Women in Engineering – A Modern Story

A recent report revealed that engineering and manufacturing are the industries rated worst by women and working mothers for gender equality. But as Nick French explains, if you can find the right employer, gender will not be a barrier.

Angharad Wrigley is a 33 year old single mother. She left school after her GCSEs and until four years ago ran a small village shop in the Wye Valley. When she reached 30, a reassessment of ambitions saw Angharad sell the business with a dream of entering the world of engineering.

She enrolled on a part-time HNC Civil Engineering & Construction course and worked part time at Waitrose to fund her studies. It was at this time that she saw an advert for a vacancy at specialist steel bridging manufacturer Mabey Bridge. With no real expectation of landing the job, Angharad applied, if only for the interview experience.

Two years later Angharad Wrigley has established herself as technical services engineer - a position of responsibility in a team that is the main point of contact between the company and the client, pulling in technical details of major engineering projects, analysing them and making sure everything is in order to allow the CAD department to produce drawings and specifications.

“My gender was no hindrance whatsoever with regards to getting a job with Mabey Bridge,” explains Angharad. “They were more than happy to take me based on my enthusiasm and proven ability as I’d done so well in my HNC. I was feeling very confident after a good first year on the course and they said they’d rather have somebody with a willing-to-learn attitude.”

Since joining Mabey Bridge, Angharad has continued with her education, achieving her HND and is working her way through a degree. But while balancing a job, an education and motherhood has proved a challenge, Mabey Bridge has remained extremely supportive. “As my education programme became more demanding, the company has been very flexible and has fully supported me throughout. I am currently working three days a week while I finish my degree, after which I will be able to go back full time.

“I’ve seen no evidence that gender is an issue at Mabey Bridge and men and women are treated equally. I don’t feel any discrimination and certainly don’t consider gender has any negative connotations for my career progression within the company.

“I’m the only female engineer in this department, but I don’t think the company avoid female recruits in any way, it’s just the majority of people looking for engineering jobs are going to be male.

“I’m four years into a university course that I started alongside four women, and I’m the only one left. I don’t think gender is even relevant at Mabey Bridge to be honest. It’s never come up or been an issue. I don’t get treated any differently and I go out on site just the same as the men.”

Mabey Bridge also supports younger women into careers in engineering. Now in its ninth year, the company’s apprenticeship programme currently employs 27 apprentices (approximately 5% of the 550 strong workforce) and since the programme started, no apprentices have failed to complete their training and 95% are still with the company.

The apprenticeship programme is innovative and inclusive and has succeeded in attracting young women. Early in 2013, Gabrielle Field (22), a fabricating and welding apprentice won the Full Time Engineering Learner of the Year award at Coleg Gwent’s own Apprentice Awards. “I’m now a full-time employee of Mabey Bridge working towards a quality management apprenticeship and a certificate in Quality Management,” explains Gabrielle. “I’m only the second person at the company to be put forward for this scheme. Although I’m naturally a confident person, progressing through the welding course has given me greater confidence to challenge colleagues over quality issues and express concerns directly to time-served craftsmen.

“I also feel more a part of the Quality team and able to discuss issues fully with them. The support I get from Mabey Bridge has helped me grow in confidence and go forwards with my self-improvement, ultimately to become a Quality Manager.”

UK employers need to do more to ensure strategies to support women are being properly accepted and implemented at the operational level. The culture at Mabey Bridge is inherently and naturally inclusive, and we are very proud of our women employees and the role they have in the past, present and future success of the company. And we will continue to provide a supportive environment for women who have an interest and passion for engineering.

Nick French is a recruitment manager at Mabey Bridge

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