27 Jul 23

Inspiring women in fleet: Nats Gilchrist

The young EV Integration Engineer is helping bp pulse develop its charging network

At every level from university, through middle management to boards of directors, the world of engineering appears to be dominated by men. But perhaps new industries, with no legacy cultures or hierarchies, offer fresh opportunities for women.

EV charging infrastructure provides an ideal case in point, a fledgling industry, where even the most established companies have no long-term experience.

“In the oil and gas industry, which has such a long legacy, everything is set up and defined, which is great because you learn what good looks like, but your opportunity to make an impact is much smaller,” said Nats Gilchrist, EV Integration Engineer, bp pulse.

Push yourself

She seized the opportunity to transfer from her role as a subsea mechanical engineer with the energy giant to become a project engineer with the multinational’s electric vehicle charging operation. The best advice Gilchrist has received, she said, is to push yourself into roles or conversations where you might feel uncomfortable, because these are the environments where you can learn the most and have the greatest impact.

Her first EV job was as a project engineer on bp pulse’s flagship charging station on Park Lane, the second most expensive street in the London version of Monopoly. The ambitious project involved the installation of 22 50kW chargers in a hub designed originally for fleets, with dedicated bays for Uber drivers.

There was no playbook for a charging station of this scale, let alone dealing with the complications of construction in a city centre location, so site-specific decisions had to be made, rather than follow an established blueprint.

“I found it really exciting and energising,” said Gilchrist, adding that in the two years since the Park Lane hub opened, bp has already developed full commissioning procedures and handover checklists.

“We have become a lot more systematic in our approach, because you cannot have one person on site every day of the week when you are delivering 200 to 300 sites per year. It’s about ensuring that we do not lose quality as we scale up.”

Another key learning from Park Lane was the need to avoid the construction of an underground electricity substation to provide the power required - above ground is much more appealing, said Gilchrist.

Her operational experience has mainly been in the UK, but she has also been involved in all the countries where bp pulse has an interest, most recently supporting the US team.  

Network development

While bp pulse’s internal processes for building a charging station have become significantly quicker as it builds its network, third party variables such as resolving legal issues with landlords and securing power supply from Distribution Network Operators (DNOs) still have the capacity to delay projects.

“At least we can now see what power is available instantly, and what upgrades will be available in future,” said Gilchrist. “So, for example, it might be that we can’t get all the power we want until 2030, but we might be able to install a lower voltage in the shorter term and secure additional power at a later date to future-proof the site.”

Ultimately, she anticipates that the power ratings of chargers will continue to rise, with 300kw to 400kW charge points already being installed, and further technologies emerge, such as battery storage and battery swapping.

Engineering as a career

This is clearly a new and innovative industry, but how easy is it to navigate as a woman?

“Ask someone to close their eyes and picture an engineer and they are conditioned to imagine a man,” said Gilchrist. “In the workplace you will find yourself as the only woman in a meeting. It’s less about hardship and more about otherness, because you are aware of it, and until engineering becomes more gender balanced this otherness will continue to exist. But being a female engineer at bp I have experienced no issues and the culture is fantastic.

“And just because women aren’t experiencing hardships doesn’t mean we can now put our feet up – we have to keep doing the good work that other people have done before us. We have come a long way, and I imagine the workplace was different for my mentors 20 or 30 years ago, but the dial has not moved enough. In the UK, only 15% of engineers are women.”

Representing women

As an employer, bp has a women’s international network, and when the pandemic lockdowns brought events to a close, Gilchrist set up an internal podcast with another young colleague, interviewing colleagues about their experiences at bp, from new starters to senior leaders. The podcast addresses a wide range of subjects such as International Women’s Day, women in engineering, life offshore, and intersectionality [which recognises that everyone experiences discrimination in their own unique way, and that it’s important to acknowledge everything that can lead to people feeling and being marginalised, such as gender, race and sexual orientation].

“As a woman in engineering, I’m often in the minority at work, but I’m aware that being white in the UK, I’m also in the majority,” said Gilchrist. “While certain things do impact me, I’m also conscious of my privilege. Everyone has their unique situation and different things that affect them. We must understand and be open to those nuances so we can work together on finding solutions.”

For more portraits and interviews with Inspiring Women in Fleet, click here

Images: bp


Authored by: Jonathan Manning