Engineer diversifies into a new role to encourage more females into manufacturing 

Date Posted: 8 Mar, 2023

At just 29, Jennifer MacDonald’s passion for engineering has taken her from nose testing whisky to working in the North Sea and being the only female in an 80-strong offshore oil and gas team in Canada. 

But it was just over a year ago the chemical engineer landed her dream job as Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (ED&I) project manager with the National Manufacturing Institute Scotland’s (NMIS) Manufacturing Skills Academy. 

Jennifer wanted to champion the benefits of a diverse workforce and engage the next generation in the wide-ranging career opportunities in manufacturing. And her success in the newly created role has resulted in Jennifer being nominated for the University of Strathclyde’s Women in Leadership Network’s Inspire award. 

“I moved into this role because I didn’t want the status quo as I moved up in my career,” said Jennifer. “I wanted to see the industry progress beyond seeing diversity and inclusion as more than just a tick box. My ambition is that we no longer require awareness days to promote women – it should be a given.” 

Originally from Girvan in Carrick, South Ayrshire, Jennifer first got her taste for a career in engineering and manufacturing while working in a newsagent as a teenager and plucking up the courage to ask a regular customer if she could get some work experience. 

“There was a man who came in daily for a newspaper, and I knew he worked at William Grant distillery because of his badge. I had always been fascinated by what went on at the site, so one day, I eventually asked him. It turned out he was the head of laboratories and invited me in for the day. I got the chance to meet lots of engineers, technicians, and scientists, and from there, I got a summer job – one that got me involved in engineering. 

“The head of labs also became a great mentor for me. He advised chemical engineering when I asked about what I should study at university, so I started looking into universities. I looked forward to working at William Grant’s, but university opened my eyes to the world of opportunities within engineering. 

“I undertook different jobs, and my last placement was in Aberdeen when I worked in oil and gas for the first time. I didn’t realise how international it was, but immediately after graduating, I flew to Canada, where I lived remotely for three years and worked as a field engineer. I was the only woman out of 30 on land sites and one of 80 on my first offshore rig experience.” 

Jennifer spent more than six years in the job before joining NMIS which, operated by the University of Strathclyde, is a group of industry-led manufacturing research and development facilities focused on revolutionising skills, productivity, technologies and innovation to make Scotland and the UK a global leader in advanced manufacturing. 

“Manufacturing and engineering are so exciting, and it’s ever-changing and full of innovation,” she said. “NMIS is doing really cool stuff and working with inspiring companies – and all right here in Scotland.  

“Coming from a small town in Ayrshire, people think there are only traditional jobs like shipbuilding, but there’s so much more. NMIS is an example of how you don’t have to move from Scotland to get an exciting long-term professional career. Plus, there are opportunities home and away.” 

In her role, Jennifer has built an ED&I strategy from the ground up at NMIS and brought ED&I to the forefront of considerations at all levels of research projects. She has already made a name for herself as a leader in her field – regularly speaking at events and on panels, both within NMIS and on a national stage. 

An ambassador for STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), Jennifer regularly works with Government, industry organisations and the private sector and sits on numerous Boards. She has also instigated a wide range of initiatives, including a STEM work experience programme for students in disadvantaged areas involving colleagues from across NMIS centres along with working on a collaborative research project that supports autism in engineering. 

Jennifer’s passion is to make the engineering and manufacturing space more inclusive and accessible for the next generation so that more people can benefit from global careers like hers. 

“I see myself as a female engineer and want to share my story to encourage others to see the potential in an engineering career. We want to attract more young people into the manufacturing industry by sharing exciting opportunities for everyone.”