Amazing everyday women: What’s it like to be a female engineer?

Alice | Letters to my DaughterAmazing Everyday Women, Blog, Feminism & Gender Issues, Role ModelsLeave a Comment

I know a lot of amazing women. The sort of women who are perfect role models for my daughter. Strong, intelligent, confident, capable, inspiring. From engineers to business owners, sports champions to community heroes. These women totally rock, but do so without fame and fortune. They’re people you meet in everyday life, in the supermarket, in the pub, at the children’s centre, in the park. They’re too busy doing their thing to realise they’re inspiring the people around them and really making a difference in the world. These amazing everyday women are unsung heroes who prove that we can do anything we set our minds to.
Thus began the inspiration for my ‘Amazing everyday women‘ series. It does what it says on the tin – a series of posts about everyday women who are amazing and inspirational in their own way.

Amazing every day woman: Regina Tumblepot

Unicorn princess tunnel engineer

My first guest in this series is a wonderful person and friend of mine, Regina Tumblepot (or Aunty Stormy as she’s known in our house), who is challenging gender stereotypes and taking the male dominated engineering world by storm. Working on high profile construction projects, and winning apprentice of the year in 2013, Gina is just as at home in a tunnel with a hard hat as she is dressed as a unicorn princess (which happens more often than you’d think).
What’s it like to be a female engineer?
RT: Now, there’s a question that I’m often asked but the answer I always give people is the same. I don’t even realise it’s an unusual career choice until people ask me that question. I joined a large scale tunnelling project as a site engineering apprentice in 2011. I was the only female member of staff permanently on site and had no experience in the construction industry, which was a little daunting but I ended up finding the most amazing career. My company has paid for me to go through my BTEC, HNC and BEng and I will be finishing university this summer with a debt free degree and 7 years’ experience under my belt.
The people that I worked with have been some of the most friendly, polite people that I have ever met and have done everything they can to teach me, not only the theories of engineering but how it does/doesn’t work in real life. Most of the miners, who have in the past, had a reputation for being angry and rude, wouldn’t even swear in front of me and would offer to help carry my equipment. Of course, once they got to know me and found that I was more foul mouthed and had a darker sense of humour than they did, they started just speaking to me like one of the boys. I was so well respected throughout my career, I’m pretty sure that most people didn’t even notice my gender.
What was your inspiration for choosing engineering as a career?
RT: I’d love to say that I chose this career by being inspired by Brunel or Bazelgette but the truth is, I didn’t even know what engineering was when I applied to my first college and chose the subject based on a drunken argument with my mother. She shouted at me “Why don’t you just go and be a mechanic?” (because I liked a boy who was into cars) so out of stubbornness I went to college and applied. When they asked why I wanted to do mechanics I just tried to think of something mildly intelligent and blurted out that I wanted to work on plane engines, to which they told me I should do mechanical engineering which I blindly agreed to.
As I learned about what engineering was and what it entailed, my eyes were opened up to exactly what I wanted to do with my life. I only wish that I had been given an insight earlier on in life as to what engineering was and where it could take you.
As I said, I changed to an apprenticeship, rather than university as I wanted more practical experience and also moved into civil engineering. I love civil engineering because you can see what you have been a part of. My construction site started as a car park but is now a tunnel that I created, that new trains will run through and get people home to their loved ones faster and also ease the congestion in a big city.

Photo credit: © Crossrail Ltd.

Did your upbringing have any influence over your love for engineering?
RT: I didn’t have a massively technical upbringing but I was bought up to be practical. I think the greatest influence that my upbringing had was to be myself and explore all avenues of life. I would often play with Skalextric and Mighty Max with my brother but also with teddies and dresses.
One thing I have found that not being gender stereotyped has really given me an open mind into what I truly enjoy in life. When I speak to young people in primary schools about STEM (Science, Technology, English and Maths) careers, you see that they are already heavily influenced by their idols on TV and music videos. I just hope that the future brings more role models from a variety of walks of lives.
What advice would you give to children who might consider engineering as a career path?
RT: If I could give any young person, girl or boy, advice on choosing engineering as a career, just go for it! I have never worked in a job where I get so much satisfaction, have been looked after by my company, rewarded for working to a high quality rather than punished for not reaching targets and felt safe and secure in my job.
Oh, and I should also say… It’s really bloody fun!! The boring bit is the calculus you learn at school actually is important but is way more interesting when you actually have something to apply it to!
If any parents are concerned about their daughters going to work in construction (my mum told me about a year after I started that she was worried about my safety), please do not worry, everybody really looks after each other and health and safety is TIGHT, women are respected, given the opportunity to climb the career ladder and your colleagues become like a family. My mum is super proud of me and so happy that I took that booze fuelled blind leap into my lifelong career!
Regina wearing a tiara and Arnold Schwarzenegger dress standing between two Arnold Schwarzenegger models.

She also does a mean Arnie impression and has the most amazing collection of dresses

Are you, or do you know a woman in a male dominated profession? Do you think some jobs are more suited to a certain gender? Would you encourage your daughter to enter a make dominated profession or would you have reservations?

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