Female engineers are no longer a rarity in most modern workplaces. Here at Raytheon UK, four employees share their stories of breaking into what remains a male-dominated sector.
The most frequent question that Emma encounters when people discover she’s a mechanical design engineer is: "Does that mean you can fix my car?" Just for the record folks, it doesn’t.
As a young girl, Emma’s natural enthusiasm for science and maths combined with her hungry curiosity about how things worked, and love of Formula One racing, did not go unnoticed. “A few of my teachers at school recognised [my potential] and encouraged me to pursue an engineering career,” she said, “as did my family.”
Having graduated from Edinburgh’s Napier University with both honours and a masters degree in Mechanical Engineering, Emma secured a place on the company's Graduate Leadership Development Engineering Programme.
Emma, the only engineer in her family, says the support she received from an early age was so vital she’d like engineering to be introduced to all young girls.
“I think many girls grow up with one idea of what an engineer is – typically a man’s job involving lots of maths, but that’s simply not the case,” she said. “Engineering has a role to play in most industries and sectors – from working on software in cyber to cosmetics with chemical engineering.”
When asked how she feels working in a predominately male environment, she said that she doesn’t notice it: “We’re all there to work together as a team, and I’m confident in my ability to contribute equally.”
While Emma’s career followed a straight and narrow path, Stacey, a Raytheon UK senior systems engineer, very nearly swerved the engineering sector altogether.
At 14 years old, her heart was set on becoming an archaeologist but a persistent friend pestered her into attending a Royal Air Force Air Cadets event and to Stacey’s surprise, it left a lasting impression.
“The experience exposed me to opportunities available in engineering from design and development to production and maintenance,” she said. “Up until that point, I assumed mechanics and technicians were all guys working in overalls covered in dirt and grease.”
After that first encounter, she continued attending the Air Cadets right up until she began her degree in Aerospace Systems Engineering at Hertfordshire University.
Stacey joined Raytheon UK six years ago. She currently specialises in integration and advises would-be engineers to build a diverse skill-set.
“I enjoy the variety of work that I get to do, from defining system requirements to designing sub-assemblies and supporting qualification and flight tests,” she said. “Engineering provides ample opportunities to constantly learn and develop skills that are transferable to the next job at hand.”
Stacey hopes that through creating and elevating strong female role models, future female engineers won’t share her experience of being outnumbered by men on university courses and in the workplace.
“Women are just as capable of taking on technical roles and we need to break down this view of engineers as men in overalls covered in grease,” she said.
Bucking the stereotype are Raytheon UK software engineers Rebecca and Kara, who represent a growing number of new entrants to cybersecurity from diverse backgrounds.
“I’ve always been torn between a technical or creative career but being a cyber software engineer allows me to be both at the same time,” said Rebecca.
A Forensic Computing graduate, as well as creating and updating applications to correct bugs, she is currently working alongside the testing team with the goal to gaining Test Automation Accreditation.
“My advice for someone beginning a career in Engineering is not to be overwhelmed by other people’s experience,” said Rebecca, “instead seek opportunities to learn and develop.”
The traditional routes into cybersecurity are being redefined and technical experience, formal qualifications and contacts are no longer being seen as barriers.
Kara is very new to software engineering but had transferable skills. Having spent many years working in scientific academic research, a Raytheon UK sponsorship opportunity to join the Women in Cyber Academy programme caught her attention.
“I was considering different career paths and knew I wanted to continue working with computers but in a different industry,” she said.
Since completing the academy’s 12-week intensive cyber security course in September 2019 – a joint government and industry initiative for entry level to senior hires – she hasn’t looked back. Kara now works in an agile scrum team within Raytheon UK’s cyber business.
Emma has these words of advice for budding new talent like Rebecca and Kara: “Just make sure you take the time to work out what it is about engineering you enjoy and find the role that best suits you.”
Across industry the numbers of women and BAME working in STEM fields, and particularly in senior/leadership positions, remains relatively low. Raytheon UK is committed to growing a diverse workplace that makes people feel they would ‘fit in’ and can have successful careers in this sector.