INDUSTRY INSIGHT Engineering Women in Jan Ward, Millers Oils

A recent survey by Shell indicated that there was far more to do to encourage women into engineering and the petrochemical sector. At the same time statistics released by Warwickshire County Council in the UK, with a population of more than half a million people, indicated there was not a single female student enrolled on a higher education programme in Physics in the county.

Talk to school students about a career in engineering and the image that comes back is of a mechanic with an oily rag in their pocket. A highly skilled chemical engineer cracking open molecules in a clinically- clean laboratory in a major scientific discovery simply doesn’t spring to mind.

Certainly the role of teaching in schools can help to change perceptions. If students are taught by uninspiring individuals without an evident passion for their subject or well-developed communication skills, then how do they hope to enthuse others about the study of engineering or science?

Today the lubricant sector is a male dominated profession whose leaders are predominantly white and middle-aged. There are exceptions, BP South Africa announced last August the appointment of their first black CEO Priscillah Mabelane. ILMA is led by CEO Holly Alfano, and Valentina Serra-Holm heads up UEIL as its first female President, but such appointments are rare.

Over time this situation must change as there aren’t enough students graduating in science or engineering to meet the needs of a sector with an ageing workforce. Apprenticeship schemes, well-established on continental Europe, can certainly help companies grow their own talent.


Aspirational leaders such as Christine Fuchs, Vice-President of Global Research & Development at Fuchs Petrolub, Jacqui Berryman of Infineum and UKLA Board Member, or Abigail Waller UK & Ireland General Manager for Nynas can help create positive role models that women can succeed in the sector.

It doesn’t stop with positive role models though. More flexible working patterns can help to retain female staff over the course of their career as their desire for full or part-time work changes over time. The days of 9am to 5pm for 5 days a week just don’t work for everyone wishing to balance their working career with their family commitments or quality of life.

If a career in engineering is to be a career of choice amongst students, especially females, then positive cultures need to be developed within organisations that are more in line with the values and aspirations of women rather than expecting women to adapt to male-influenced cultures.

According to Dr Pat Heim CEO of the Heim Group, women view the world through the prism of relationships and males through the lens of hierarchies. Developing networks of people sharing common goals might be more appealing to females than an autocratic command and control structure favoured by more traditional organisations.

Today, according to research at least 40% of women consider themselves to be feminists. However, most women would still prefer to work for a male boss than a female one, so there is more to do on overcoming stereotypes and barriers than just breaking through the glass ceiling.


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