That’s what a guy recently asked one of the interviewees in my latest article for The Guardian. Or rather words to that effect.

She was paying for fuel after a busy day of putting up 4G antennas only to be asked to double check she had the right fuel pump number. The one she gave had a van with ladders on top. Surely it couldn’t be hers?

As part of my freelance journalist work, I spoke to four female telecoms engineers that kept broadband, mobile and fixed lines operation during lockdown. They all report the same experiences.

When being trained they were normally the only woman among twenty or so other new-starters. However, once they qualified they ended up with a job they love that can fit around parental responsibilities and pays way more than some of the temporary jobs they’d had in the past.

However, there is always that surprise when they turn up on site. The same woman who had to double-check her fuel pump number reports, with a smile, how phoning ahead can cause confusion. When she gives an ETA a customer generally thinks she’s the admin person in the office and asks the name of the engineer they’ll soon be welcoming. Customers are almost universally surprised to find it’s her.

Things are improving, all interviews reported back to me, with most people being pleasantly surprised rather than horrified.

To tackle the gender split in engineering careers they all pretty much agree more needs to be done at school to encourage girls into STEM but also introduce them to a wider range of career options.

There’s a 50:50 gender split for apprenticeships in the UK yet when you drill down to manufacturing and engineering that goes down to just 9% for women. Hence, only roughly 10% of engineers are female, and that’s after a doubling of representation over the past ten years.

Without these pioneers, though, schools would have struggled to teach over Zoom and execs would have found it much harder to keep those endless Teams calls going. More to the point, though, the NHS 111 line might well have struggled had one of the interviewees not been sent in immediately to provide extra capacity.

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