International Women's Day with Louise Hardman
With International Women’s Day having taken place on Monday, we’ve been sharing the thoughts and stories of some inspirational women here at T+T across the week.
Rounding off the week we have Louise Hardman, Senior Project Manager based in Wellington.
Louise shares her beginnings in STEM, what an office looked like in 1995 (there was only one computer!), and advice for the next generation of women looking to get into the industry. Read more below!
What sparked your interest in STEM?
I was given a 'children's encyclopedia' book when I was young, I was especially fascinated by the pages about the earth; volcanoes, rivers, mountains, and space. It went on from there. I am naturally quite inquisitive and was always more interested in science and so I did better at them at school. I didn't really know what I wanted to do, so I continued doing the subjects I enjoyed and was better at.
What was it like starting out in the industry?
I was the first female engineer employed in the engineering consultant's office that I worked in. About 6 months into my career, I started working on a construction site where I was also the only woman. I remember the contractor having to get a separate toilet for me. On my second day on-site 'my toilet' had a male toilet sticker which someone had added a skirt and hair in black pen. I didn't really notice I was the only female, but then there were plenty of glamour model posters on most walls of the site office.
Did you face any challenges along the way? How did you manage them?
I realised to be taken seriously, I had to show that I knew what I was talking about. So one thing I used to do is be prepared. For example, I would go to site with a set of questions I could ask the driller so he would realise I knew a bit about what I was doing. I also realised being different had its benefits; it was far easier to be remembered, so I needed to be prepared, do my homework (so to speak) to be remembered well. Sometimes I had to stand up to bullies which wasn't always easy, but I was fortunate to feel accepted by most of my peers.
How is the industry in 2021 different from 2001? What could we do better to enable and support women in the fields of engineering and science?
I got my first computer around 2001, but before then the offices are unrecognisable. When I started (around 1995) an engineering office was full of drawing boards where drawing technicians would hand draw the drawings. You didn't have your own computer, there was one computer that you had to book to do your analysis. Reports and letters (email was a thing of the future then) were all handwritten and a team of typists typed them up. No photocopiers; you would have a light table to copy things. I do think the pace was slower though, with more time to think (while you were waiting for a response to your letter!).
The industry has come a long way since 2001 and it is more inclusive. I think most engineers are interested in the solution to a problem rather than what gender, creed or colour of the team around them. As for support, I think knowing that you are being treated equally, and knowing that you are being recognised because of your ability are the most important things.
What advice would you give the next generation of women looking to get into STEM?
Go for it! It is an amazing, exciting, and rewarding area to work in. I love it because no day is the same and I am always learning (even after 20 years!). I also think the careers available in STEM are so varied there is something for everyone if you look into it. I think there are lots of STEM careers out there that people just aren't aware of. Last weekend I was helping a young girl look at what careers there are related to space science, and we found you can have a career designing space suits! How amazing is that?.