International Women’s Day 2021: Natalie Parish
To celebrate this year’s International Women’s Day on 8 March 2021, we are sharing inspirational stories from staff and students across the Faculty of Science and Engineering, showing what they #ChooseToChallenge in their roles at the University.
When most of us go to university to study our chosen subject, it is usually with a view to working in a related industry after we graduate. But Natalie Parish, a Technical Estates Co-Ordinator & Workshop Manager in the Department, decided this wasn’t for her. After studying English and working in publishing, she made the switch to engineering by enrolling in our Technical Apprenticeship programme.
Drawing inspiration from her grandma, who was a turner on a lathe after the Second World War (“she’s a real character”, she says), Natalie returned to study at age 25: “I was looking for on-the-job training to learn a trade, and the apprenticeship gave me the chance to pursue my interest in science and engineering”.
Natalie enjoyed her training but found that she was only one of two women enrolled on the programme and with a diagnosis of dyscalculia (dyslexia but with numbers) she sometimes found aspects challenging. However, she persevered through these obstacles and successfully landed a job in the Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering.
Starting work at the University
Of her first experience of working with students, she says she was “thrown in at the deep end and was teaching classes to students from the start”.
“While I had received excellent training in the technical elements of the role, I had no teaching experience and quickly came up against some cultural gender related issues.
“Some of the male students didn’t want to speak to me because I was a female technician, but this was balanced out by female students feeling much more comfortable in my presence. I understood this was down to gender roles within their culture but it wasn’t something I hadn’t prepared myself for”
While Natalie feels she is now recognised without reference to her gender, she sometimes still has to challenge instances of sexism as a woman in engineering: “quite often external contractors ask to speak to ‘the manager’ when I‘m stood in front of them. There have been occasions where my colleagues have to direct people back to me after being given my contact details. After one particular incident they apologised and said ‘it’s usually a man’. He then kept asking my junior colleague about the issue while I was there, instead of me, and continuously referred to me as ‘she’ and ‘her’, rather than speaking to me directly.”
Standing up for women
Natalie feels supported as a female working at the University, with clear procedures in place to tackle any issues: “I did report the incident on Report and Support, and had an interview about it, they provided support and gave me advice on how to follow up with the issue and engage in a discussion with the contractor while referring them to the university’s dignity at work policy. My biggest concern is if one of our younger female apprentices had a similar experience it could really knock their confidence. I felt I had to report this as we need to stand up against such occasions and pave the way for the next generation of female engineers.”
Natalie believes that building strong networks where information, opportunities and praise can be shared is key to supporting gender equality in engineering. Natalie is an active member of the University’s Female Technical Network and has completed the Aurora women’s leadership training programme, both of which have given her a support network and a space to discuss and work through gender-based challenges. “Aurora has really helped me in my current management role – it helped to build my confidence and taught me how to be more active in my position.”
Paving the way to an equal future
And despite being kept very busy by teaching students, managing teams, looking after her three-year-old daughter, and much more, Natalie’s motivation for being involved in these groups is clear: “I know when I raise my voice, what I say is heard – we must continue to learn from women’s experiences to pave the way for an equal future. We come from a strong line of women who have done the ground work and we must continue to stand up for our values and to work towards gender equality in the workplace.”
NATALIE’S CHOOSING TO CHALLENGE: PERCEPTIONS OF “WEAK” WOMEN
Discover the other women from the Faculty of Science and Engineering who are taking part in our International Women’s Day Choose to Challenge campaign.
aerospace and civil engineeringAerospace EngineeringCivil Engineeringdepartment of mechanicalMACEMechanical Engineeringnatalie parishSocial Responsibilitytechnical apprenticeshiptechnical staffwomen in engineeringwomen in stem