Karen joined Ashwoods six months ago as a Programme Manager. On International Women’s Day she talks about the challenges and opportunities she has experienced as a woman in engineering.

Tell us about your role at Ashwoods.

I am responsible for embedding new parts into our manufacturing processes to make sure our motors meet customers’ requirements and specifications. This means working with virtually every team within Ashwoods including designers, purchasing, production engineers and quality to make sure we get the job done.

What inspired you to follow a career in engineering?

I have always worked in engineering or construction companies in admin and accounts roles. After a career-break I did some temping and ended up as a Quality System Manager. Being able to influence how a company improves its processes has been really rewarding.

Do you have a role model or mentor?

One of my previous managers encouraged me to put forward new ideas, and if they delivered a benefit to the business I was given the freedom to implement them. This support early on in my career helped build my confidence and gave me the motivation to stay in engineering.

I am also inspired by our customers. The collaborative nature of how we work here at Ashwoods means we learn a lot from each other. But I would not have been able to pursue my career path without the support and guidance of my husband, who as a Senior Project Manager himself has been a great sounding board and mentor.

What are the challenges for women and girls in engineering?

Credibility is the biggest challenge, although this isn’t necessarily specific to engineering. It is probably the same for men in a new role as well, but it takes longer for women to gain people’s trust and for colleagues within the business to realise you know what you are talking about.

It can be frustrating, but I find that once you have established yourself, as a woman quite often it is me the team come to for advice and guidance.

What are the barriers to addressing gender equality in the workplace?

Companies need to be more alert to the business benefits of increasing gender equality and diversity. Men and women bring a different perspective. Women are open and they listen more. I also think they tend to be more solution focused. This is why having a good balance of men and women in the workplace, and in particular in more senior roles, is so important.

But what we really need to focus on is education and encouraging young girls into STEM subjects. Science and technology are still seen as areas more suited to boys. There is absolutely no evidence to back-up this up, so we need to break down these social stereotypes from an early age.

What message do you have for girls who want to pursue a career in engineering?

I have three messages for girls who want to follow a career in engineering!

  1. If you want to do it you can do it. Find a way and don’t stop.
  2. Seek someone out to mentor you and help you achieve your career goals.
  3. Don’t be afraid to ask. There is no such thing as a silly question.