THE first woman in the world to manage a blast furnace says an ordeal at the hands of a stalker spurred her on to succeed in the workplace.
Chocolates were left on her desk, notes placed on her car windscreen and she was courted with anonymous bouquets of flowers.
But it was a message saying “Hello blondie, you drove too fast last night on your way home from the pub,” that compelled Jane Atkinson, from Middlesbrough, to take action.
The ordeal began during a university placement at male-dominated British Steel in Redcar, now SSI, when the chemical engineering student was just 18.
“British Steel was brilliant. They investigated where the flowers came from and they analysed the handwriting and when I was followed home one night they called the police,” she said.
Officers turned up at British Steel to investigate its personnel files and when the suspect was identified as an employee her bosses asked if she wanted him sacked.
“I just wanted to complete my placement,” she explained. “He was just a sad guy and when the other guys found out he got a good kicking,” she told an audience at Teesside University at an event to celebrate International Women’s Day where speakers included Newcastle MP Chi Onwurah and academic Samantha Goonerante.
“I was never made to feel awkward or treated as a troublemaker and I was given the courage to stand up to abuse, I will not tolerate it with my staff,” explained Miss Atkinson, now a Teesside University Honorary graduate and vice president (operations) at SembCorp Utilities power plant, Wilton, near Redcar.
She was technical advisor at the Teesside Blast Furnace before moving into operations, managed the Cast House at Redcar and become the first woman to manage a blast furnace in 2004.
She also spent almost five years in Alabama, USA, and faced rattlesnakes and poisonous spiders on a regular basis, something she took in her stride after everything the Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering had endured.
“I now spend a large amount of my time getting boys and girls into engineering to ensure the sustainability of manufacturing," she added. "My job is still exciting and demanding, it’s a career I’ve loved and continue to do so.”