STEM women: ‘There is so much more to Science’


Charlotte_S‘There is so much more to Science’. Air Quality Consultant, Charlotte Smith, speaks to us about her job in a male dominated industry for International Women’s Day.


Q – Tell us a bit about your role as an Air Quality Consultant

A – An Air Quality Consultant’s role can vary daily, but the key focus is providing Air Quality Assessments for planning applications across all sectors – assessing the impact of new developments on existing air pollution in line the national air quality objectives. With the Air Quality team, my main roles include project management, client interaction and support, undertaking assessment work, providing fee proposals and providing support to other members of the team. I also solely manage the admin side of things for the team as well as our existing job and client list.

Q – What inspired you to pursue a career in Air Quality?

A – I’ve been interested in the physical world since I was really young. My grandad brought me back a volcanic rock from his holiday and gave it to me when I was about 7. From then on I was obsessed with natural disasters, which eventually led to my decision to do my degree in Physical Geography. With science, I was always naturally good at it at school so when it came to choosing my A-levels, I went to a college that allowed me to study Environmental Science, which combined my interest in geography and science. I had really good teachers throughout all of my education, which I think kept me interested in the subject.

Q – You graduated with a BSC in Physical Geography. The number of women graduating in this field dropped by 7.3% last year – a drop 3 times higher than men in that field. Does this shock you?

A – It does actually! There were quite a lot of women on my course at uni and I know most of them are now doing really well.

Q – Along with the above statistic, only 40% of women make up the physical science sector and 33% in the Architectural & Planning sector. Why do you think the statistics are so low?

A – I think social stereotypes imposed from a young age imply that there are certain jobs for men, and certain jobs for women, which is extremely unfortunate – especially for those who find their interests lie outside of those stereotypes. I still find that when I meet new people, they are surprised by my career choice. Interested – but nontheless, surprised! I do, however, hope that these statistics will increase over the next generation of workers, as equality in the professional world is an important agenda and people seem to be much more aware of that now.

Q – What advice would you have for any aspiring female science graduates?

A – To really focus on a specific field and to keep up to date with the subject. When I realised I was interested in pursuing a career in air quality, I continued to read journals and articles way past my university days. Also, something I think is key for everyone, not just women, is to not be disheartened if you are not hired straight out of university. Every industry is competitive but if you have a serious passion for a subject and you know your stuff, that will shine out during interviews and employers will recognise that.

Q – In 1970, only 7% of women made up the scientific workforce. In 1990, this had risen to 23%. However, over ten years later, the percentage of women was only 26%. What steps do you think, if any, can we make to make science more appealing to women?

A – From my own experience, I can say that I was never informed of the wide range of jobs available which go beyond laboratories and classrooms. I think many people, men included, are led to believe that a career in science equates to either being a teacher or being dressed in a white coat every day. There is so much more to science than just chemistry, biology and physics and I think young women should be made aware of this, and their potential encouraged. As previously mentioned, I believe the statistics of women in science will rise over the next generation. There are more female scientists on television that there ever were before, which I think will play a massive part in more women getting involved in science and also inspiring young women to pursue a career in it.

Charlotte works for REC’s Air Quality Team based in their Manchester office – thanks to Charlotte and the rest of the team for allowing us to raise awareness.