Engineers talk for International Women in Engineering Day

Women in Cornwall working on the frontline of engineering with the Royal Navy have spoken of how attitudes have shifted in recent years.

Sunday June 23 was International Women in Engineering Day – and female engineers at Royal Naval Air Station Culdrose, near Helston, have taken the opportunity to speak of their careers and experiences.

Although women are still outnumbered by men, they play an increasingly larger role in all aspects of the navy, in this case to maintain and repair the world’s most advanced submarine-hunters - the Fleet Air Arm’s Merlin helicopters.

Lieutenant Helen Dobbs, 30, is an air engineer training officer at RNAS Culdrose. She oversees the courses where hundreds of trainees learn how to fix naval aircraft, mostly its helicopters.

Whether you are a man or a woman is not the issue – it really depends if you can do the job.

Lieutenant Helen Dobbs RN

She said attitudes to engineering have changed just in the last ten years and while there are still more men in the service than women, that is shifting.

“We see a lot of women coming through now because engineering is a career which is open to everyone,” she said. “It’s all just about competency now. Whether you are a man or a woman is not the issue – it really depends if you can do the job.

“Personally, I’ve never had any barriers to me as a woman coming through into engineering. If anything, the ratio of men to women was highest from A’-level and my university course. It was probably about ten to one. Now, we find the ratio of new air engineering trainees is about one in five.”

Petty Officer Charlene Turner, 31, has been in the navy for 11 years, in a career which has seen her serve on ships around the world and twice in Afghanistan.

She had a hands-on engineering role maintaining and fixing first Sea King and now Merlin helicopters. She is based at RNAS Culdrose and helps run the Air Engineering Department.

“There were a few women on my engineering course when I first started but now we’re finding loads of women coming through,” she said. “I think there’s been a real change and it’s great to see.

“I think I’ve had no more difficulties than any other air engineering technician – male or female. I can honestly say I haven’t seen or had any discrimination from being a woman.”

Leading Hand Catherine Jennings, 28, is an air engineering technician now training to join 814 Naval Air Squadron, whose Merlin helicopters serve on the back of frigates.

Earlier this year, Catherine, an avionics specialist, was named the ‘apprenticeship champion’ of the past 12 months.

She said: “Personally, I don’t think that there have been many barriers in the navy because I am female. I feel like I have to prove myself just as much as my male counterparts, in what is a predominately male environment.

“I would say engineering is a great opportunity and there is so much to learn and experiences to have. For anyone thinking about going into engineering in the navy, it is a great career and you get paid while completing an apprenticeship with civilian qualifications that can be used externally.”