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Helen Heggie

Helen Heggie

Winner of the 2012 WISE Advisor Award

30 November 2012

Acknowledging the key role played by teachers, advisors and mentors in motivating girls and young women to pursue STEM related subjects

Helen studied engineering at Cambridge University and got her first job with the Ford Motor Company. After having a family, she changed her career path to become a qualified teacher and then up her own company, STEMFirst, which works with schools in deprived areas to promote the STEM message.

My proudest moment - My proudest moments are when young people express how their awareness has changed – at one recent event a young girl proclaimed ‘engineering is pretty cool isn’t it?!’ – that sums up what we are about and why I love my job.

My advice - There is so much more information, opportunities and role models out there for young women these days, enabling them to find out in detail about the world of STEM and the career opportunities science and engineering can bring. However, traditional stereotypes and misconceptions still exist, information does not always get through and there is a lot more work to do in joining the dots for schools, parents, teachers and young people regarding the whole STEM agenda on local, regional and national levels. We need to highlight the local labour market needs of each region so that we can develop skills that feed into these industries.

Combining work and family - We also need to support women during those early years of having children, and make it easier to return to work or undertake flexible working hours without jeopardising their career. My experience is that though a company will offer their employees part-time, job share or flexible working, this is only to women that are existing employees. It is very difficult for professional, experienced engineers to have career mobility at the time they want to work part time. Being married to a senior engineering manager I found that when his job moved, I had to leave a senior part-time position, and could not find another within STEM in a new location because part-time STEM positions are not advertised externally for blue chip companies. This does affect career progression significantly.

Regarding having a family, I do think things have changed for women in the sense that we can take control of our careers by undertaking more entrepreneurial activities these days. I am a prime example of that, by setting up my own company, holding the CREST and STEMNET contracts for Lancashire, I have used my STEM skills to great affect and now have a very successful company with an excellent reputation, but can organise my day around all the other elements of my life.

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