles as trustee of literacy charity Grimm & Co, judging for WorkWise Y9 Students, sitting on Longley Park Career Ready College Board, as a Rotherham College Enterprise Network advisor and as a STEM Ambassador.
Lisa is part of the SisterHood project at a local Rotherham primary school and has set up work placements for students, resulting in at least two people going on to university. Lisa has also helped crowd-fund for a young STEM student needing money for a bursary.
This article first appeared in the May issue of The Manufacturer magazine. To subscribe, please click here.
Women and Diversity in Manufacturing Summit 2018
Women and Diversity in Manufacturing Summit brings together role models, mentors, recruiters and board-level leaders from across the UK manufacturing landscape – we unpack their stories, share their journeys and focus on the path forward.
The interactive conference format sits delegates alongside speakers in a series of small group conversations, creating a relaxed environment for discussion and enabling everyone to lean in and be a part of the industry’s most important conversation.
When: 21 June 2018
Where: Exhibition Centre Liverpool