International Women's Day 2024: Inspiring Inclusion

International Women's Day 2024: Inspiring Inclusion

This year’s theme for International Women’s Day is #InspiringInclusion, a movement to encourage others to understand and value women’s inclusion and, importantly, where women themselves are inspired to be included. Being an all girls’ school, the notion of not being included because of gender is one which our girls just don’t have to consider on a day to day basis – subjects being seen as traditionally male is simply not a thing here as the classrooms are filled with young women who don’t have to face gender bias in their learning.  

When they leave us to pursue their chosen career paths, girls do so filled with self-belief and certainty that they are worthy of any job, provided they put in the hard work necessary to achieve it. They are confident in their own abilities, they are willing to put themselves forward and they are unafraid to pursue careers in male-dominated industries because they know their worth and know that they are equal. 

Once such teacher who has both been inspired by and inspired inclusion within generations of Farnborough Hill girls is Mrs Sue Macey, Head of Science.  

 

My Chemistry Life History 

When I was 12, I was given a chemistry set for Christmas. It contained lots of chemicals (most of which you probably wouldn’t be able to include in a children’s activity these days), test tubes, tongs and a little spirit burner in place of a Bunsen. I loved mixing substances together to see what would happen (not always following the instructions, I’m ashamed to say) and I was particularly fascinated by reactions where there was a colour change. I can remember having three layers in my test tube, red, white and blue. The layers mean I probably hadn’t mixed it properly and I can’t think what the red layer could have been, but I was hooked. 

I studied all the sciences at O level (showing my age there) and then took Chemistry, Physics and Maths at A level. Maths was probably the subject that came most easily to me, and I did enjoy it, but I loved Chemistry and could see what I might do with a Chemistry degree. I thought I’d go into Research and Development and make things, so I applied to study Chemistry and went to Manchester (UMIST, a science branch of Manchester University at the time) where I had a great time. We had no fees and got a grant to live on (well almost, I had holiday jobs including for the Blood Transfusion Service as a donor attendant) and spent four and a half days a week in the department. We had lectures and tutorials in the morning and labs four full afternoons a week, so lots of practical work. In my year there were over 60 chemists and about 8 of them were girls. Thankfully, those proportions would be very different if you went to a Chemistry department today.  

I decided I wanted to do some post-graduate study and research, I still had that Research and Development career idea at that point, and I also liked the idea of spending time abroad. I applied for a Graduate Teaching Assistantship at an American University which involved teaching their undergraduates and helping the professors mark exam papers when they set mid-terms and finals for their courses. It paid enough to cover my tuition fees and living expenses while I took classes and carried out research on Photoluminescent Gold (I) Phosphine Complexes. I spent three years at Auburn University in Alabama (famous in the US for their football team). It was an interesting experience to spend time somewhere very different to what I’d been used to.  

For the first lesson I ever taught, I was in a big lecture theatre, with rows of tiered chairs and over 50 students. I was terrified, but I had planned my lesson to within an inch of its life – I had pretty much written down every word – and although I didn’t use it much I knew it was there if I needed it. It got easier after that, but I liked to have my notes there as a security blanket. 

Over time, I came to realise that I was enjoying the teaching more than the research – I could be a little impatient when my reaction hadn’t quite worked as planned for the tenth time! I decided I would come back to the UK and do a PGCE (post graduate certificate in Education) to become a Chemistry teacher. I applied to Oxford, my home town, and Cambridge as well as a few others and, after an interview, Cambridge offered me a place for the following September. In the meantime, I worked at the Rover Car factory on the production line as they were offering temporary six-month contracts and that was how long I had until I started my course. It was hard work, but I was done by 3.30 pm and 12.30 pm on Fridays and I didn’t have to think about it when I wasn’t there. It also paid very well – I had been teaching for two years before I earned the same! 

I enjoyed being a Cambridge student for a year and found the course a useful mix of theory and practice. We spent a lot of time in schools but some time in the department with our professor and the other students. There were 15 of us at the start but only about ten by the end. 

I applied for a few jobs in mid to south England that advertised for a Chemistry teacher (I didn’t if the ad said Science teacher!) and ended up with one day when I was invited to three different schools for interview.  The schools didn’t have websites back then, I couldn’t just Google them, but I went to the library and found something called the Good Schools Guide. I looked them up and decided that I would go to the interview at a school in Hampshire called Farnborough Hill. I had never seen a picture of it, so it made quite an impression when I drove up the hill. It was a lovely day, the sun was shining, the rhododendrons were in full bloom and after my interview with Sister McCormack, Mrs Hatton took me to lunch and for a walk around the grounds. I knew this was the place for me and was delighted to accept the post when Sister McCormack phoned me the next morning.  

I started my Farnborough Hill career as Chemistry teacher that September, which will be 30 years ago this year, later becoming Head of Science. In that time, I have been privileged to play my small part in the career paths of a fair few scientists of every sort, as well as non-scientists. It is lovely to see them as ‘grown-ups’ when they come back to school to speak to our current pupils or for events such as the Careers Fair. I’m now at the stage that they are bringing their daughters to Open Afternoons. We even have one or two on the staff. I have been extremely lucky to have had a very supportive department throughout my time here, initially as the youngest member of the department and now as the oldest. I do feel I ended up where I was meant to be…… 

 

 

Year 11 pupil Eleonora Bracke is one who has big dreams for her future career path and has already started to put the ground work in; no doubt inspired by the amazing Science Department and Farnborough Hill and especially the GreenPower Club. She shares her experience and aspirations: 

 

Last Easter, I took part in a week of work experience at Williams Racing, and I have recently been selected to partake in work experience for the Alpine F1 team (which is taking place this summer). I have been watching Formula One for the last few years, and, about a year ago, I emailed all ten Formula One teams about work experience. Most teams only provide opportunities for university students however, thankfully, two offered work experience, Williams and Alpine. The competition was large for Williams Racing as over 2,500 people aged 15-18 applied; I was so fortunate to secure a spot! 

During my week at Williams, I learnt the basic principles of strategy, racing and aerodynamics. From taking part in racing and strategy simulations, assembling steering wheels and so much more, I gained a valuable insight into the world of Formula One which will help me in my future as I am considering a career in engineering in motorsport. 

Motorsport has always been a heavily male-dominated field, however, after visiting Williams and taking part in other motorsport work experience, it doesn’t concern me. Due to the increase in female supporters and female role models, the percentage of females in the sport is increasing. Furthermore, initiatives like Girls On Track run programmes and webinars to introduce and encourage more females into the motorsport industry. Through Girls On Track, I was able to attend the final few days of the Formula E world championship in London, where we spoke to drivers, built electric batteries, and spent time in the paddock, where the engineers and race staff work. 

To me, motorsport is the perfect mix of competition, engineering, and athlete performance. The gap between the racers is so slim, which makes the competition so intense as every decision could be the difference between winning and losing. The pursuit to create the best car for the fans and the adrenaline high-speed racing provides fuels my ambition in this field. 

I aim to be a race engineer in this exhilarating field one day; I want to contribute to the advancement of motorsport while inspiring others, especially women, to pursue their passions regardless of the industry in which they want to excel.