Dr Carolyn Griffiths FREng is Chief Inspector and Head of the UK Rail Accident Investigation Branch
“I have always been, and will always be, interested in how things work. ”
How would you describe your current role to someone who knows nothing about engineering?
My most recent full-time role has been as the chief inspector of Rail Accident Investigation UK (RAIB). The RAIB investigates accidents and near misses on types of railways in the UK. Engineering and technical issues are often part of our investigations and recommendations but we also investigate operational, regulatory, organisation and human behaviour issues. Systematic problem solving and innovative thinking are characteristics of a good engineer and go hand-in-hand with successful investigation.
Why did you choose to go into engineering?
I have always been, and will always be, interested in how things work. I enjoyed maths and sciences and wanted to use these interests in a career where I could see changes and improvements as a result of my efforts. Engineering offered me all of those things.
What do you like most about being an engineer?
Problem solving and discovering things that may not have been understood by others before. I enjoy working as part of a multidisciplinary team and sharing learning and learning myself
Tell us about an achievement that you are most proud of.
As chief inspector of the RAIB I founded a totally new organisation, establishing the necessary legislation, recruiting the right people, designing training and establishing the right working relationships within a somewhat complex rail industry. The RAIB has become an international leader in its field, and many significant and visible changes have been made in the railways to further improve safety as a direct result of the RAIB's recommendations and work. I am proud of that.
How has being a woman in engineering changed since you started working in the engineering sector?
I joined the rail industry in 1979 and usually I was the only women in the engineering or project team. Some, and I stress only some, of my male colleagues found it hard to accept a female as an equal or sometimes as their boss. It could take a lot of hard work and determination to succeed in such environments, but it was possible. Workplace facilities for women at that time were either basic or non-existent. Culture and standards since then have very positively changed. Today I see the rail industry, and industry more generally, as equally open, welcoming and supportive of young women and men who choose engineering as their career.
How do you think gender parity in engineering can be achieved?
It depends what is meant by gender parity. I have worked senior jobs, which previously would have been occupied by men, and I have enjoyed no less favourable treatment. I think to encourage more women into engineering, and perhaps industry more generally, there needs to be some changes at the level of national policy concerning maternity and paternity leave so employers see the absence of mother and father is equally possible or likely.
I think there needs to be some real understanding as to whether being in the minority in STEM subject classrooms might deter some girls from these subjects; should STEM subjects be compulsory in later school? I believe that, where they can, companies should arrange work placements so that young female engineers and technicians are with other women so they are not so concerned about being in a minority. Careers advice and information for families needs to be able to clearly demonstrate the fantastic opportunities available to women who choose to become engineers.
What would you say to someone considering a career in engineering?
Engineering has offered me a truly rewarding career in terms of job satisfaction, and opportunities to develop my skills, travel the world and work in exciting environments. This has been combined with the stimulation of solving problems and seeing tangible results making a difference to the lives of others. What is there not to like?