Stella Clarke
Company 07.02.2024 3 Min.
“As an engineer, I get to pursue my passion for creating new things – every day!”

+++ Five questions on International Day of Women and Girls in Science +++ Strong role model: development engineer Stella Clarke +++ Driven by Diversity +++

At the BMW Group there are many women across all divisions working in science and technology. But there could be more. 11 February is UNESCO International Day of Women and Girls in Science – another reminder of the importance of female creativity and thinking in science and technology, and of the fact that women are still under-represented in this area.

A woman with passion for science is engineer Stella Clarke, an inspiring role model. Clarke studied mechanical engineering in her home country, Australia, in the US and in Munich. Since 2007 she has been working as a development engineer at the BMW Group. Here, she developed the idea of using the E Ink technology known from e-Readers to change the colour of vehicle exteriors, not only for functional use cases, but also to maximise customer personalisation. The result was the BMW iX Flow, which was first unveiled at the CES 2022 in Las Vegas.

In this interview, Stella Clarke speaks about where her love of technology came from and shares a few tips for young women considering a career in engineering.

Stella Clarke

Stella, can you tell us a bit about your everyday work? What does your workplace look like?

Stella Clarke: I work in the Research and Technology Centre in Garching, just outside Munich. There, our small E Ink team has a workspace that’s not just an office but a creative space too, with 3D printers, measuring equipment, electronic tools and many prototypes. We experiment a lot, so there’s always something going on. We also work closely with the workshop downstairs, especially now that we’re in the final stages of our next project. I love coming up with ideas and trying them out by building prototypes. When E Ink was still a really small project, I used to do far more myself. Nowadays I’m more in a management and coordination role, which is also very satisfying, to see this idea progress further. But if the chance arises, I still enjoy working hands-on. 

You’ve been fascinated by maths and tech since childhood. How did your fascination show, and what encouraged you to pursue your interest?

I think kids are natural scientists. I used to love learning about how the world works. Why the sky is blue and questions like that. I also enjoyed taking stuff apart and seeing how they work. Additionally, a very good maths score in year 3 boosted my confidence, and things seemed to snowball from there, with more successes, and with maths becoming one of my strongest subjects. Later physics and chemistry came along, and suddenly there were answers to my questions.

At my all girl school, there was a subject called “design and technology” where we could experiment. We programmed a robot arm, edited videos, did woodwork and the like. I flourished! If it hadn’t been for that, I probably wouldn’t have grown to love technology and study engineering. My parents didn’t come from a technical background, so in that respect, they couldn’t support me. My conclusion: Children can profit from inspiration and immersion to engage with science and technology.

Development engineer Stella Clarke

What do you love about your job, and what’s so exciting about a career in engineering?

As an engineer, I get to pursue my passion for creating and advancing new things – every day! The fascinating thing about my job is the fact that I can develop products that will go out into the world. I’m in pre-development, where you get to be maximally creative. E Ink is a classic example of how a small idea can grow into something that fascinates the world.

In engineering there are so many opportunities for personal development. There are people like me who love to tinker around with new ideas in the earliest stages, and there are people who like to focus on detailed quality issues and final solutions such as in series development. I started out in series development, but found myself moving more and more towards pre-development. Often, you only realise how you tick when you’re already in the thick of it.

You studied in Australia, the US and Munich. Have you noticed any structural differences around women in science?

Yes, I have. I find Germany very traditional. Upon returning to work part time after having my child, I often faced comments that gave me a bad conscience for working at all. That doesn’t happen so much in Australia or in the US. There, it’s quite normal for new mums to go back to work shortly after giving birth, often full time. Limited childcare and school opening times also make the logistics of parenting difficult. Schools end around midday, making working full time really challenging. Other countries are more advanced in terms of mindset and general setup.

What advice would you give to young women who are not sure if a career in tech is right for them?

Go for it! I’d recommend going to a local Makerspace* to look around, take a tour and see if this kind of environment inspires you. If you have a passion for tech, innovation and making things, then this is the kind of place where it will really come out. Personally, I love to work at the local Makerspace: the atmosphere is not only creative but also very encouraging. I think especially women can often profit from a bit of encouragement.

* Makerspaces are workshop-like places with machines and tools where people can come to create or invent things.

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