says Janet Rowe, Joint Managing Director of Lincad
This interview was conducted to mark International Women in Engineering Day which takes place every year on 23 June. Organised by the Women’s Engineering Society, a charity founded in 1919, this important event is designed to celebrate the achievements of women in engineering and focus attention on the wide range of career opportunities available to girls across the industry.
Janet, can you start by telling us a bit about Lincad and your time with the company?
Lincad designs and manufactures batteries, chargers and power management systems for military and other applications. We’re based in Surrey and we basically do everything in-house, using our expertise in battery electrochemistry, systems, hardware and software engineering. We also offer a full product life-cycle service, including repairs and upgrades, from the point of introduction into service through to disposal.
The company has been going for over 30 years and I started about 13 and a half years ago, doing admin a couple of days a week before getting involved in HR. I didn’t actually have a background in it but I saw there was a need for it so I took it on. Then I moved into Marketing which is what I had done for most of my career, and also project management, before I was made Joint MD about three years ago.
How are you preparing Lincad for the future?
We’re doing a number of things but the point is that we’re doing them from a position of strength. We’re already firmly established as a leader in battery manufacture and battery technology which was recognised recently when we won the Made in the South East award last year. That qualified us for the Made in the UK awards which are important because they’re a celebration of British manufacturing.
In terms of preparing ourselves for the future, we recently expanded our Head Office facilities to incorporate a new Service & Maintenance Centre. This has strengthened our potential to expand further into the servicing and maintenance area to meet the growing demand for through life support. In addition, we’ve been doing a lot of work around protecting our cyber security – more critical than ever these days. We’ve also achieved JOSCAR accreditation which validates our credentials in the defence industry supply chain and will make it easier and quicker for us when tendering for new contracts in that market.
During your time at the company has it grown in size?
There have been some growth periods and some quiet periods but at the moment we’re definitely growing. The MOD is our largest customer and we were affected, particularly three years ago, when the MOD cut back on all its budgets. But we’re definitely on the up now, and we’ve found some new markets.
Apart from defence and security, we’re applying our expertise across a range of industrial applications, we’re providing power management solutions for specialist analytical medical equipment and we’re also supplying batteries to the NHS as well as a range of off-the-shelf battery products to a number of other customers.
Are there many women in your workforce
Yes, we have some women working in our Head Office and we have a few women on the shop floor, including a couple of very fine solderers who really enjoy their job and are obviously very good at it. They have the right skills for that.
Speaking from your own experience, what would you say are the greatest challenges for women working in an engineering environment?
It has been a learning curve for me. Engineering can be complicated particularly if you’ve not got that background. In the case of Lincad, there are all the different chemistries, all the different ways of putting things together, and that’s not something I’d been used to at all. But I’ve learnt a lot in the last fourteen years!
Are there always new things to learn?
Definitely, particularly because we’re at the cutting edge of technology and we’ve invested quite heavily in new bits of kit and new ways of doing things. The great thing is that everyone here is very helpful in getting me up to speed.
Do you think that Lincad has managed to establish an inclusive environment for women?
We’re very open to women and we are ‘living wage’ employers, so we pay not just the minimum national wage but more than that. We’re also very flexible. We’ve had quite a few women who have wanted to work more flexible hours and we always try to accommodate that. In terms of career progression, to take just one example, Kerry who is now our Stores Manager started on the shop floor. And, of course, we have Sarah, our Finance Director. Engineering is still, generally speaking, a male-dominated environment but I don’t think that’s true for Lincad. We don’t have any barriers for women at all.
Is it also true that you have a number of staff at Lincad who have been with the company for a very long time?
We haven’t sat down and worked it out exactly, but the vast majority of our staff have been with us at least 10 years, some for 15 or 20 years. In fact, we still have quite a number of people who have been with us since the company was founded.
I understand that you’re sponsoring staff to go to college?
Yes, we’re very supportive of anyone who wants to make a career. We’ve sponsored people in the past and we’re currently paying for one member of staff, Tanner, who is studying electrical engineering at Farnborough Tech.
How do you think schools and colleges can encourage more female students to take STEM subjects and perhaps encourage girls to consider engineering?
I would encourage anyone to make STEM subjects a priority for girls because they do tend to drop out as they get older simply because they don’t see them as girls’ subjects. And that is obviously totally wrong.
Finally, what do you think about awareness initiatives like International Women in Engineering Day?
I think it can only be a good thing; getting more women into engineering can only be a good thing.