How female engineers are smashing stereotypes at Brompton

Women in engineering roles at UK company Brompton Bicycle speak about their experiences in the industry and their hopes for more gender diversity

Senior design engineer Eleanor Sherwen speaking about Brompton at a Velorution event. Image: Gretel Insignia

The first Brompton was designed in 1975. The innovative folding bike comes from humble beginnings, having been devised by Andrew Ritchie from a flat in London. Today, it is a global brand with a team of engineers working to create innovative products.

As 2019 gets underway, three of the company’s female design engineers ponder how they fit into the engineering world over 40 years on from Brompton’s formation. Here, Oonagh Taggart, Current Support Engineer; Matilda Swanson, Design Engineer; and Eleanor Sherwen, Brompton Electric Senior Design Engineer, reveal their thoughts on their chosen careers and the future of the industry.

Brompton manufactures specialised components for its icoinc bikes

Do you think diversity in your field needs to improve?

Oonagh Taggart (OT): I do. It would be amazing to see more women in the field and it would be a completely different atmosphere. Going into schools and showing young girls that it’s a great career path is an amazing way of getting them into engineering. We would be showing them it’s something to aspire to.

Do you think there is a stereotype attached to women who do the work you do?

Matilda Swanson (MS): I think the stereotype linked to an engineer needs to be broken down. Engineering is such a diverse subject that there is no reason that it can’t be practiced by a more diverse range of people. I think by educating people about what engineering is and what it involves could really inspire more people to get into it.

Stereotypes about engineering need to be broken down, say Brompton’s female engineers

Eleanor Sherwen (ES): I think there’s still a tomboy stereotype attached to women in my field; that you’ll look masculine or have traditionally masculine interests. I feel like that’s totally outdated, because part of your value as a design engineer is being able to offer a different set of empathies and insights in the design process.

That’s served best by being free to be quite different to each other rather than seeking to establish a conformity. I don’t feel pressure to act masculine or to act feminine at work – I’m just me. Steel toecaps and sparkly nails can go together just fine.

Would you say there is still a “boy’s club” image?

OT: I can’t speak for the whole field but in general I don’t think it has a boy’s club image. Females are certainly outnumbered and for the majority of projects I work on, I’m the only female. It can feel intimating to be a young female engineer and it would be great to see more females in the field.

ES: I think it does, but I think that is mostly coming from external impressions of us. A lot of people still think doing engineering means wearing a boiler suit and being constantly covered in grease. My main worry is that some parents don’t understand yet that there’s exciting and rewarding jobs here for their daughters if they feel that passion for tinkering about and creating.

Have you ever felt limited because you are a woman?

Brompton’s female engineers are spearheading attempts to address the gender balance in the profession

ES: I used to sometimes doubt or second-guess myself more than my colleagues would, and that would be tiring. With time and experience I’ve found my confidence, and I hope I support younger women in my department to feel less of that internal pressure. I don’t feel limited by anything. I really enjoy being a capable design engineer and a woman.

MS: I think at times I have felt that I might not being taken as seriously as my male counterparts. I don’t especially feel this within my workplace, but I have felt this outside the workplace at industry events, for example. I have had people question me in disbelief when I tell them what I do. Which I think is crazy, but I guess people just aren’t used to seeing a 24-year-old female engineer.

What advice do you wish you’d been given before you started out on your career path?

MS: Be confident. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and for advice if you don’t understand something.

What is the best thing about working for Brompton?

OT: Working on a product that I use every day. Also, getting the opportunity to develop and test new parts and components is great. It’s good to help a product evolve.