As a mathematician, I'm a problem solver. Using logic solves most problems, but the fact that we have an International Women's Day suggests that we haven't yet solved the problem of equal opportunities for women. That doesn't seem rational to me, as we've all got the same grey matter, it's just what you choose to do with it!
I'm lucky to work in an environment where what you bring to the role is the only thing that matters, not your gender or background. There are still fewer women than men in engineering roles, but this has changed a lot since I joined BAE Systems as a software engineer over 20 years ago. Back in the mid-90s, I was the only female graduate in my intake, with only a couple of women joining as graduates in that part of the business that year. To be fair, I’d never planned on a career in engineering but after passing an aptitude test I thought I’d give it a go. Since my undergraduate course was male dominated, under-representation of women at work didn't put me off. It did take commitment though and I think if I was less confident, it could have made me think twice.
During my career, I’ve seen significant changes. Only ten years ago, six percent of the engineering professionals in the UK were women; now in 2020 we’re at ten percent. In BAE Systems, the landscape has also changed, from the handful of women in engineering when I joined, to a host of inspirational engineers and a growing number of female role models holding senior leadership positions in the company. Just like any minority, having visibility of these role models, from Chief Engineers and Chief Technologists to business leaders and MDs, is important to recruit and retain the talent we need.
Personally, I thrive on the variety of challenges that each day in engineering brings. My new role in Group Strategy has a focus on sustainability, a topic which is hugely motivating and as a result I’m am learning more about the environment every day. BAE Systems is aiming to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions across its own operations by 2030; it is also looking to help its customers achieve their own similar targets. I’m thinking about sustainability in relation to our products and the types of product innovation, which could help the country to protect itself and also protect the environment.
On reflection, I’m pleased that the working environment is changing and whilst I've no doubt that there's more to do to achieve an equal gender balance for engineering, more opportunities are forthcoming and there’s definitely a sense that any position in the business is now open to women.
Writing this blog has helped me remember not only why I enjoy engineering, but also reminds me of the lack of career guidance in my formative years - I have been fortunate to have found engineering and the opportunities it brings. Events like International Women's Day are important, not only to celebrate our achievements but to raise awareness of the increasing numbers of women in engineering. Most important of all, we need to use this platform to engage with, and encourage, our next generation of engineers, providing them with the guidance I never had.