Womens Engineering Society: Inspiring women as engineers, scientists and technical leaders

Lucia Helena Fullalove - BSc (Chem Eng), MSc (Corrosion), MICorr

Lucia Helena Fullalove - BSc (Chem Eng), MSc (Corrosion), MICorr

Lean Practitioner - Highways Agency
This is a tale that spans almost four decades and across two continents. In reporting it I hope my experiences will inspire the younger generation of women engineers.

Lucia FullaloveI was born and brought up in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. From the time I could talk I wanted to be a medical doctor but I ended up studying Chemical Engineering at Rio de Janeiro State University graduating in 1975. You may be surprised to learn that from the class of 40, 50% were women.

After graduation I was torn between doing a master’s degree or getting a job, but the lack of money won and I went to work. Although, I enjoyed learning I wanted to influence things as well as to put in practice my innate characteristic of being bossy!

My first job was as a Quality Control and Process Control Engineer in a composite manufacturing plant, and was in the middle of nowhere. It took me six hours travelling daily to/ from work. I was responsible for selecting the materials and process resins, as well for ensuring the quality of the products which would be exposed to highly corrosive environments. The challenges of the job (one day I found a snake in the toilet) and the people I met on the way made it all worthwhile.

I have always been petite and this has not always been helpful when making a first impression on the shop floor. I looked young for my age and the foremen and production workers would doubt I had any knowledge. However, with persistence I found it was possible to overcome their initial reservations and gain respect there are occasions when not being a ‘roughty toughty’ male can have its advantages such as reluctance to shout at me as they would my male colleagues
My second job as a quality control engineer at manufacturing plant was more varied and more challenging due to the production rate. I had to learn and be responsible for the quality of the various surface treatment processes, such as: paint, hot dip galvanising, electroplating and anodizing as well training the quality inspectors. It was stressful, but never boring!
In 1983 I married a British engineer whom I met working in a train depot in Rio and came to the UK.  In order to have my degree recognised I needed to undertake a second degree. I completed an MSc in Corrosion Science and Engineering in 1984 at the University of Manchester.

When I arrived in the UK my thoughts were: ‘l am in the country where the industrial revolution happened, therefore it must be the ‘promised land’ to all engineers. In my class of 40 there were only 3 women so the gender balance was very different to the situation I had been used to in Brazil. 

It took eight months and eight hundred letters to get my first job in the UK. Some of the responses I received mentioned that engineering was a ‘dirty’ profession and as such not suited to woman. This made my blood boil but I managed to keep my Latin temper in check.

Eventually I landed a great position as Process engineer at Lotus in Hethel (Norfolk). I proposed process improvements which were later patented by Lotus.

I next accepted an employment offer from Rolls Royce Motor Cars, moving to the factory in Cheshire. I was a Research and Development Engineer in the paint laboratory planning testing procedures which could emulate the various exposure environments to get a profile on performance/ failures over time.

I followed this as a Coatings Specialist at CAPCIS Ltd, an industrial Corrosion Consultancy. This work involved travelling, world-wide, to investigate coating failures in a variety of industries. The work was fun, though I had to reconcile the travel with the responsibilities of being a mum.

I joined the Highways Agency (HA) in 1999, as an HA coating specialist to improve the quality and service life of coatings on bridges and other steel structures. During this period I helped to instigate the development of the Institute of Corrosion Coatings Applicator Training Scheme (ICATS). This Scheme has brought much-needed training for contractors working in the Industry and has resulted in a decrease of whole-life costs for structure owners.

More recently, within the HA I have been in the Lean deployment team doing Continuous Improvement, in support to Civil Service reform.  I look at processes, to improve efficiency and effectiveness.

When away from my day job I volunteer work as a STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Maths) Ambassador to encourage youngsters to take up engineering.

I have experienced challenges during my career that have included cultural change, work in a foreign language and sometimes in gaining acceptance as a woman engineer in a field that still is predominantly male. I hope that some of the old prejudices are now being overcome. 

So my message would be: Choosing engineering is still not the easy option for women in the twenty-first century.  Nevertheless, I have enjoyed a productive, enjoyable and fulfilling career, and if I had to start again I would go in exactly the same direction.

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