Female engineer shines in industry of opportunity
Women Engineers Having women in an engineering team fuels innovation and inspires the next generation, says Faye Banks, the National Grid’s first female head of operations North East.
Why is it important for the engineering sector to ensure that it has a growing female workforce?
In my experience, when teams include men and women they come up with great, innovative ideas and they work very well together. For example, I have engineering apprentices and trainees within my team and I notice that, when it comes to problem-solving, the diverse teams are very creative. They're flexible, too — they try to help each other more.
Also, I think it's important to tap into the talents of people who have lots of different life and work experiences. So including women in the workforce helps an organisation become innovative and successful — and it's better for the industry in general. And, remember, this is an industry of opportunity: by 2020, according to the Royal Academy of Engineering, we need to recruit another one million new engineers and technicians.
What would your advice be to young women embarking on a career in engineering?
I started out as an apprentice, aged 16. When I look back, the most beneficial thing I did was seek a mentor because they helped me understand the culture of the organisation I had joined. Also, make sure you register with a recognised engineering institute. That's what I did and it immediately gave me access to a community of fellow engineers. It was a forum for me to talk about any issues I had at work, and it made me feel confident. Plus I would recommend getting involved in the wider engineering community, because that way you can learn techniques and industry best practice. And attend technical lectures and get involved in STEM events so, at interviews, you can show that you are doing your bit to promote engineering.
Tell us something about your career that might surprise us.
In 2015, at 34 years of age, I became the IET's youngest ever fellow. All my experience and all the work I've done promoting the industry really did add up for me!
And the job I have now at National Grid is also breaking new ground because I'm the first female Head of Operations North East. No other woman has ever had this role. I also won the title of Young Woman Engineer (YWE) of the Year 2004. I've worked really hard and I'm really proud of what I've achieved; but if I hadn't started as an engineering apprentice I don't think I would have been as successful because I got to put my learning into practice at a young age. And in doing so, that opened up a world of learning for me.
What is the importance of role models and what initiatives are being put in place to encourage women?
I think role models and mentors are crucial because they aim to motivate and inspire the next generation of engineers and help coach them to achieve their full potential. They also help individuals overcome any barriers they may face in their personal life, academia or working environment.
There are many initiatives being carried out at National Grid. For example, we've started a policy of procedure reviews. This looks at everything, right down to the wording on job adverts which might deter women from applying. We're also addressing workplace culture so we can talk openly about issues facing women engineers and create more of a level playing field. And we've been working with trade unions to develop an equality, inclusion and diversity programme.
Careers in engineering are still male-dominated. But is the picture changing? Are you hopeful that more women will enter engineering jobs in the future?
Certainly when I came into this industry in 1993, I was a female engineer in a man's world — which didn't faze me. But I think it is changing, and apprenticeships are part of the reason. When I go into schools now I find that parents are taking more of an interest in their children's careers. They want them to be highly skilled and they don't want them to be leaving university with lots of debt. I also think increasing numbers of young people — including young women — want to get work experience and are being attracted into the industry via an apprenticeship route. That's because by the time they are 21 they know they'll have five years' experience under their belts, five years' salary and lots of prospects.