How Springboard has increased applications from female engineers and scientists (Part 3 of 3)

This blog originally appeared on the Cambridge Association for Women in Science and Engineering website.

In my previous blog I discussed how women can help male leaders to realise the value of their individual strengths and the potential for diversifying their work force beyond the usual range of characteristics that they look for. This article goes on to look at how we changed our recruitment process in light of this new realisation, and the dramatic results that followed.

We started with increasing our ability to understand what mattered to various people in their professional careers. We split the problem into three steps: recruitment, retention, and promotion. It rapidly became obvious that we had to start at the first of these, and then shift focus upwards as the benefits moved up through the company.

Keith Turner

We introduced several changes to our recruitment process. Adverts were updated to remove gendered language. For example, saying “We are looking for candidates with outstanding technical skills” seemed just an honest request to me, but I came to realise that some really good candidates would be put off because they weren’t confident that they would meet the requirement. All candidates were given a guidance document to help them prepare. Upon arrival, they got a tour by a member of staff similar to themselves who could act as a role model. Candidates were asked to start talking about one of their own projects, to help get into the swing of the interview before tackling the more challenging technical questions. We spoke at more length in the interview about the many training and mentoring opportunities at our company.

All this was progress in the right direction, but it didn’t really get to the root of the problem, which was insufficient applications from women. If they don’t apply, we can’t offer them jobs. So our focus turned to how to get more women to apply for our jobs.

We started a ‘Women in Technical Consultancy’ scheme, with the aim of reaching out in a personal way to potential applicants. The key attribute of this scheme is a variety of soft ways to get to know the company before taking the step of applying and coming for interview. For example, applicants are welcome to have an informal phone call, or drop by for coffee and a look around. We give talks at the university and hold open evenings at our labs. There are internship options as a possible first step to something longer-term, and there is the potential for 6 – 18 month placements. The literature for the scheme also makes prominent reference to some of the great features of our company: our ethical policy, STEM and outreach work, focus on learning. Every person in our company loves these features, male and female alike, so why not make it known in a way that attracts candidates?

Lucy Bennett did a placement at Springboard. Find out more about her experience in part 2 of this blog.

The scheme has been a satisfying success. Applications from women grew every year, starting originally at 13% and rising, four years later, to 33%. And so now that we’ve got many more applying, and a great interview process, we are starting to get some cracking members of staff joining us thanks to this initiative. With that part of the process showing results, we are able to move onto the later stages of retainment and promotion. I’m looking forward to that challenge!

The key to this success is for the manager to put themselves inside the heads of the candidates. It is really not that difficult, if only the manager has a sufficiently open mind to give it a try, which many don’t. I tend to think of it like this: applying for a job is scary. You might be asked things you don’t know. You might be rejected. You might make a silly mistake. We can all relate to that, men and women alike. So by making the application process a little gentler, and allowing confidence to build steadily over several touch points, candidates are more able to perform at their best. This is a good thing for all candidates, and helps us get high quality people including those who were always good enough, but find it hard to prove in the interview.

How to help others understand your personal strengths during an interview (Part 2 of 3)

This blog originally appeared on the Cambridge Association for Women in Science and Engineering website.

In the previous blog I talked about the idea of women conveying the value of their strong personal characteristics to help make the benefits obvious to male colleagues. What would be an example of this? And how can you take control of the situation yourself?

Let’s imagine you’re in an interview, and you’ve just been asked a difficult technical question. What sort of reaction does the interviewer want to see? Personally, I look for a resourceful, intelligent and slightly humble answer. I hope to see good solid baseline academic knowledge of the subject. Then I like to see candidates expand on that knowledge, perhaps by giving examples of where they have seen relevant technical use of the knowledge in industrial process or products. I am even more impressed when candidates can put the first two together to make an educated guess at the answer to the question along with some predictions of likely areas of difficulty. The icing on the cake is when the candidate explains how they have tackled something relevant in the past, and are able to admit what went wrong and how they have learned from the experience to do it better next time.

Dr Keith Turner

I can still remember one of the early interviews where the answer was roughly as follows. First, the candidate threw up some equations, apparently unconcerned that a few were wrong. Then he talked about the time he mended his motorbike, before making a not-very-accurate guess at the answer. I appreciated his willingness to have a go, but really it wasn’t a particularly impressive answer and I was worried that he might be bluffing. More recently we had a much quieter candidate who gave only very limited explanations of the underlying science, and didn’t expand into real-world examples. When we coaxed her through the question, she did actually know the equations, but it was hard work to draw the knowledge out. I suspect given sufficient time, she would go away and work it out accurately and check each step, but there wasn’t the opportunity to show that in the interview format.

You can help the interviewer by being yourself. For some candidates, their advantage could be diligence and honesty, so a good answer could go like this: “Hmm, that’s a difficult question. I know from my university course that the fundamental equation is xyz. There’s another important extension to that theory which is more accurate. I can’t recall it right now, but I would go and look that up to make sure it’s accurate and then apply it to this problem. I haven’t made a widget like this myself before, but can I tell you about a different practical challenge I have faced which I think shows the same range of skills? I once made a dongle out of material x because I wanted to learn more about machining that type of substance. It didn’t work first time because the holes were too big. This is because I didn’t allow for shrinkage in that material, so now I always find out about the things that might go wrong and then check with someone else before spending any money.”

Lucy Bennett talks about her year at Springboard. She hopes this movie will inspire others!

An answer along these lines would indicate to me a candidate who has a solid attitude backed up with examples of technical credibility. You could even prepare your own private case study of some practical and theoretical work and then weave it into whichever question you are asked.
Perception is in the eye of the observer, and the more you can do to show the employer that your skills are valuable to them, the more chance you will have of success.

Lucy Bennett at work at Springboard

This initiative by the candidate to ensure the employer understands their strengths is one of the two strategies to improve diversity in the recruitment process. The other is to mitigate unconscious bias on the part of the employer. My journey of discovery on that matter is the subject of the next blog.

Male leaders need your help to address gender inequality in the workplace – here’s how (Part 1 of 3)

This blog originally appeared on the Cambridge Association for Women in Science and Engineering website.

Women make up 50% of the population, 15% of the engineering graduates, but only 11% of the engineering workforce. We are missing out on huge amounts of talent which is desperately needed in our workplaces. So what can we do about it?

In my experience, it is pretty rare to find deliberate discrimination towards female workers. Most professional managers I know are just trying their best to find the right people to do high quality work for their clients. But unconscious bias can creep in unseen. Everyone has got their own personal experience of life on which to draw, and this means that men and women naturally relate to the strengths that have helped them achieve their own successes. One of the key challenges to tackling unconscious bias is to open people’s eyes to the benefits of characteristics which they don’t have themselves. It can be remarkably difficult to persuade people to do this.

Dr Keith Turner

Here’s an analogy. Humans can see colours from red to violet. Bees have a spectrum shifted to shorter wavelengths, and can see from orange through to ultra-violet. As a result, many flowers have developed ultra-violet colours to attract pollinating bees. Now, if I choose a bunch of flowers as a gift for my mother, am I going to visit the shop armed with a UV light so I can pick one with beautiful UV patterns? Of course not. I am a human, and I am going to value the colours that I can see, especially those that my mother appreciated last time. Am I discriminating against bees? Not at all. In fact I like bees. They are good for the environment and make honey. It’s just that their view of my mother’s flowers isn’t relevant and so doesn’t even enter my mind. On the other hand, if I want to select a gift of flowers for my mother to put in her garden, then I really ought to give a bit more consideration to the bees’ visual spectrum. Otherwise, she’s going to have no pollination and a barren flower bed.

Katya Goodwin describes what a gap year at Springboard has done for her.

So to help companies gain the benefits of diversifying the workforce, one important thing people can do at work is to try to help future colleagues to understand the value of their individual strengths.

I personally have gone through a great learning curve on this. Through various experiences and conversations, I have come to appreciate with great clarity the strength diversity amongst the team adds to our business. In much the same way as natural selection does in nature, diversity adds quality and durability to the solutions we produce. I reached a stage where I actively wanted to seek out that diversity. But how to do so was a remarkably difficult challenge, which I now realise required two strategies. One is to help women to be aware that any colleague is subject to unconscious bias, so they need to make their strengths obvious. The second is to change the company’s approach to mitigate that unconscious bias.

Katya Goodwin at work at Springboard

The good thing about the first strategy is that it is largely under the control of the individual, so in the next blog I’ll talk in more detail about how candidates can make their strengths obvious to interviewers during the recruitment process.

Profile of Rob Udale: an engineer at Springboard

What is a typical project like?

During my two years at Springboard there has been no such thing as a typical project – having worked across a range of products from surgical tools and drug delivery devices to innovative consumer care products. The scope of the projects has varied from generating concepts and developing functional prototypes, to working with suppliers to diagnosing and verifying causes of products failure.

At Springboard we are big believers that any theoretical model needs to be validated experimentally so project work is almost always split between the office and the lab. This could desk-based work such as technology scouting, first pass calculations and the design of mathematical models, CAD or spending time in the lab designing and performing rigorous experiments and testing procedures and building prototypes.

A project usually lasts a few months, often because it is useful for both ourselves and the client to quantise the work along the product development life cycle to ensure clear deliverables are met at each stage and that the project remains guided by the client’s needs. The development of a device from start to finish can therefore be many phases rolled together lasting much longer than a few months.

This varied nature of work from project to project, alongside the fast pace in which we take a product from a User Requirements Specification to concept to prototype and finally to a manufacturable, verified, and validated product is extremely satisfying.

All our projects must meet our rigorous ethical policy, so you can always be proud of what you are doing.

Who are your clients?

Our clients are typically large multinational pharmaceutical or device manufacturing companies, although I have also worked with safety critical consumer device companies and smaller medical device companies who specialise in certain treatments.

Almost all our clients have a global presence and so face to face meetings can involve trips to the United States or continental Europe.

What do you think about your role?

It is enormously satisfying to be working in the medical technology space, partly because the developments can be fast-paced, partly because the cooperative environment is highly stimulating and partly because the products we are working on are really helping to transform people’s lives.

The atmosphere at Springboard, the integrity with which the company operates, and the amazing people I get to work with all make my job even more enjoyable and fulfilling.

At Springboard we are encouraged to be involved in all aspects of the business including sales, marketing and project leadership, as well as being closely consulted on decisions that affect the company and the working environment. This collaborative and inclusive attitude to company-wide engagement is extremely gratifying.

Profile of Thom Wyatt: an engineer at Springboard

Thom is a Project Engineer working mainly on innovative medical devices at Springboard since 2015.  Thom explains more…

“A project can last many months, but as we develop a product or understand a client’s problem it tends to be convenient to break work into 2-3 month phases.

The varied nature of the work makes the job interesting.  Springboard focuses on technically challenging work and has a rigorous ethical policy, so you can always be proud of the work you are doing.

I have worked on many different aspects of devices such as drug delivery devices, and I have worked across the spectrum of product development, such as early-stage concept development, creating proof-of-principle demonstrators, complex root cause investigations, continuous improvement and independent technical reviews.

We work in both the office and the lab.  We might be doing CAD or mathematical models at our computer, but also running labs tests or building prototypes.

There are naturally peaks and troughs in the amount of client work and, because Springboard chooses to have no internal projects, any break in client work is used to learn something new, help on other projects or contribute to other aspects of running the business.

Working together

Our clients tend to be large, multinational medical device or pharmaceutical companies, so face-to-face meetings might be in the UK but could equally be in the United States, continental Europe, or elsewhere.  For drug delivery projects, we sometimes work for the device manufacturer or sometimes for the pharma company.

I love the interesting and varied nature of the work. The team are all friendly and welcoming.

One of the best things about Springboard is its flexibility – we manage to combine doing excellent work while actively removing unnecessary hindrances that prevent the job getting done. We are encouraged to be involved in all aspects of the business including sales, marketing and project leadership, as well as being closely consulted on decisions that affect the company and the working environment.”

Thom has a MEng in Mechanical Engineering and BSc in Psychology, and worked in energy consultancy for 2 years before joining Springboard.

If you would like to get in touch we would be happy to hear from you.

Springboard’s primary school partner gains national science award

Springboard believes in inspiring the next generation of scientists and so engages in outreach activities at all ages. For the youngest children, we work with Fen Drayton primary school to run an after-school science club in autumn term. The aim of the club is to encourage the most enthusiastic scientists in Year 6 to go beyond what they learn in school and do “real science”, and was run last year by our Year in Industry student, Lucy Bennet. We also contributed to their science day by purchasing safety glasses and running one of the experiments.

Fen Drayton has been working hard on a number of science initiatives, and this was recently recognised when they were awarded the Primary Science Quality Mark, a UK-wide scheme to enable primary schools to evaluate, strengthen and celebrate their science provision. Engagement with outside organisations such as our company gained a specific commendation in their report:

“You have really embraced the value and importance of enriching your provision for science and have organised an impressive programme of visits, visitors and activities for your pupils. You are now working on using these experiences to develop the pupils’ science capital and their awareness of where science learning can take them in the future.”

We are proud to be part of the invigorating and outward-looking scientific community of Cambridge, and would like to congratulate Fen Drayton on the award which will help to inspire the next generation of scientists for Cambridge and beyond.

Springboard’s Lucy Bennett Wins Engineering Award

Springboard was proud to attend the regional Engineering Development Trust (EDT) awards evening on 3rd July at Arup, London. The awards evening celebrated the successes of Year in Industry (YINI) students throughout the South East region and was an opportunity for STEM professionals across various fields to come together to support up and coming talent in the industry.

Lucy Bennett presenting from her standSpringboard’s own YINI student, Lucy Bennett, was one of 8 finalists who gave a short presentation on the contribution they had made to the company during their year. Lucy discussed many aspects of her year including the diverse role she had fulfilled in working through various stages of projects including writing proposals, weekly presentations to clients and writing sections of reports. Her passion for promoting diversity within Engineering was clear to see through the various initiatives she had driven throughout her year at Springboard; these include being a delegate at WES conferences, attending IET Women in Engineering Awards evenings as well as designing and running a 5-week STEM project at a local primary school. Lucy also demonstrated her considerable technical skill through a case study on a recent heart surgery project where her ability to contribute to projects at a high level was evident.

Lucy Bennett presentingAll eight Year in Industry Students gave phenomenal presentations; their achievements and the contributions they had made to their companies were exceptional by any standard. These ranged from writing a white paper on sustainable transport in Wales, to improving the performance of a weather anemometer by up to 30%. The two students chosen to progress onto the national finals in September were Eloise Knights from Carbon footprint, and Springboard’s Lucy Bennett. Both students showed solid technical understanding of their subjects, proficient presentation skills and an undeniable enthusiasm for Engineering.

The audience, of around 150-200 STEM professionals and fellow Year in Industry Students, were asked to submit a vote for the Audience Choice award, sponsored by Bion. Jane High, Director of Bion, announced Lucy Bennett as the winner for the award, and gave a special mention to Springboard for the opportunities they gave Lucy that allowed her to drive the STEM initiatives forwards.

Further awards included the South East Year in Industry Student of the Year which was presented to Evie Raynes for her creative video entry, as well as three highly commend students, Lucy Bennett, Springboard Pro, Ross Brogan, Centrica, and Dierbhile Sharkey, Bion. You can see Lucy’s video here.

Lucy Bennett receiving audience choice awardOverall, the event was great opportunity to showcase the up and coming talent in the industry and Springboard looks forward to the next stage at the Future Industry Leaders event in September.

  • EDT run various STEM initiates for people aged 11-25
  • The finals of the Future Industry Leaders Awards are free to attend and are held on 6th September at the IET. Register your attendance here
  • Lucy Bennett has been part of the Year in Industry scheme; to find out more about how taking on a Year in Industry student could benefit your business, or consider participating in the scheme yourself, information can be found here

Springboard attends WES Annual Conference 2017

Springboard recently attended this year’s annual WES conference, ‘Get connected: Empowering women and enriching careers’, held at University College London (UCL). The event brought together Engineers from diverse backgrounds and disciplines, offering networking opportunities as well as a programme of talks packed with information, advice and coaching.

Professor Nigel Titchner-Hooker, UCL Dean of Engineering, opened the conference with his insight into the necessity of diversity within Engineering. Further speakers followed including Dr Andrew Tyler CBE who gave a perceptive keynote on ‘Men as Allies’ which addressed the topic of shifting the way gender equality is viewed by men from ‘apathetic’ to ‘positive’. When discussing why we need more women in Engineering, Tyler reasoned ‘we’re missing out on half of the brain power and talent of the population – and why would we want to do anything like that?’

The morning plenary, ran by Madeleine Morgan, focused on confidence and communication in career decision-making and revolved around the pyramid of career success. This emphasised the importance of the different aspects of career progression – from setting ambitious goals to having the resourcing around you to succeed.

Perhaps one of the most insightful parts of the day was a panel of representatives from three women’s networking groups discussing the value and role of such groups. Camilla Ween, WTS London, Maxine Symington, WiN UK, and Liz Bacon, STELLAR debated questions from the audience which ranged from the difficulty in naming a group – do you have ‘woman’ in the title? – to what are the key objectives a group should have. This was challenged and complimented by audience contributions of their first-hand experiences of women’s networking groups.

Further talks informed attendees on a range of topics from registration and chartership, to flexible working and how to get your employer on-board. Jacqui Hogan from MentorSET spoke about the many benefits for mentors and mentees, as well as how the MentorSET scheme is playing a crucial role in encouraging girls and women to pursue a career in STEM.

Overall, the day gave Engineers the opportunity to come together to focus on the issues women face in STEM, learn about techniques for overcoming adversity, and ultimately be more successful Engineers. The conference proved invaluable in linking up female Engineers in an industry that is particularly sparse of women.

Lucy Bennett, Springboard’s Year in Industry Student and delegate at the conference, has since drawn up an action list of events, ideas and discussions with the aim of increasing female representation within Springboard and the Engineering industry.

Useful links:

  • Women’s Engineering Society, WES, is a charity and professional network of women engineers, scientists and technologists
  • Madeleine Morgan is based in Cambridge and offers various types of coaching from early career to personal development
  • WTS London networking group focuses on advancing women in transport
  • Women in Nuclear, WiN UK, looks to address the industry’s gender balance, improve the representation of women in leadership and to engage with the public on nuclear issues
  • STELLAR women’s network aims to inspire, promote, support and collaborate to address the lack of women in IT, Engineering, Mathematics and Science professions
  • MentorSET is a successful mentoring scheme to help women working in STEM which has been running since 2002 and has created many hundreds of mentoring pairs across the UK

Careers evening in Cambridge 9th Feb 2017

Join us at The Cambridge Brew House on Thursday 9th February from 18:30 – 20:30 to find out more about a career at Springboard.


Our consultants, including recent graduates, will be available to talk about their experiences, the sorts of projects they have worked on, and what it is like to be part of a small and rapidly growing company. Food and drink will be provided.