This year I’m celebrating twenty-six years with BAE Systems and I’m energised from the challenge of my current role developing new international business opportunities for BAE Systems Air business.
It’s a completely different type of job to my previous position as Head of Discipline, Electromagnetics and I’m learning on my feet fast.
A significant advantage of having STEM skills is that they are transferable. There’s no reason why women in engineering roles should feel they can’t branch out into other areas. BAE Systems is so broad in its scope and there’s such a range of options – you just have to go for it. I didn’t know anything about applied electromagnetics when I joined!
In 1996 I applied for a role as a systems engineer after leaving university with a Bachelors Degree in Electrical and Electronic Engineering. After this I managed technical modifications to systems such as the radar control display panels, and moved towards roles demanding more complex math and physics based problem solving. I then broadened out into capability management roles, working on ensuring teams had the skills, technology and tools to deliver. This led to me leading the electromagnetics discipline with its 80 engineers.
I changed roles completely in 2020 and my current job means that I’m now regularly liaising with colleagues across the world and keeping some very unusual hours! It’s an exciting and challenging position, but it’s not just the work itself that keeps me at the company. I genuinely think there’s endless opportunity if you’re willing to go for it.
BAE Systems has really changed over the years and there’s much greater awareness and support for women working in an industry with so many men. There’s a real commitment to equal opportunity and I’m seeing consistent progress and change. For example I work flexibly and this means I’ve been able to serve as a magistrate for the last 10 years. It’s been immensely rewarding to be able to give back to my community in this way and BAE Systems helps me do that. I’ve never felt that working flexibly has hurt my career.
There’s still less women than men in senior positions, particularly in engineering, and I’ve given a lot of thought over the years to why this is. Gender based stereotypes lead people to treat men and women differently and hold them to different standards. This reinforces gender bias in society. Organisations need to make systemic change and update their processes, and this, together with cultural change and much greater awareness and understanding is what really makes the difference. We can’t personally take on the burden of changing society but we make sure we do not perpetuate the bias in our own behaviour. I still have to check myself when I automatically think of aircrew as being all men for example.
The advice I’d give to women starting their careers is twofold. Be brave. It’s ok to feel uncomfortable trying new things but your skills and the things you can achieve will grow. Secondly, network your way to success by really working on your connections. Don’t underestimate the power of support from other women - and men. And get yourself a mentor. You can learn so much from someone with more experience - and they will learn a lot from you too!