McLaren Racing fosters future female leaders in STEM

by Petrol Mum
McLaren Racing 60 Scholars group

McLaren Racing recently completed 60 Scholars, an initiative to encourage and support the next generation of female leaders in STEM. Named to mark the team’s 60th anniversary this year, the programme aimed to empower 60 aspiring female leaders of tomorrow and open up pathways to a career in STEM.

60 Scholars is an integral part of McLaren’s overall sustainability strategy, and together with its partners, Google, Cisco and Cadence, McLaren Racing delivered an exclusive series of masterclasses designed to inspire and equip successful candidates with the knowledge for a future in STEM.

“The programme has been a huge success for McLaren for a number of reasons – we have identified and built relationships with 60 exceptional young women in STEM who we will actively promote opportunities in the team with, the ambition being that some of them join McLaren in the near future!

Secondly, working with our partners on this programme has brought benefits as they bring their technology expertise and global footprint that provides unique insight and breadth to our scholars. Finally, many of our team have been involved in designing and delivering the programme and are huge supporters of the scholars themselves – this continues to raise visibility within the team on our DEI strategy and the programmes we have in place,” reflected Kate O’Hara Hatchley, Head of Diversity, Early Careers and Development at McLaren Racing.

Given the success of their first cohort and the engagement of their partners, McLaren Racing would love to revisit this kind of programme in the future. Supporting underrepresented talent to enter STEM careers, and motorsport more specifically, is a key strategic priority for McLaren Racing. Programmes such 60 Scholars, which identifies, supports, and builds relationships with such talent, are pivotal to this strategy.

For young women who are looking towards a career in the STEM fields, Ms O’Hara Hatchley’s advice is, “Do it!”

STEM careers span a huge breadth of disciplines and industries, and STEM organisations will increasingly need more and more talent joining their organisations so these young women will be joining an exciting, fast-paced and ever-changing world.

“Whilst we have seen some positive change to the number of women joining these industries, there’s more work to do in order to address the gender balance which in turn ensures that a diversity of thought, problem solving, and approach drives forward innovation. The 60 Scholars programme aimed to identify and support 60 high potential young women in order to illustrate the breadth of opportunity whilst also equipping them with unique skills, knowledge and confidence so that they can drive forward their dream career,” added Ms. O’Hara Hatchley.

Driven Women Magazine has profiled three of the 60 Scholars participants to discover more about them and the knowledge they gained from this fantastic programme that was implemented by McLaren Racing. Please meet Mikal Semere, Lara D’Amico, and Ngaman Cheng.

Mikal Semere is a second-year undergraduate student from the Imperial College London who is working towards an MEng in Biomedical Engineering and planning to specialise in mechanical bioengineering next year. For Ms Semere the wide range of problems being tackled in the STEM fields through inspiring innovation and creativity is why this area is so wonderful to learn about. However, the mechanical engineering in Formula 1 has always excited her due to the fast-paced nature of the sport and the constant development with seemingly infinite room to learn and develop skills.

“During my experience with the 60 Scholars programme, I have gained a simultaneously more accurate and broader perspective of the industry as I learned about not only the multiple paths into Formula 1, but the range of jobs in so many different aspects of the field. I am especially grateful that this programme has given me a strong starting point and tools to build my skills and knowledge and direct my interest and enthusiasm into practical next steps for my career,” said Ms. Semere.

After a fairly quick, approachable application process consisting of a written and video interview stage; the 60 Scholars programme got started at the end of June 2023 and ran until the in-person wrap event at the end of August. Ms Semere’s summer was filled with regularly scheduled Webex masterclasses, talks and Q&A sessions. There were a variety of different online formats with different sized groups and sessions with a longer presentation versus a more heavily question-based setup.

“This kept the programme very engaging and made it easy to get the most we could out of it especially as all the staff we met both online and later in person immediately made us feel comfortable and gave us so many open and honest answers to all the questions we pestered them with!” Ms. Semere told Driven Women Magazine.  

The wrap event at the McLaren Technology Centre ran all day starting with talks and Q&A from some inspirational, successful women in the industry and later the chance to tour around the McLaren facilities in the afternoon including a pit stop challenge, trying the race simulators and much more. But Ms. Semere’s favourite part was seeing the production room, a huge space where all the parts were put together and tested manually. The limited machinery used in manufacturing made the space feel very special and helped Ms. Semere understand a little bit of the family-like McLaren culture that she heard about from the staff.

This 60 Scholars programme has given Ms. Semere so many takeaways.  From Kenny Kong showing them the importance of perseverance to Dr Sophie Darragh encouraging them to ask and learn more about what interests them when in the workplace, even if outside of their specific job description.

Participants were even advised how to conduct themselves in the business space with CFO Laura Bowden telling them about  the importance of forming good connections in the industry. The McLaren Racing staff had so many different things to say and were from huge range of educational and career backgrounds, which was reassuring to Ms. Semere.

“This never seemed to be a barrier although sometimes you may have to take a longer route! However, it also drove home the common message that your career is very personal to you, and it is most important to just optimise your opportunities to learn and develop both your technical and soft skills in order to become the best version of yourself,” concluded Ms. Semere.

Lara D’Amico is about to start her second year of BEng Automotive Engineering studies at Loughborough University, with a view to then completing a postgraduate degree in Motorsport Engineering. Ms. D’Amico’s ultimate goal is to pursue a career that fulfils her passion for high performance vehicles and enjoyment for problem solving. So, working with McLaren, through the 60 Scholars Programme, has been an incredible way for her to gain a deeper knowledge and understanding of the technical and logistical aspects of how a motorsport team operates. It has also given Ms. D’Amico a clearer understanding of where to direct her hard work in order to turn her dreams of becoming a future leader in motorsport engineering into reality.

“Over the course of the two-month programme, we attended a range of highly insightful Q & A ‘Power Hours’ with McLaren’s STEM ambassadors; networking sessions and technical masterclasses, delivered in collaboration with Cadence, Cisco and Google. In the spirit of McLaren’s Continuous Improvement, we were given the opportunity to provide feedback throughout and vote on topics of interest; this was then used to shape the contents of the programme, which really maximised the value of the learning experience for us,” said Ms. D’Amico.

McLaren Racing 60 Scholars at McLaren Technology Centre

For Ms D’Amico the wrap event at the McLaren Technology Centre was an amazing opportunity to meet the other scholars in person and she thoroughly enjoyed hearing about everyone’s stories and own personal journeys. Seeing the broad range of diverse interests and educational backgrounds amongst the other scholars, showed that McLaren’s commitment to fostering diversity is not limited to the motorsport industry, but extends to the entire field of STEAM was also a great experience for Ms. D’Amico.

“I have come away from this programme having received several pieces of advice and invaluable insights from industry professionals, but if I had to sum my learnings up into a single key takeaway, it would be: ‘When faced with a setback, perspective is everything’.

My professional life will most likely be full of setbacks, but the ease with which I overcome these hurdles will be dictated by the mindset with which I choose to approach them. A hiccup in my career path could be taken as an opportunity to reflect and self-improve; a mistake made in a professional environment will be a valuable learning experience for me to ensure it doesn’t happen again; and by adopting the right perspective and learning to overcome the unique challenges facing women wanting to work in a traditionally male-dominated field, being a woman in STEM will not be a hinderance, but a strength!” revealed Ms. D’Amico.

Ngaman Cheng is heading into her second year of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Bath. The McLaren 60 Scholars programme has provided Ms. Cheng with much more confidence surrounding her future career progression. Hearing from women in executive positions as well as female engineers at the wrap event has proven to Ms. Cheng that despite the male-dominated nature of STEM fields, women were still excelling at the executive level.

“As I’m still at a relatively early stage in my career, I intend to remain open-minded about the direction of my career path. Despite this, in the last couple of years, I have developed an intense interest and intend to gain more experience in the autonomous vehicles sector,” Ms. Cheng shared with Driven Women Magazine.

Ms. Cheng came across the programme as she had previously registered an interest in work experience with McLaren. After sending through her CV and a video interview submission, Ms. Cheng was delighted to have been selected for the programme and over the last two months she has been able to gain insightful knowledge from women who are far into their STEM careers, discussing their triumphs as well as professional setbacks.

McLaren Racing 60 Scholars at McLaren Technology Centre

“The wrap event was my favourite moment of the programme as I got to meet all the other women in the programme and hear about the different stages of their careers that they’re currently in. Not only was it such a diverse group of incredible women, but it was also diverse in the sense of age, profession and aspirations across the STEM field. Through the programme I’ve met so many inspiring people and made some great friends whom I intend on staying in contact with,” said Ms. Cheng.

The overwhelming message from everyone who spoke to the 60 Scholars participants was to always take risks and to put themselves out there despite any hesitation they may have. Also, that there are many non-traditional ways of entering the automotive industry requiring a range of skills, with a specific emphasis on soft skills like the ability to communicate effectively, therefore they don’t need to be on the path of an engineering degree to enter a Formula 1 career.

Here’s to seeing many of these young women working in a Formula 1 team soon and congratulations to McLaren Racing for undertaking such an ambitious programme to inspire them!

Photographs by McLaren Racing.

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