"This is a Man's World" sang James Brown. And he was absolutely right of course, when he continued with the words "But it would be nothing without a woman or a girl." We'd be naive to say that the rigging world is a mixed one – it's without doubt one of the more male dominated industries. But as we worked with Artichoke this month to stage an event celebrating 100 years since women got the vote, we thought it would be interesting to catch up with Emily Egleton, our brilliant (female) design engineer to find out a bit about how she sees herself in the industry, how things have changed and of course, how she thinks things need to change in order to attract more women into, dare we say it, one of the most rewarding jobs going.
I'm definitely a woman in a man's world – I can't deny that. But that's not to say that it should be this way – I don't' think it should. Nevertheless, engineering is seen as a very male profession and it really doesn't need to be.
I knew from a young age that I wanted to work in theatre and that I was interested in backstage jobs rather than being in the limelight. I studied theatre design at university and realized very quickly that the things that I loved to do and were good at were the really intricate and precise elements of design, especially the technical drawing. I remember saying to a friend that if I could draw all day I would be really happy! After I left university I got a job as a draftsman in the drawing office at the National Theatre and I knew immediately that this line of work was where I wanted to be. My job at Unusual gives me the opportunity to work in tiny detail on the biggest shows and for me that is the most exciting and challenging thing I could be doing.
As great as this industry is however, I think that, as a woman I am forced to prove myself in a lot of situations where if I were male I would just be accepted as knowing what I was doing immediately. Over time things have changed because I have proved myself and so my gender is irrelevant a lot of the time but even now it’s not always the case. There are still times at which I feel like I’m starting on the back foot with people because they perceive me to be less competent at my job because I’m not a man. It's made me toughen up - I have definitely had to become more assertive. Having the confidence to speak or challenge people in meetings was something that I struggled with at the beginning of my career and although this is probably partly to do with age and experience, learning to not be intimidated has taken time and practice.
 There have been some occasions that have left me speechless however. I have arrived on site and been asked ‘whythe  f**k has a woman been sent to do this job?’. I have been at meetings and had everything I’ve said been ignored because ‘women don’t know what they are talking about’.  On many occasions I have had to stop people from explaining things to me because they assume I don’t have the technical knowledge to understand. Even simple things like arriving at a theatre and having to ask the venue to please unlock the female bathrooms because they didn’t expect a woman on site so they didn’t bother to open them.
Attitudes are certainly beginning to change but the fact that I am still seen as out of the ordinary because I am the only female on site 90% of the time means they are not changing fast enough.
Traditionally girls in education have not encouraged to take an interest in STEM subjects. There is absolutely no way I would have thought when I was growing up that engineering was a viable career choice for me and that’s not because of a lack of support or interest from my family but more that I didn’t see myself as capable of succeeding in a male dominated profession. Engineering as a whole has seen a slump in interest from both sexes but I think that’s starting to change with the education system promoting STEM subjects for everyone. I also think that engineering can be perceived as dull which it absolutely isn’t. Engineering doesn’t just mean sitting in an office staring at a computer. Every single day is different. I could be designing a system to fly a piece of scenery in a huge west end theatre one day, drawing a rigging scheme for a  TV show the next and working out how to hang an exhibition in a gallery the day after that. I have travelled around the world because of my career, worked in China, Africa, South Korea, Canada and America as well as all over Europe and met such a huge array of wonderful, interesting people. The sense of pride and satisfaction that I get from realising the projects I work on is immense and I shouldn’t be limited in what I can achieve because of my gender.    
Girls and young women need positive examples and role models. They need to be shown that they can succeed in STEM subject not just be told that it is possible. They also need to be educated on huge variety of career paths available to them within the field.
My hope for the future is that gender balance within the industry is not a conversation that we will still need to be having. I want to see an equal number of men and women in management positions as well. Gender equality has come a long way since the suffrage movement but it’s still a big issue, evidenced by the gender pay gap and #metoo movement amongst other things.  
Personally, I want to be able to encourage girls that the simple fact of them being born female absolutely does not limit their options within this industry.  
Thankfully I have never felt that being a woman hinders me at Unusual Rigging. My ability to do my job and thrive in my profession is not predicated by my gender and the opportunities and support that I am given are not affected by it either. I am treated on merit and that is the way it should be.
The fact I am able to talk candidly about my experiences proves that promoting gender equality within the industry is something which Unusual Rigging fully supports.