Female Engineer in 1984 - tentatively related to Saint Angela Merici (was a female teacher before it was readily accepted)
Female Engineer in 1984
Saint Angela was a go-getter; she had the heart to set up the Ursulines in a time when women were not teachers. This did not matter to her, we do not know if she even considered that not being stereotypical could be an obstacle, or even if she realised she was being stereotypical.
I was 16 in 1984, at the age of leaving school. From as young as I could remember I either wanted to be a teacher or a vet – I was eventually put off this as I knew I would never deal with anyone bringing in a snake. 1984 was the year of women in engineering. My O ’levels (GCE’s) included woodwork, Technical Drawing and physics – not necessarily stereotypical ‘girl’ subjects. My Technical Drawing teacher organised a trip for his class to visit the local college for an Apprenticeship/work opportunity fair. I did not want to go – I was going to be a teacher so why did I need to waste my time going to a fair?
Anyway, I was persuaded/told I was going. Paxman Diesels had a stand at the Fair, my dad had worked for them several years previously, so I got talking to them. They asked me what my favourite subject was and I said Chemistry. They said they were looking for an Apprentice Metallurgist … I did not even know what a Metallurgist was. I decided at that moment, that I should look at other options as well as being a teacher and they gave me a form to fill in.
I took the form home and sat down with my parents that evening. My mum was not keen on the idea at all “Engineering was not what girls did, they had nice jobs such as working in a bank”. Probably because I can be stubborn, this made me more determined to apply for the role. Going back a few years, my dad was a boiler engineering and from about the age of 8, my older brother Ricky would go with my dad, during school holidays ‘to learn the trade’. When I got older and asked to also go with my dad, I was told it was not for girls as the language could be ‘bad’.
I also started to apply for other apprenticeships and youth training schemes (known as YTS’s). To keep my mum happy, I applied for a couple of positions in banks – I went to one interview, looked around and realised that it was not for me. At school, I got summoned to the headmaster’s office and told in no uncertain terms that I should be going on to college and then university as my grades were expected to be good (they were not bad).
By the end of August, I had the offer of the apprenticeship with Paxmans, an offer of a YTS with Colchester Lathe company and a place at Colchester college studying A-levels, I chose the apprenticeship. I was one of two girls taking an Apprenticeship at Paxmans that year out of about 30. We were on different Apprenticeships, so I did not see much of the other girl. I had day release at Colchester Institute and Chelmsford College, as Colchester were not running all the units, I needed with the aim to eventually take a degree in Metallurgy. I gained my ONC in Chemistry, being the only female on my course and my HNC in Mechanical Engineering with just one other young lady.
Wmen were still very unusual in Engineering – they worked in the offices of course but not many worked as engineers, or ‘got their hands dirty’. Paxmans was very male dominated, and in those days, it was very common for walls to be covered in semi-naked photos of females and being wolf whistled at, while walking through the factory was common.
I had no issue with any of this and could give as good as I got when being harangued. For me at 16, it was fun. It was a different World to women entering engineering in the UK nowadays, the behaviour would not be allowed. I have remained in male dominated industries since, and other than suffering from pay issues where I was not on equal pay to a male colleague on one occasion, and the odd bit of banter that has gone too far, it has been a very good experience and I would encourage any girls to consider engineering as a career.