Understanding the opportunities of a career in STEM
Women Engineers Working in a male-dominated environment has made GE engineer Claire Phillips more determined to succeed on her own terms. As a result, she's had a richly rewarding career.
When she was about 12 years old, Claire Phillips joined the Sea Cadets — a turning point in her young life. “I really enjoyed it,” she remembers. “It was a hands-on environment where we were doing things like fixing engines — and that really excited me.”
Phillips would like to be able to say that, as a girl, she excelled at maths, particularly with her passion for all things mechanical. “But it definitely wasn't my best subject,” she admits. “A lot of people thinking about a career in engineering are put off if they aren't, on paper, good at maths. But they shouldn't be.”
It certainly never held Phillips back who, in her current role, is Subsea Trees Project Director at GE Oil & Gas, looking after the technology that monitors and controls the production of subsea wells.
“Girls thinking about a career in engineering are put off if they aren't good at maths. But they shouldn't be.”
She began her career as a mechanical engineering apprentice for a small engineering firm (“I knew that university wasn't really for me”); was then offered a role as a draughtsperson for a large actuator company; and, from there, found a job with one of GE's subcontractors. Phillips joined GE 12 years ago as a project coordinator, was quickly promoted to team leader and then, after maternity leave, became project manager for the company's Subsea and Services business before being appointed to her current role.
“Research shows that a majority of young girls have an interest and proficiency in STEM, yet may not fully understand the academic and career opportunities available to them,” says Phillips. “I think it's important for women and girls to be aware that, through STEM, they have opportunities to expand and develop into many different roles. I'm a proven example of that.”
Being a woman in a male-dominated environment has never worried Phillips. In fact, it's only made her more determined to succeed, even though she faced various knock-backs as a young engineer. For example, she remembers an early interview for a role as a welder in the oil and gas industry.
“I was pretty much frowned upon by the interviewer and told I wouldn't last with a team of male colleagues."
Thankfully things are changing, she notes. “Today it's seen as valuable to have females on your team as it's proven that diversity brings new ideas and better opportunities. Saying that, I still see some stigma in places which is why I'm so keen to engage with our initiatives that we run at GE.” These include GirlsGetSET, aimed at girls and young women in senior school who have an interest in STEM-related subjects; while a number of GE employees have signed up as STEM Ambassadors, volunteering as coaches and mentors to help and inspire young people.
Phillips — a big supporter of internal networks that accelerate the advancement of women — also co-leads the GE Women's Network for Aberdeen & Montrose. “By sharing information, best practices, education, and experience, we help one another develop the leadership skills and career advancing opportunities needed to drive the company's success,” she says. “While efforts have been made across the sector, through education, funded initiatives and the emergence of non-profit discussion, progress to get more women into STEM has been slow. Technical and engineering sectors are still male-dominated and the pipeline for future talent is currently insufficient to meet future needs. Without more women in technology and manufacturing, we expect the skills gap to widen, impacting productivity and diminishing the potential of digital and other new technologies transforming industry and manufacturing.” This is why the company is running a campaign called Balance the Equation, which aims to have 20,000 women in STEM related roles by 2020.
"Don't let anyone put you off achieving your career goals, try to become resilient to small-minded people."
Phillips' advice for any young woman interested in a career in STEM is to research businesses in the industry and find out more about the particular STEM campaigns they are running. And, she says, don't let anyone put you off achieving your career goals. “Try to become more resilient to small-minded people. And remember there are more leaders and peers who will support you on your journey than those with negative opinions. Also be a leader, and make the changes you wish to see yourself.”
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