Ordinarily, if you were to see a woman with a credit card in her hand peering at the sun roof of your Ford Fiesta, you might call the police; if you were to find Sarah Haslam doing it, however, you might want to thank her.

She wouldn’t be trying to break into your car, but she would be checking it, ensuring that the sun roof’s glass is level with the metal work. Spending 20 years as a chartered engineer with Ford can breed that kind of enthusiasm, if not obsessive attention to detail.

“One of my early roles was as part of the exterior team in body engineering,” she says. “They are responsible for all the components that make up the bodywork and my bits were the windscreen wipers and the sun roof on the Fiesta.

“It was a great experience and I lived in Cologne for 14 months. When I came back, I was so proud to see my first Fiesta on the road that I diverted from my planned trip to Sainsbury’s and followed it for a few miles. I still can’t resist checking those sun roofs.”

By the time she had been with Ford for five years, she had been spotted among the dressed-down, grease-covered engineers as management material. Highlights since then have included evaluating aspects of vehicle performance at Ford’s proving ground in Belgium and visiting Melbourne to work on the development of a V6 petrol engine. At present she is a powertrain engineering manager for commercial vehicles, responsible for the quality, cost and integration of the engine, transmission and installation parts in all of Ford’s commercial vehicles worldwide.

Ms Haslam decided on a career in engineering at the age of 17, after attending a weekend course at Imperial College London organised by Women in Science Technology and Engineering. She was one of only and handful of female students out of about 70 on her mechanical engineering course at Bristol University. And she laments the fact that the proportion of women choosing a career in engineering has not increased significantly since that time, although they represent more than 20 per cent of Ford’s present intake of engineering and IT graduates. Indeed, it is estimated that over the next ten years, Britain will need more than 87,000 new engineers and technicians every year. That represents a huge opportunity for women opting for such a career.

Ms Haslam, intent on inspiring other science, technology, maths and engineering students, is keen to promote next week’s National Women in Engineering Day. “There are so many misconceptions about engineering. It has connotations of greasy mechanics and the people who come to fix your fridge or TV. But it’s vital to inform young people, their parents and teachers what a gratifying career it can be. If you look around you, everything — even the chair you’re sitting on — has been designed by an engineer.”

Ford is marking the day by inviting 60 girls from local schools to meet some of its female engineers. “We do a site tour with them and try to give them an insight into what engineering can offer.”

Ms Haslam says that she has been lucky to have had female engineering role models during her career. “I mentor a lot of the female engineers here and, if I can provide the same sort of support and encouragement that I enjoyed, that would be very rewarding.”

Terms and conditions

Typical hours Although Sarah Haslam works a longer day, typical hours are from 8am to 4pm, Monday to Friday
Qualifications Ford has training schemes from apprenticeships for 16 and 18-year-olds to graduate programmes, for which a bachelor’s degree in engineering or an appropriate science is required
Starting salary Graduate trainees start on £30,000 plus benefits.
Best bit of the job “Walking in in the morning and not knowing what might jump out and challenge me on that particular day”
Worst bit “Once you have built a great working relationship, leaving the team to move to another role”