Women engineers give advice to the next generation of STEM leaders
As a girl, Yvonne C. dreamed of becoming an astronaut.
"My dream was to fly in the Space Shuttle as a mission specialist," she said. "I was always inventing machines for school assignments, and my favourite toys were Matchbox cars, Lego and Meccano."
Aided by strong family role models who nurtured her own early interest – both of Yvonne’s grandfathers were engineers and she enjoyed regular childhood outings to air shows – her curiosity drove her to study astronautics at university and pursue a career in engineering aerospace.
Today she is a senior engineer at Raytheon UK, bridging her technical skills with leadership and management. She is one of several Raytheon UK women engineers who have lessons they have learned in their careers to share with the next generation.
"Do your research. Engineering offers a huge variety of options, so it’s a good idea to look at as many of those as you can before choosing your path," she said. "When I left school, I secured an industry placement with an aerospace company and this practical experience put me on the front foot at university."
She also touted the advantages of apprenticeships, where students get hands-on experience and work alongside seasoned engineers.
"The option to get qualifications at the same time as building experience and getting paid is fantastic," she said. "The skills that you acquire as an engineer are also really transferable, so it’s a great way to set yourself up for a range of options which might come your way later in life."
Yvonne believes the field is more accepting of women than when she started years ago – but there's still a long way to go.
"There are still so many examples of product design that are based on male physiology – cars, tools, protective clothing and even office spaces," she said. "As engineers, we have a responsibility to consider all our potential users to ensure that we’re designing solutions in a fair and balanced way."
While Yvonne was destined from an early age to become an engineer, Therese B., a cybersecurity software test engineer, was not.
"I have a language degree," she said, "but was intrigued by the idea of coding to solve problems. To me, it was just another language."
Unable to get on a programming course without some work experience, she took a secretarial course in order to be accepted.
"As soon as I started programming, I loved it," she said.
Therese has experience in a number of industries, but now works in Raytheon UK’s Cyber business.
"What we do can make a real difference in preventing fraud and stopping criminals…preventing malevolent activities like viruses and malware is highly satisfying," she said.
Before working in cyber, Therese moved between industries and technologies, demonstrating the diversity of engineering and its transferable skills. "Don’t be afraid to make the switch," she said. "I’ve worked in different roles across manufacturing, finance, service industries and now cyber and intelligence."
Sadhana P., an airworthiness engineer within Raytheon UK’s Airborne intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance business, started her career as the only woman on a team of 100 engineers.
"This ratio was not unusual, and often the fellow team members were cautious and did not know how to approach and talk to a young female engineer,” she said.
Today she is warmed by the growing number of young women in engineering, but, like her female colleagues, she feels a need for further progress.
Coming from a family of male engineers, Sadhana’s father always encouraged her to help him with DIY in the home. “Whether it meant working on the roof or ‘helping’ using his power tools, I was always told any career was possible. There were never any boundaries.”
She continues to apply that philosophy today in her work at Raytheon UK.
“In my time in Airborne ISR, I have worked as a systems engineer and now an airworthiness engineer,” she said. “I have been proud that I have had the opportunity to see my designs turned into reality.”
Sadhana is hopeful that role models like herself will become the norm.
“I feel a great sense of pride and achievement that I was part of the design team that developed and delivered the first Shadow ISR aircraft,” she said. “Some of the systems that I designed and integrated onto the Shadow aircraft are still in service today.”