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Engineering and Maths

Being a woman in engineering: Kathryn the Wind Tunnel Technician

Kathyrn Richards

Wind Tunnel Technician, D2BD Ambassador

What challenges have you faced in the industry?

I have been working as a Wind Tunnel Test Technician in Formula One for nearly 13 years. So far, I haven’t really faced any major challenges as a consequence of being female in a male-dominated industry. When I started all those years ago, when there really were only a few women in the sport. I had great support from my colleagues.

I would say I faced more challenges during my educational career. When I was at school I wanted to be an airline pilot. I had to make sure I studied the required maths and physics. I really struggled with both these subjects but was lucky to have the support of a maths tutor and my physics teacher. Also, in those days it was not normal for a girl to want to be an airline pilot so there was little or no careers advice. I had to do all the leg-work myself.

Once through school I went on to do an HND in Aerospace Studies. It was during these studies that I was introduced to aerodynamics and wind tunnels. When I realised that I could combine my love of Formula One with wind tunnels I changed my mind and decided I wanted to work in the sport. As a result I went on to do a degree in Aerospace Engineering and a PhD in Vehicle Aerodynamics. The studying therefore became no easier; in fact it was so much harder, as I was more determined to succeed. Getting into Formula One at the time seemed so far reached. I was however very lucky to have an amazing mentor who helped me along my journey, through my studies, and had the faith in me to give me the chance at my dream job.

What advice would you give for girls focusing on male-dominated careers?

My first piece of advice would be not to think about it being a male-dominated career, as this in itself is very daunting and will create unnecessary barriers. Focus on the career only and what you need to get yourself there. If you know what you want to do, stay focused and do not let anyone tell you can’t or shouldn’t. The most important thing is to believe in yourself and stay in control.

There are many different ways to achieve your end goal. It could be through university or the more practical routes of work experience and apprenticeships. Never be afraid to ask for help or advice. I would not be where I am today if I had not written a letter over 20 years ago to ask about the possibility of a tour of the then Benetton Formula One Team factory. The gentleman who conducted that tour went on to become my mentor and lifelong friend. If you do your best and believe in yourself, you will succeed.

Why is it important to challenge the stereotypes?

It is important to challenge stereotypes so that there is a clear future for a new generation of female engineers. Engineering and motorsport is an inherently male-dominated industry and can appear a scary place for young girls starting out.  It will take a long time to change the male to female balance, but I do believe that, as more women emerge into the industry and show that they are just as capable as their male counterparts, any existing stereotypes will just disappear.

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