Watch: First woman DuPont chief inspires young NW women

The woman boss at US chemical giant DuPont’s Londonderry operation has told young women from Lisneal, St Mary’s and St Cecilia’s Colleges the company will be reaching out to them to try change gendered attitudes towards engineering.

Petra Grashoff, the first female plant manager in the company’s 50 year history at the site, explained how Kevlar, one of the firm’s star products, used in everything from NASA space missions to Mars to bullet proof jackets, was invented by a woman, the late Polish American scientist, Stephanie Kwolek.

Petra Grashoff, Plant Manager, DuPont, welcomes guests and students from Lisneal College, St. Cecilia's College and St. Mary's College to the Maydown Plant.

Petra Grashoff, Plant Manager, DuPont, welcomes guests and students from Lisneal College, St. Cecilia's College and St. Mary's College to the Maydown Plant.

Petra said: “It is important to change the traditional thinking that a job in engineering is considered something that men do and not for the girls.

“I’d like to, during my tenure as plant manager, inspire young women to find out more about engineering roles.

“It’s vital that young women are encouraged to take more of an interest in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) subjects at school and I hope that by showing them that a career in engineering is rewarding with fantastic prospects, that they will choose a job in this field.”

DuPont, Londonderry, makes Kevlar, which was invented in 1965 by the late Ms Kwolek. She died last year.

“Because of continuing research and development at DuPont, the uses for Kevlar increase all of the time,” said Petra.

“Kevlar has been used in space missions, deep sea cabling but also in more everyday things like bicycles, skateboards, trainers, helmets, I could go on.”

Petra continued: “I feel the opportunities for women in the UK are excellent and there is much more diversity than other places I have worked. “But it is vital that we inspire interest in engineering at a young age.

“As a company, we regularly reach out to schools, offering prizes for STEM related tasks as well as creating our own competitions, so we are constantly engaging with young minds and hopefully inspiring them to choose a job in this field.

“I would encourage anyone, male or female, who wants to learn more about working as an engineer, to speak to their teacher, careers advisor, lecturer, and get more information about what is possible,” continued Petra.

“It’s a big world out there and a career in engineering can not only allow you to explore it but it will also bring financial security and offer diversity, as no two days are ever the same.”

There is a growing shortage of engineers across many fields so the future is bright for those who choose a career in this industry.

Petra concluded: “I’m proof that women can make it to the top in a job more associated with men so gender should never be a reason someone decides not to pursue a career in engineering. I would encourage anyone considering a career in engineering to do some research and find out more about what’s out there. I did and I have never looked back.”