To support our Athena SWAN program we are running an inspirational women series, where our PhD students will select and interview an external inspirational woman in science.
Caroline Hargrove was voted in the top 50 influential women in engineering 2016. She lives in Richmond with her two children, Callum and Sophie, and her husband, Neil. She’s a founding member, and Technical Director, of McLaren Applied Technologies (part of the McLaren Technologies Group) and has a visiting Professorship at Oxford University. She spoke with Tess Morris, Aerospace Physiology PhD Researcher, at the McLaren Technology Centre in August 2016.
Tess asked Caroline the following questions:
Q1. What inspired you to pursue a career in engineering?
I have always enjoyed puzzles, and doing maths, because there is one solution and I love the feeling that you get when you find it. My parents didn’t expressly say that anything is possible growing up, but they didn’t put any barriers in place either. One of the best pieces of advice that I was given was to start my education in a broad, but very difficult subject then I could always specialise later on. This was great because it gave me the mental courage to believe that anything is achievable; if I have done that and it was really difficult, I must be able to do other things that are difficult too. I have often seen that women lack that confidence, despite being completely capable for the task. That, plus lacking competitiveness, creates a problem.
Q2. Your background has been very diverse; from lecturing to developing the first simulator in Formula One and working with UK Sport to create innovations with McLaren Applied Technologies – what has been your favourite role, and why?
Development of the simulator was my favourite role. I volunteered to be a part of it right from the start and then spent several years on it – first getting it off the ground; then creating better graphics, better sound, better movement, then getting the drivers in and improving it further. Every time there was a new chapter.
I wouldn’t go back and do it again, but I am grateful for that period of my life, where we developed something from scratch. Although the end focus was known, the roadmap of how to get there was unclear. I learnt to really deliver over this time, owing to the project being relatively high profile and visible – my neck was on the line for something and I really enjoyed those deadlines and that pressure. Formula One is relentless and tiring. We are always trying to improve. There were times where I received negative feedback (which was framed in a nice way) and told that it simply wouldn’t work, which simply spurred me to work harder to make it happen.
Q3. You were one of the three founding members of McLaren Applied Technologies (MAT) – it must be fairly special to build something from scratch and watch it grow?
I get emotional about decisions made at MAT, because I have been here since its inception, growing from 3 to nearly 400 people. I sometimes have knee-jerk reactions about things which I should really entrust with others; we recruit some fantastic people. However, I don’t want to stop taking it to heart or having that attachment, it shows that I really care about it. I have found it difficult moving away from the technical aspects of being an engineer into more oversight and management. Often there are projects I would love to work on, but I appreciate that those are not now where my priorities lie – however, I still like to be in the meetings and offer my experience and ideas. We try to create an environment here at MAT where people are encouraged to challenge the idea, not the person. This creates a really healthy, creative environment.
Q4. What motivates you?
I really like talking to (and I’m inspired by) women on boards, for example Helena Morrissey at Newton Investment. Similar to my profession I can appreciate how difficult it is to get there. This is particularly difficult when you then have kids, and when I felt at my least confident. It’s also when most women give up work. I make sure I speak to others about this issue; it helped me a lot to make a conscious effort to meet up with others who had experienced similar challenges and to know what they did. It’s also great to know that you’re not alone in what you’re experiencing. I’m planning to start up a women only group in McLaren Applied Technologies, in order to give others this opportunity. When you’re younger, sometimes you think you can’t cope. You have to go through life and think “I’m ok with this”.
Championing women in STEM and female equality motivates me. When I was an engineering student at Cambridge University, there were 18% girls, and nothing has changed now. Why hasn’t it moved on? I’m certain there are more people that we’re not talking to, or encouraging. I see myself as very ordinary, so a good inspiration. Fewer women apply for jobs here at McLaren, and when they do, they are always very bright, but often lack confidence in their capabilities.
Q5. What is the one piece of advice you would pass onto anyone reading this?
Do what you love. Then you will always be great to work with.