With women making up just 9% of the engineering workforce, student Lottie Gilmore knows first hand the vital role of schools in encouraging an early interest in an engineering career.
When Lottie, now 21, joined Burgess Hill Girls independent school in the sixth form, she says she didn’t know anything about engineering.
At a girls school, you’re free to be yourself. I just decided what interested me. With small year groups, there’s so much time for each person – Lottie Gilmore, Engineering student at Bath University
“At a girls school, you’re free to be yourself. I just decided what interested me. With small year groups, there’s so much time for each person,” she says.
She says that although she had always enjoyed physics and maths, the idea of an engineering career was a long way from her mind.
The school pushed her to do extra-curricular activities via its Engineering Education Scheme, which linked students with a local engineering company, Photek Ltd. She was also mentored by one of the company’s women engineers.
“That was a massive push forward for me,” says Lottie. “When you see women in the industry, you have someone to look up to”.
After A-levels in Physics, Maths and Chemistry, and Further Maths and Biology at AS, Lottie is loving her placement as a Junior Design Engineer with Williams, where she is a member of the design team responsible for the steering suspension and brakes.
Lottie’s role at Williams involves designing components to meet a specific set of requirements. This includes modelling parts using CAD (Computer Aided Design) software, producing engineering drawings and sending them to the on-site Machine Shop for manufacture.
With constant updates to Formula One cars to improve performance, Lottie says it’s a thrill to see some of the parts she has designed being raced on the current FW40.
When she was sent over to the Monaco Grand Prix, she says it brought home to her the contribution she was making. “To think ‘I designed that bit of the suspension’ is really satisfying.”
It’s a far cry from when, as a child, she used to watch Formula One on TV with her father.
Back at the Williams factory, she says she sees the team’s drivers, Felipe Massa and Lance Stroll, walking around the shop floor and in discussion with the engineering team.
In general, Formula One can be a male-dominated industry. However, Lottie says it’s not an issue at Williams: “You feel like everyone else on the team. I think it’s sometimes perceived that there’s a gender barrier when there may not be. You notice in meetings that you’re one of only one or two women but it in no way affects your work.”
Reflecting on when exactly she decided to opt for engineering, Lottie says it was half-way through the First Year Sixth at Burgess Hill.
“Engineering is difficult for schools because it’s not on the curriculum, but I think I probably wouldn’t have been doing engineering without Burgess Hill Girls.”