Wonderful Welsh Women – Interview with Lesley Kirkpatrick

6th February 2019

Tell us about your job, what does it entail day to day?

I am the CEO of educational charity and science discovery centre Techniquest. One of the most important aspects of my role is to help Wales develop a scientifically literate society and to ensure that Techniquest plays a fundamental role in supporting that aim. My focus is twofold: inspiring the next generation of young scientists through interactive STEM engagement activities and school outreach programmes; and secondly, to embed a passion for science in Welsh culture across all generations.

As part of my role I communicate with a whole host of different people, including business leaders, innovative STEM researchers, educational experts and community leaders to ensure Techniquest’s message is reaching a wide and diverse audience. As a result, my role is incredibly diverse, but equally rewarding. I not only get the opportunity to work with some of Wales’s most inspiring and innovative leaders across a range of sectors, but most importantly it means Techniquest is influencing scientific educational initiatives nationwide.

What do you enjoy most about your work? What gets you out of bed in the morning?

Seeing the significant impact Techniquest has on the STEM learning potential of young people across Wales is incredibly rewarding. Being able to support them in their educational journey and potentially inspire them to undertake a career in STEM really motivates me in my daily activities and gives me enduring job satisfaction. Equally important is Techniquest’s vision for the future which is to make STEM accessible to all ages. I have always firmly believed in Techniquest’s ability to be one of the UK’s leading science and discovery centres and as such, I am passionate about shaping its future strategy.

What has your career progression looked like? Where did you start?

Over the past 28 years I have worked across the fields of regeneration, economic development and planning in local government. My roles have included Director of Business and Development for Brecon Beacons National Park and Head of Regeneration and Development for Powys County Council.

In 2013, I decided to move into the voluntary sector to head up The Prince’s Trust Cymru as Wales Director where I was responsible for delivering educational and employability programmes for thousands of disadvantaged young people across the country. It was following this role, and thanks to the confidence it gave me within the sector, that I decided to join Techniquest as its CEO in 2016. I was confident I could use my past experience in collaborative working, developing robust partnerships amongst the public, private and voluntary sectors in order to support Techniquest in achieving its aims.

 

What first inspired you to work in this field?

After working in planning and regeneration in the public sector for 23 years, I felt I wanted to make a step change in my career and the third sector was an obvious choice for me. Here I felt I could make a real difference. I had always been acutely aware of the funding shortfalls and challenges faced by many organisations across the voluntary sector (and indeed the public sector) and I felt my acquired knowledge and experience would allow me to face these inherent challenges head on and support their development. The biggest driving factor for me was the desire to make a difference and influence positive change.

 

What has been your greatest achievement in your work to date?

Undoubtedly, my greatest achievement to date has been my appointment as CEO of Techniquest and driving the centre’s continued growth and expansion across Wales. This year I have also achieved another milestone having supported Techniquest in securing over £5 million of funding to radically transform our science discovery centre in Cardiff Bay and make science more accessible to people of all ages.

Our Science Capital project is a huge step for the charity, and will encompass an extension of our building on Stuart Street and a repositioning exercise to extend and diversify our audiences. Critically, this project is about social and cultural change and I am incredibly proud of what we have achieved so far and in such a short space of time. The Science Capital is also about securing a sustainable future for this very special charity.

What would you like to achieve in your work before you retire?

I want to make sure that our ambitious vision for Techniquest is implemented and that its future is secured.

Who were your role models when you were starting out in your career?

When I worked in Cynon Valley Borough Council in the 1990s I had a boss called Anne. I learnt so much from her, in lots of ways. She’s now Director of Managed Growth & Communities at Solihull Metropolitan Borough Council.

 

Which female role models inspire you today?

I have always been inspired by the work of American psychologist Susan Jeffers, the advice she offered about overcoming fears has been inspirational and really motivated me in my career and personal life.

Do you think that women role models are visible enough, do you think that more should be done to promote the achievements of women?

In recent years I have met and worked with many inspirational women in Wales. This is incredibly encouraging, and since starting my career I would definitely say that the percentage of women achieving success and recognition across all sectors has risen significantly. Not only that, it is also fantastic to see the professional and personal achievements of influential women being celebrated widely, and their valuable opinions and experience being utilised to truly make a difference across all professions.

 

What do you think are the barriers facing women?

Across society, I feel we are now more socially conscious about the potential gender barriers which could prevent women from achieving their potential. While I recognise that in some industries there is undoubtedly still progress to be made, I have been encouraged by what I have seen across the STEM sector, and hope that women across all professions feel they are fairly represented and supported to follow their passions.

 

Are there any barriers specific to your field of work facing women?

Traditionally we have seen a shortage of young women studying Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics subjects at GCSE, A Level and university which has then had a detrimental impact on the representation of women across professional STEM roles. At Techniquest we have been working to promote STEM engagement among young women at a classroom level and also through our discovery centre, in a bid to bridge this gender gap and prevent a future shortfall of skilled women in STEM.

What advice would you give your ten year old self?

Never give up, believe in yourself and always strive to make a positive impact.

What advice would you give to young women today?

Learning and listening really are the keys to success and reaching your potential, so I would always urge women to indulge their passion for knowledge and continuous improvement in the workplace and if it is a career in STEM you are interested in, then there are fantastic opportunities for you to explore. There’s no such thing as conventional when it comes to choosing your career, so don’t be afraid to try and give it your best.   For instance, I studied Town Planning at Cardiff University and look at me now – heading up the best science discovery centre in the UK!