This Is What An Engineer Looks Like

8 Mar 2021
Originally published in

The Engineer

 
 
My love of aviation started when I was just 15 years old. I went on a trip with my family to Devon and we went to see an airshow. From that moment on I was completely hooked! I remember being utterly captivated by the sound, the movement and the sheer speed of the jets. I didn’t know exactly how at the time, but I knew I had to be involved in the world of aviation. 

I’d always been drawn to science and maths subjects at school, and I already had an interest in mechanics and engineering. When I went back to school the following term I began looking into a career in aerospace. At the time, there wasn’t very much information available to me about career options in the aviation industry, but my school was very supportive of me in my subject choices. I applied to the University of the West of England in Bristol and completed a master’s in aerospace systems engineering.

Fast forward just a few years, and I am now a Senior Flight Systems Engineer at BAE Systems, based in Warton as part of the Air business. In my seven years at the company, I have worked across a wide variety of aircraft projects and have been involved in the design and development of a range of flight-critical systems. My current role involves developing new technologies as part of the Tempest project, aiming to develop the UK’s Future Combat Air System. 

But for me it’s about more than just the day job, I want to be a role model and help encourage other young women into the engineering industry. I’ve always been aware of the gender disparity that existed in STEM subjects, but it wasn’t until I started university as one of only two women on my course that I fully realised there just aren’t that many people like me in the field I love. On a personal level, this didn’t hold me back. My coursemates ended up being a great group of people – I even married one of them! – but a lack of diversity across the engineering industries is something that needs to change. 

I want to inspire more young women to consider a career in STEM. More companies are realising now that a diverse workforce results in an increase in innovation, which is essential in engineering. One of the main challenges is changing the misconceptions that exist around engineering, too many women still think that it’s a world they just don’t belong in. In reality, there are a multitude of different careers that sit under the engineering umbrella and there are roles that suit all sorts of people and skill sets. 

During the first lockdown last year, I decided to set up a side business, AviateHer, where I design pin badges that showcase diversity in STEM and aim to challenge the perceptions of what an engineer looks like. Since setting up the business I’ve expanded to other professions in STEM, raised over £1,000 for charities that support diversity in STEM, and now ship the badges worldwide. The high level of demand has just reinforced to me why we need to highlight the diversity that exists in STEM and continue to actively dismantle negative stereotypes. 
 
Alongside these misconceptions, it is also essential that companies strive to actively remove any barriers that stop women achieving their full potential in STEM careers. For example, after giving birth, I was able to return to my career part-time and worked flexible hours to help balance work and home life. This level of support should be the norm – women should never have their careers suffer for just being a woman. 

I believe that changes can be made with more visible role models. I see incredibly inspiring women in engineering every day and I strive to be that role model for other young women looking to enter the industry. If we continue to highlight the diversity in STEM and champion the voices of successful female tech workers, we can hopefully continue to make positive changes.