Empowering young women to chase their dream job
Women Engineers Aileen Randhawa, HR director MBDA UK, says women must follow their passion when choosing a career and STEM professions must create an environment where they can flourish.
What would your advice be to young women thinking about a STEM career?
My advice would be to always follow a career option that interests you and if you are genuinely passionate about science or engineering, there are exciting opportunities for you to enjoy. I would say wipe away any pre-set ideas of science and engineering as being dirty and an environment where you cannot be feminine or reach your potential. Young women today should feel empowered to make their own judgements and be supported by their parents, teachers and the industry to pursue engineering roles if it’s right for them.
Why is it important that the STEM professions grow their female workforce?
Businesses should not ignore 50 per cent of the potential recruitment pool and need to attract talent from as broad a population as possible to create a workforce of mixed perspectives. I have to recruit people with the right skills, male or female, and invest in the right tools to help me achieve that. We believe that key to supporting women in engineering, is raising awareness of STEM subjects as a career option for girls and we do this by sending female engineers into schools who can explain the benefits of STEM careers to them and to the economy. Young people love hearing about a typical day for a female engineer working for a world leader in missiles and missile systems. We have strong links with colleges and secondary schools and we are now going into primary schools where the children are inspired by technology. We want all schools to be positive and open to encourage girls to consider STEM professions.
STEM industries are still male-dominated, so why is it important to create a working environment which encourages women to stay in these professions?
Any manager or leader requires a team with a good gender or ethnic mix because they need mixed perspectives to challenge the way things are done and drive new ideas. You need to create an environment that lets both genders flourish and we see the innovation and creativity necessary to drive a business forward. To do this, we need men to be more actively involved in the campaign to attract young women into STEM, including encouraging more female apprentices, and to foster a level playing field of equal respect and opportunity for all.
Is there a need for workplaces to become more culturally inclusive so women do not face barriers but can reach their full potential?
I don’t know of anyone who hasn’t faced barriers at work, but these should never be based on gender and as workplace cultures evolve, it’s vital that everyone is supported to reach their potential. When I started in STEM I found myself being labelled as the token woman and my motives for wanting to work in STEM were questioned, yet I was strong and clear about what career I wanted and have succeeded. I now feel passionate about supporting equal opportunities for a diverse workforce. For any professional with young children, it’s tough to juggle being in a senior role with childcare and this is something I share 50/50 with my husband for the benefit of both our careers and a happy family life. I have always wanted to work and I believe STEM developments will gather the greatest momentum by helping integrate greater numbers of women into the workforce.
Why is it so important to encourage a positive working environment for women in STEM?
It is vital. We need to find new and innovative ways to make STEM a more prominent career choice. If women have gone through the challenges of getting a degree in our areas of expertise then it is the responsibility of employers to make them feel welcome and support their development for the benefit of the individual and the company’s business objectives – a win-win. In our organisation, we have traditionally long service which has led to a strong heritage and culture. We are therefore committed to fostering that culture to accept all genders and backgrounds to be able to flourish. Every business needs to be good at integrating an individual’s skills, whether they are male or female.
Tell us something different about STEM and the campaign to attract more women?
At MBDA, we are proud to have some of the most talented engineers in the world and outstanding females. We have a fabulous mix of skills and knowledge and therefore, we thought it was important to shake-off the misconception that our roles aren’t for feminine girls – they’re for anyone with a passion for engineering. One of the photos we used to publicise our apprenticeship scheme featured one of our more girly-girls. She works on the electronic side of the missiles business on a very specific piece of apparatus. It is clearly an engineering role and in the poster she is fully made up, with her hair and nails looking great. She went into a secondary school where the girls asked lots of questions about her work and how they never realised you could have great hair and nails and do that kind of job. It helped to change some perceptions.