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Engineering isn’t the ‘oily rag’ industry it used to be – here’s why


Paula Velazquez

Head of Wing Global Finite Element Modelling, Airbus

Engineering has changed since her father’s days in the industry, says a senior aeronautical engineer. It’s more supportive towards women and offers a range of diverse and exciting career opportunities.

Paula Velazquez thought her dad might encourage her into an engineering career. He was an engineer himself, so knew the industry well.

But that, as it turned out, presented a challenge.

“My dad was a mining engineer where there were very few women, so he knew that male-dominated environment well, and worried that I might struggle,” she says.

But that was then. Paula’s dad is now incredibly pleased that his daughter works in a senior engineering role at Airbus, as Head of Wing Global Finite Element Modelling — a central part of the airplane design process. He’s also hugely proud of what she has achieved. “I think my success has opened his eyes as to how things have changed for women,” says Paula. “There are far more women in the industry than in his day, and we’re much better supported. Everyone has a voice, and everyone is heard.”

Drawn to a practical career

She recognises there is plenty the industry can do when it comes to female recruitment. “I don’t know what it is. There seems to be a real buzz about STEM among girls at a young age, but as they get towards sixth form they lose interest. Maybe they don’t see it as ‘glamorous’ work. That has to change. Engineering can be exciting with the challenges of a global company needing you to travel worldwide. There’s adventure too as I recently discovered as a volunteer engineer on a project with Airbus helping to build and inspire students in a local state school in Bangalore India.

Paula always liked STEM subjects — but that didn’t mean she knew exactly what she wanted to do after her A Levels and admits that she “fell” into engineering, almost by default. “I ended up at university doing a physics degree,” she says. “My fellow students all wanted to be teachers; but I knew that’s not what I wanted to do. Engineering sounded more practical and a bit more ‘me’.”

Increased support for female engineers

Her first job was at British Aerospace as a stress engineer; then she moved into the same area in shipping and automotive. After a spot of travel, she took the opportunity to teach and train engineers in Mexico for General Motors for four years, before joining Airbus in 2001.

This is an industry that now wants to make things as easy as possible for female engineers, says Paula. For example, when she had a family, she was able to work flexibly and remotely.

Better promotion of engineering in schools

Better promotion of engineering in schools as a more exciting and dynamic industry would go a long way to increasing the numbers of female applicants; Paula enjoys going into schools to spread that message. The reality is that engineering isn’t the ‘oily rag’ job of stereotype. “It’s high-tech, exciting and can involve lots of travel” she says.

“If you like the problem-solving side of things, it’s a fascinating job. I enjoy working in diverse teams and coming up with creative ideas collectively. Sometimes, women can bring a new creative side to problem-solving that the men have overlooked, which is why we need more girls in the industry. Airbus has flexible working, so it’s easier to balance work and home life too. You can travel anywhere with a science and engineering background — and there are lots of opportunities all over the world. I love it.”

Find out more here.

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