INWED20: The power of engagement

For International Women in Engineering Day, Charlotte Barker, Plant General Manager at Norgren’s Fradley site, looks back at her own career to date, and the role we must now all play helping to attract future generations into a career in engineering.

(Image: Norgren)

Her career to date highlights a belief in the importance of strong female role models in the workplace who can inspire, mentor and support – something she is striving to replicate every day in her senior position.

INWED20: Diversity is integral to McMenon

INWED20: Variety is a key component at Ford

“Across my career, I have had the opportunity to learn from some brilliant strong female role models, and I am committed to helping the next generation enjoy the kind of stimulating and rewarding career I have been fortunate to have within the engineering industry.”

From an early age, Charlotte Barker was intrigued by making things.  As a child she was encouraged by her parents to let her curiosity grow, and this has led to a lifelong passion to deliver engineering solutions, underpinning an impressive career in the sector.

Entering the industry through an advanced apprentice scheme, Charlotte was quickly exposed to a range of manufacturing, engineering, and business functions.  But her potential was spotted early and after only 18 months on the scheme, she was offered a permanent position at the age of 20 to lead a production line for Creda/Hotpoint. Her inquisitive nature and confidence in her own abilities stood out to managers and the opportunity gave Charlotte an industry foothold from which she has flourished.

Image: Norgren)

A move to the automotive sector saw Charlotte work for over ten years with Toyota; taking demanding roles in supply chain, change management and project responsibilities, including a significant amount of overseas travel. It was here that Charlotte’s role led her to work alongside some key female role models who were a real inspiration.

“At this time, the number of females in engineering was comparatively low and even more so for women in senior managerial positions. Within Toyota, I was fortunate to work with some strong and highly capable female leaders who demonstrated real multi-disciplinary skills, as well as a commitment to encourage others to realise their potential. The belief of others, together with my own motivation to look at the world differently and not accept the easiest solution, has been instrumental in getting me where I am today. It’s a lesson I have emulated with those I now work alongside, to showcase the true possibilities available when it comes to a successful career in engineering.”

Further managerial spells in the aerospace and automotive industries, including a senior position on the F35 fighter jet programme broadened Charlotte’s experience and helped lead to her current appointment as one of a limited number of female general managers at Norgren.

As her career has progressed, and as a mother of five herself including 3 stepchildren, supporting the next generation of engineering talent has remained a key priority for Charlotte. But, in her opinion, the process of encouraging young people, whether male or female, to consider engineering as a chosen career path needs to start early.

“I strongly believe it is a two-stage process as we aim to widen the potential talent pool for the sector. Children are naturally curious and simply encouraging them at a young age to experiment with making things just like I was, allows such curiosity to be nurtured. Making things is the essence of engineering and we need to establish that link early in a child’s development, so it is better understood and appreciated.

“Once in school, and when beginning to think about career options, it is vital that teenagers are encouraged to investigate what the world of manufacturing and engineering is all about.  The old-fashioned image of oily rags needs to be proactively replaced with aspirational examples of how problem solving, creativity, innovation and solutions delivery lie at the heart of the world.”

“Use of successful engineering role models, especially female achievers, has long been spoken about, but their importance to inspire cannot be underestimated.  So too is the pivotal role of companies who are seeking out future talent.  At Norgren, our Fradley site actively engages with local schools through a yearly competition that we participate in.  It encourages students to participate by tackling a product creation challenge and the entries have offered great examples of teamwork, solution-based thinking and achievement.”

(Image: Norgren)

While everyone deals with the current health crisis, Charlotte also sees some benefits from a period when many youngsters have been forced to stay at home and families have been charged with occupying young minds. “You only have to look at the many online examples of how families have taken the challenging circumstances they have found themselves in and used the time to be creative and feed curiosity.  Many youngsters have taken part in online science experiments and Raspberry Pi workshops, while others have been attracted back to the task learning how things work, by taking them apart and putting them back together, just like I did.”

To play her part in this, throughout her career Charlotte has also allocated time to mentor and support young engineering talent. Charlotte sees this as a vital part of her current role as general manager at Fradley.

“I take my mentoring role very seriously. It is only by being willing to pass on experience and knowledge that emerging talent can also benefit from the kind of opportunities I have been lucky to have throughout my career.”

International Women in Engineering Day – June 23 – is an awareness campaign to raise the profile of women in engineering and focuses attention on the amazing career opportunities available to girls in this exciting industry. It also celebrates the outstanding achievements of women engineers throughout the world. The event is organised by The Women’s Engineering Society. This year’s theme is #ShapeTheWorld #INWED20