I always wanted to be an engineer. But the journey to getting my Bachelor of Engineering was perhaps not the most traditional. I didn’t study physics at school, and was told by my teachers that as a result, I would never be able to do an engineering degree. I’d been interested in manufacturing since being a small child, visiting the mills in Yorkshire where my father worked, so to be told that I wouldn’t be able to pursue the degree of my choice was a huge blow.
As luck would have it, my chemistry teacher, Mr Nichols, overheard the conversation. He pulled me to one side and recommended a three-day summer school at Bradford University, run in conjunction with Women in Science and Engineering (WISE). I jumped at the opportunity, and with Mr Nichols' helping hand and encouragement from my parents, I began to realise that anything was possible.
It was this realisation that has been one of the most important influences in helping me to navigate my career.
What advice would I give to young women considering a career in engineering?
Embrace your weaknesses, as often these can be your biggest strengths. Yes, I was at a disadvantage by not studying physics at school, but I overcame this through sheer persistence. When I graduated, the UK was in the grip of recession. Of the 45 or so people on my course, only ten were offered jobs. But me? I had three job offers, largely because employers recognised that I had overcome adversity to get my degree and in doing so, had set myself apart from other candidates.
Joining GSK in 1992 as a female engineer, I spent my early years hiding my emotions because again, I thought they might be seen as a sign of weakness. However, as my career has progressed and I’ve taken on a wide range of roles, the ability to build relationships and influence people has become increasingly important. The ability to express my emotions has been a key part of truly connecting with people and a large part of my success.