#IWD2024, Celebrating some of the brilliant women we have working at Donite Plastics: Alison Connolly

As part of this year’s International Women’s Day celebrations, we spoke to some female members of our team about their career to date, and how they are breaking the stereotypes of women in manufacturing and engineering!

Next up is our Mechanical Engineer, Alison Connolly.

When did you join Donite Plastics and what is your current role?

I joined Donite Plastics in November 2023 as an Accounts Technician and Environmental Representative.

Can you tell us a little bit about your background?

I am a Chartered Mechanical Engineer and spent 13 years working as a consultant in the water industry. After my second daughter was born, I made a career change into accounting and my recent post at Donite Plastics has allowed me to engage my interest in protecting the environment as well.

What made you decide to go into a role that is seen as ‘traditionally male’?

At school I enjoyed maths and physics and was encouraged by teachers to study engineering at university. I’ve always been interested in seeing how things work and so mechanical was an obvious choice.

What, if any, unique challenges have you faced in your career as a woman? How did you overcome them?

My most challenging times were when working in Tanzania (for two years) and a short period working in Oman. These are both male dominated societies and, although I was the most qualified and experienced engineer on the projects, as a young female I was often ignored or else my male colleagues were addressed instead of me.

I think in those situations I had to work extra hard to gain the respect of locals and had to prove that I was competent and equally capable.

Which mentors or role models have positively impacted you in your career, and what’s one lesson that they taught you? 

I have been very fortunate to work alongside many very experienced and knowledgeable engineers and learnt that good communication is one of the most important skills in a successful career.

Are there any women in the industry that have inspired you in your career?

As a young graduate, I was introduced to several very successful older female engineers who inspired me through their confidence and expertise in their chosen field of engineering. I was encouraged by their accomplishments and that I could achieve equally as much as the guys on the same graduate program.

Why do you feel it’s important that more women take up a career in engineering in the future?

Although the number of females graduating in engineering has increased over the past 20+ years, the number of female mechanical graduates is still much lower than other disciplines. I think this is because it is still very much perceived as a ‘male’ subject and so greater education is needed of the vast scope of careers available – from designing water treatment works to vacuum forming plastic components for the medical industry. Girls need to feel confident to pursue a career in a subject that interests them and not be put off because of the culture, otherwise the engineering sector will lose out on the unique perspective, talents, and skills which they can offer.

What advice would you give to young women and girls hoping to pursue a career in STEM?

I would advise them to do what interests you.  Spend time learning the vast array of career paths available from STEM subjects – everything from sewage treatment to accounting!

The theme of this year’s IWD is ‘Inspire Inclusion’. How, in your current role, does the team at Donite ensure that they Inspire Inclusion?

Although the workforce at Donite Plastics is predominantly male, it is quite multicultural, and I feel that there is an ethos of respect and equality for everyone.

What do you feel is the importance of Inspiring Inclusion in the workplace?

The workplace should be a safe environment where everyone has the opportunity to fulfil their potential, without fear or prejudice – whether male or female.