Kate works for e.on the power company as a boiler integrity engineer. She is the only female on her ten-member team, but there are other women engineers in the company she can talk to and more young women graduates are coming up through the ranks.
Kate, 29, said: 'People always want to hear horror stories, but to be honest there are lots of opportunities for women in engineering. It's not like it was 40 years ago; the engineering industry is open for women. The problem is getting that message across to young women. The myth that women are somehow predisposed not to be suitable as scientists still prevails. That is why I have put myself forward to act as role model to prove that it is possible.'
Kate has been chosen for the UK Resource Centre for Women in Science, Engineering and Technology project 'Ingenious Women'. Its aim is to give 20 mid-career women engineers training and support to enable them to raise their profile and share their passion for engineering. Only eight per cent of engineers are women and only 3 per cent of engineering apprentices are women.
Although she studied mainly humanities subjects at GCSE, Kate switched to physics, maths and chemistry at A-level and she was encouraged by her (male) physics teacher to pursue the subject at university. At Exeter she was one of five girls among the 60 students that year. However, she said: 'I never felt singled out or that I was in the wrong place. It was a good experience being in that environment. There is no getting away from the fact that physics is difficult, but it's not more difficult because you are a woman.'
After graduating, Kate went on to Bath University to take a masters degree in aerospace engineering: an interesting choice for someone with a fear of flying. It was then, as a volunteer for the environmental agency Envolve, that she became interested in sustainable energy. Her next step was to study for a PhD on the subject of fireside corrosion in biomass combustion systems, looking at carbon neutral ways to generate energy, at Cranfield University.
She joined e.on two years ago and immediately became a member of Prospect. She said ‘it’s good to have the support of a union and I enjoy reading the information in its news sheet. I believe that unions can play a role in providing advice and support to women in engineering and other 'non-traditional' areas.
unionlearn, the TUC's learning and skills organisation, trains learning reps who act as advocates for learning in the workplace and mentors to apprentices.
Kate has taken part in open days that e.on puts on to encourage girls to think about joining the company as apprentices. She said: 'I give them a short talk and try to inspire them, but most of all they seem to enjoy the hands-on experience we offer, so they can see that it is something they can do. I tell them that there are plenty of opportunities and say that I love my job and want to be involved in engineering for the rest of my life.'