Tell us a little bit about you...
I am Dr Clare Legge, Senior Optical Engineer within the defence industry.
I think it was always clear I’d end up working in a STEM related job. As a child I took everything apart to see how it worked (not all of it went back together, much to my parents’ annoyance!) I wanted to be a Vet for years before a medical issue put paid to that idea, so I had to explore other ideas. I considered astronomy and medicine before eventually deciding on physics, ultimately specialising in laser physics. While I was always aware there were fewer women studying and working in most STEM fields, at no point did I feel put off by that, or that I was making an unusual choice – I was doing what was right for me, what I was interested in, what I was good at, and it never occurred to me to care what others thought about that!
Now I work as a Senior Optical Engineer for a large defence company in Edinburgh. I manage a multi-disciplined team of engineers, designing and developing laser products which we supply to customers across the globe. It’s a challenging role requiring management skills as well as my key engineering knowledge. As a woman, I’m still in a minority within the company’s engineering community, but I’m still doing what I’m interested in and what I’m good at and I love that I’m able to do that.
For me, the key message to get across isn’t that STEM is a great place for women to work, but that it’s a great place for anyone who has an interest in that area to work. Anyone who tries to make you feel like an odd-one-out for following your interests and talents should be ignored!!
Is there a clear difference in your experiences of being a female in the sector at the beginning of your career and now?
Perhaps I’m lucky, but I don’t feel my gender has impacted my career or opportunities at all. My company was and still is dominated by male engineers, but I have never been treated differently or felt singled out. That said, there is clearly still work to do as there are very few women in senior engineering roles in the company. We have recently started promoting a strong focus on inclusion though, and with the move to more family-friendly working practices such as flexible hours and working from home, perhaps that will start to change soon.
What role do you think other colleagues have in helping organisations achieve greater gender balance?
Do we have to achieve a gender balance? Surely we should be focussing on removing the barriers that prevent anyone from following the career path they want. Talent and ability should be what matters.
That doesn’t mean I see no room for improvement, however. Women and men are different and behave differently in the workplace. In general, in my experience, men are much more likely to come across as confident and self-assured and this can often lead to them being thought of as more capable. As a manager I am now more aware of the need to understand my team and look for those who are doing a great job, but perhaps not pushing themselves forward for recognition as well as those who are obviously achieving.