Inspirational women in STEM… Lucy Ackland

The Senior Project Manager at Renishaw engineering company is next up in our series interviewing the women changing the face of STEM

From a young age Lucy Ackland, a former pupil at King’s School, Gloucester, knew she wanted to be an engineer. Today, Lucy is a Senior Project Manager at Renishaw, a British engineering company, and was named as one of the UK’s Top 50 Women in Engineering under 35 in 2017. She hopes to inspire the next generation to consider a career in STEM. 

What are your first memories of STEM? 

At school, I always enjoyed maths and science and I was a reasonably practical person as I liked taking things apart and putting them back together. Then, at the age of 13, my design and technology teacher at King’s suggested I attend an engineering experience weekend. I had no idea what engineering was before that, but it brought together all the things that I loved. 

How was your experience at King’s? 

It was good as the classes were small and that made a really big difference to me as I was able to have a better hands-on learning experience and be close to the teachers. I always enjoyed the time in the labs as I was a practical learner. However, at the age of 16 I decided to leave school and pursue my engineering career. King’s didn’t offer an engineering A-level, so I started looking elsewhere and that’s when I found the Renishaw apprenticeship. My school hadn’t spoken to me about apprenticeships, but it became clear that it was the perfect way for me to carry on my education. However, at that time, apprenticeships were seen as an option only for pupils who didn’t do well at school. 

Do you think perceptions of apprenticeships have changed? 

I think they have to some extent. I do a lot of work in STEM engagement and I still go back to my old school to talk to pupils about my career journey. They are very happy for me to speak about it, but I think parents are still wary. However, the education system needs to provide a route for each individual child and not what parents perceive is right. An apprenticeship has given me a successful career for life. 

What is it like being a woman in STEM? 

It’s changing but it’s still a male-dominated industry. In 2016, 9% of the engineering workforce was female but in 2017, that increased to 11%. Generally, all my male colleagues are very supportive, and I don’t feel held back at all because of my gender. It has actually pushed me to talk to other young girls and engage them in STEM to increase the numbers. That in turn has taught me a huge amount about presentation skills and self-confidence. 

When you visit schools and talk about STEM, does anything surprise you? 

The one thing that I notice talking to girls around the age of 14 is that their confidence in their own abilities is low. This isn’t because they aren’t good enough, it’s just their poor appraisal of their own ability. I think that’s the reason why they aren’t taking subjects like physics and maths – because they are worried about failing. 

What pushed you to become a STEM ambassador?

I honestly want more girls to be engineering because they are fantastic in STEM. It will also provide a better environment, as a team of men and women will come up with better ideas than a single-sex team because we have all lived through different experiences. The more diverse the team, the better the product will be. 

What has been your proudest moment so far? 

I think getting a first-class honours degree was definitely my proudest moment. It took a lot of hard work as I was studying for a degree and working full-time at Renishaw.