International Women in Engineering Day

Melissa from the team had a fantastic opportunity to speak to Karen Webster, HR Manager Tokheim UK Ltd, asking a few questions on what it’s like to be a female in the engineering sector and also getting some tips for women considering a career in the sector.

What brought you into the engineering sector?


I started as a HR consultant within the Finance sector working with Engineering SME’s and then moved to take up a position with BAE Systems in 2008 as HR Manager for a large aircraft. I was responsible for recruiting 125 engineers with various specialisms to design, develop, build and maintain the MRA4 surveillance aircraft. I then supported projects for different business units including; Land systems who constructed armoured vehicles, Maritime who were responsible for submarine’s and aircraft carrier. All of this was multifunctional but focussed mainly around engineering.


How do you find being a female in a senior position within the engineering sector?


It’s good but is a very male dominated sector, statistics show only 15-20% are female which is very low, Tokheim is level with the national figures. I try to encourage females into engineering roles, especially production and manufacturing. When going into a meeting most people are surprised to be faced with a woman and quite often I am the only woman at meetings, the key to success is to be prepared.


Have you had to adapt your working style?


This sector has a very traditional set up, its very command and control, I would say I haven’t had to adapt myself but try to encourage colleagues and peers to be less command and control and to lead rather than manage which has resulted in managers being encouraged to ask people what they think rather than them being told what to do and the end result leads to buy in from everyone and change becomes an easier process.


Are woman treated differently within this sector?


Tokheim don’t treat women any differently and speaking from experience in general, no, women aren’t treated differently. There is an underlying feeling that women must prove themselves more than their male equivalents in business and once you do this you have their respect.


Are there many female engineers at Tokheim?


There is just under 20% at Tokheim; out of a total of 46 engineers, 8% are women and across all functions of the company only 17% of those employed are female which sits within the national average for Engineering. We would like to increase the number of female engineers in our business.


Any ideas on how to attract more women into engineering?


There are a number of activities I participate in to promote women into engineering; provide talks and presentations to primary 7 school pupils within Dundee and Angus emphasis to the girls in the class the benefits of engineering as a career. I also present to high schools and also work with STEM, DYW, D&A College, Universities and CEED and a charity called HELM to develop courses, offer work placements, graduate and apprenticeship programmes .


What opportunities/barriers are there for women getting into engineering?


Over the years the attitudes have changed towards women in the sector however the statistics have remained low not lower but just about the same and we need to understand why this is the case.


If you could give a woman some advice on entering the sector, what would it be?


Try to study for an engineering degree at a university well recognised for its engineering success, you will need to work exceptionally hard and achieve a high result in your degree. This is a start to the ‘WOW’ factor needed to impress recruiters and businesses to help you succeed. You should aim to do exceptionally well and perform better than the men.

Try to get a broad variety of experience working within the engineering, manufacturing and quality sectors through work placements.

Join engineering network groups like CEED to promote yourself.


I would like to take this opportunity to thank Karen for giving up her time to answer these questions, it is really appreciated.