Sue Partridge has clocked up 25 years as an engineer and never had any intention of becoming one of the estimated 22,000 qualified women who fail to reappear in the sector after a career or maternity break.

This worrying statistic reveals a valuable resource which will need to be tapped into as the skills gap grows.

Inspired by an uncle and with high marks in maths and science at school Sue wanted to be an engineer from a very young age. Her parent’s encouragement meant she achieved her dream.

Her career was progressing well when her daughter was born in 2004. She returned part-time until her son arrived in 2008. She came back part time again before resuming a full-time role when her youngest went to school.  

She now leads a multi-national team at Airbus as programme manager A330neo Wing Development.

What makes her position quite unusual is that her immediate boss is also a woman.

“At my level within the organisation women make up about 9% of the workforce and the percentage gets higher the further you go down the organisation. Airbus is trying to increase the number of women returning to the company in senior positions.”

Sue believes that women who do make it into senior roles are incredibly motivated simply because they have had to work hard to succeed in their chosen career.

“You do need a flexible and supportive employer that supports women during their maternity leave, if they choose to come back part time and then if they want to go full-time again,” she says. “Ultimately it is about allowing flexible working so you can juggle work and family life.”

She believes more women would return to engineering if other employers were as adaptable.

“As your children grow up your needs and circumstances change so you can alter your work life,” she says. “Flexibility needs to work both ways. An employer should understand that there might be times when you need to go to your child’s school, but in return you accept there could be some unsociable business travel or a meeting late in the day. We all know what engineering is like and it has to be give and take. Employees who have a good work/life balance tend to be more effective.”

Sue now mentors other women within Airbus and urges them to have discussions with their bosses before they begin maternity leave.

“Don’t be scared to open the dialogue because that is what I did. Have a chat about how you want to return but accept that things might change once you have the baby.”

Sue’s mind was always set on returning to the job she loves but she accepts that women have different needs and motivations when it comes to continuing their engineering career.

“My partner and I bring up our children as a partnership so if one of us cannot make a school event the other one will try to. So far I have never missed a parents’ evening because I try to plan my diary in advance.

“You have to find the right balance for you.  How much time you want to spend at work is very personal. Women keen to come back into engineering just need a positive attitude to make it work for them rather than think about ‘barriers’ to returning.”