Women Can Help Industry Do Better; in Association with RBS Women Can Still Be Reluctant, Sometimes with Reason, to Embark on a Career in Science or Technology. Karen Dent Hears about a Scheme to Help Redress the Gender Balance

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Byline: Karen Dent

PARENTS, schools and businesses have a lot to learn if more North-East women are to carve out a career in industry. That's according to award-winning chemical engineer Jane Atkinson, the assistant vice-president and general manager of Teesside company SembCorp Utilities, who is in charge of Wilton Power Station, near Redcar.

Mrs Atkinson, who won the CBI/Real Business First Woman Award for Manufacturing last year in recognition for her pioneering work in a male-dominated industry, is part of a new project to encourage more women to work in the science, innovation and technology sectors.

She is one of the region's female scientific success stories who spoke at the recent launch of Newcastle University Business School's North-East of England Role Model Platform for Innovative Women.

When Mrs Atkinson started her chemical engineering studies, only seven of the 70 students were female. Then when she joined British Steel, she was one of just six women among 4,500 staff.

She said: "I think I realised at an early age that there weren't many women in this industry."

Many of the initial problems she faced were purely practical, from a lack of ladies' toilets to clothing and boots that were too big, forcing her to carry a belt and an extra pair of socks wherever she went on site.

"They just didn't have the facilities for me at the time. I would have to walk one or two miles to the ladies' toilets or I went to the men's and got a man to stand outside, or I would sing loudly," she said. "You just planned ahead. You didn't drink much coffee in the morning!"

Although the situation is changing - British Steel eventually put in showers for Mrs Atkinson - she says there are still major barriers for women entering industry. The problem will be highlighted in the next five to 10 years, she believes, because people are misinformed. …