Supporting the next generation of women engineers


12 May 2017
equality engineering women gender career opportunities engineering
Joanna Robinson of Mansfield Pollard
As one of the few women to head up a UK manufacturing company, Joanna Robinson, Managing Director of air management specialists Mansfield Pollard, shares her plans to promote the career opportunities available in the industry ahead of International Women in Engineering Day on 23 June. 

In the UK, engineering has an image problem. In Europe’s league table of women participating in engineering, Britain comes rock bottom. Just 9% of engineers are women and we must address this imbalance now. The extreme shortage of women engineers in the UK shows that engineering is still a male-dominated career with little diversity.
​When I became MD in 2013 it was clear to see that there was a real lack of awareness of the industry and more often than not manufacturing can paint a picture of a factory floor and a man in overalls. From the outset I knew that as a women I had a responsibility to promote the opportunities available to the next generation of engineers.

I put together a plan, and made it a major part of my role to educate and inspire young women. I want to break down gender barriers by encouraging and supporting them to consider engineering as a profession. They hear all about the successes and challenges, and a true opinion of what it is really like to work in the industry from a woman who has firsthand experience.

Career path
We visit schools, colleges and universities in the area and explain that our profession works with cutting edge technologies and has excellent career prospects in an expanding market, for men and women alike. Manufacturing offers an exciting, innovative and long term career path and you can work on a whole host of unusual and exciting projects.

Imagine having your dream job that also provides a rewarding career! You can travel the world, work with the most innovative organisations and people in the world. Another great benefit is that the analytical skills and technological expertise that you develop can also be put to use in many other fields, and will definitely open so many doors for various career opportunities in the future.

So far we have built relationships with Bradford College, Bradford University, Leeds University and most recently Skipton Girls’ High School, an all-girls engineering academy. I have attended a STEM event alongside Professor Danielle George of BBC2 Christmas lecture fame. The girls were really enthusiastic, and it was clear to see that by speaking to established women in the industry that they were inspired to find out more.

There is nothing more satisfying than seeing someone excited about something that they initially knew nothing about. Factory visits are also a great success as the youngsters can see how happy our team members are, and of course they get to see our high-tech equipment in action.

Make a difference
Recent projections suggest that the UK will be short of thousands of qualified engineers in the next decade. Without harnessing the talents available from both genders, there is little hope of filling all of the roles that are needed by industry. This is a worrying thought but by working together, and supporting schemes such as the International Women in Engineering Day, we can continue to plug the opportunities that are available.

Why wouldn’t you want to work in a diverse and exciting industry where you will be welcomed and encouraged to succeed? I want to promote the fact that through hard work and determination you can progress through the ranks and make a difference in business.

Another way that I am able to do this is through my role as Vice-Chair of the BESA Ductwork Executive Committee (BESA is the UK's leading professional body for building engineering services contractors). BESA also has an agenda to promote women in engineering and I’m set to be the face of that campaign. This is exciting and nerve-wracking but I’m ready to accept the challenge!

We need to keep the ball rolling, which is why I'm always on the look-out to partner up to promote the message. I have recently teamed up with a group of inspirational women in the local area who are all connected to the built environment.  We have recently launched the STEER group, which has an objective to connect the world of education to industry by guiding, mentoring and supporting university undergraduates with the transition.

Being one of the few women in the industry, I am proud to be a spokesperson and have the ability to promote the positive opportunities within the industry and hopefully inspire other women to get involved.
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