BAE: Broaden your skills work on your networks and break down prejudices
This year I celebrate twenty-six years with BAE Systems and am energized by the challenge of my current role in developing new international business opportunities for BAE Systems Air’s business.
It’s a completely different type of job than my previous position as Discipline Leader, Electromagnetism and I’m learning quickly on my feet.
An important benefit of having STEM skills is that they are transferable. There’s no reason why women in engineering jobs feel they can’t branch out into other fields. BAE Systems is so broad in its scope and there is such a range of options – just go there. I knew nothing about applied electromagnetism when I arrived!
In 1996, I applied for a system engineer position after leaving college with a bachelor’s degree in electrical and electronic engineering. After that, I managed engineering changes on systems such as radar control display panels, and moved into roles requiring more complex math and physics-based problem solving. I then moved into capacity management roles, ensuring teams have the necessary skills, technology and tools. This led me to lead the discipline of electromagnetism with its 80 engineers.
I completely changed roles in 2020 and my current job means I am now in regular contact with colleagues around the world and keeping very unusual hours! It’s an exciting and challenging position, but it’s not just the work itself that keeps me with the company. I sincerely believe there is endless opportunity if you are willing to go for it.
BAE Systems has really changed over the years and there is a lot more awareness and support for women working in an industry with so many men. There is a real commitment to equal opportunity and I see constant progress and change. For example, I work flexibly and that means I have been able to work as a magistrate for the past 10 years. It has been extremely rewarding to be able to give back to my community in this way and BAE Systems helps me do that. I never felt that working flexibly hurt my career.
There are still fewer women than men in leadership positions, especially in engineering, and I’ve thought a lot over the years about why that is. Gender stereotypes cause people to treat men and women differently and hold them to different standards. This reinforces gender bias in society. Organizations need to make systemic changes and update their processes, and that, coupled with a cultural shift and much greater awareness and understanding, is what really makes a difference. We cannot personally shoulder the burden of changing society, but we are careful not to perpetuate bias in our own behavior. I still have to check myself when I automatically think of aircrew as being all men for example.
The advice I would give to women starting out in their careers is twofold. Be brave. It’s normal to feel uncomfortable trying new things, but your skills and the things you can accomplish will increase. Second, network your way to success by really working on your relationships. Don’t underestimate the power of support from other women – and men. And find yourself a mentor. You can learn so much from someone with more experience – and they will learn a lot from you too!