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Home » Engineering and Maths » “We’re proud to be women in the STEM sector”

Two women with STEM careers reveal how they entered their respective industries, what it’s like to work in a male-dominated sector, and how to attract more women to STEM roles.

Louise McDonnell

Mechanical Engineer, RWE Generation UK, Pembroke Power Station

Louise has worked for RWE since 2006. She is currently part of a five-strong mechanical engineering team at Pembroke Power Station, one of the largest power stations of its kind in Europe.

“I don’t think people used to talk about ‘STEM’ when I was at school, but I certainly wasn’t made to feel as though I was studying boys’ subjects” she says.

“That only dawned on me when I was doing a degree in mechanical engineering with aeronautics. 10% of my fellow students were women!”

How has your STEM background helped in your role?

You do need a background in STEM to do what I do — although there are various routes into the industry.

I’ve worked with people who came in through the apprenticeship scheme, for instance. I came in via the graduate scheme and did placements all around the company.

What’s it like to work in a male-dominated industry?

Out of the 90 staff here, eight are women. Of those, only three are in technical roles. I haven’t had to deal with any issues, and I feel proud to be a female engineer.

Occasionally if I’m running a meeting, I might notice that eye contact is more prominent among the men. But once they understand your position, that changes.

How can more women be attracted into the industry?

I have two young boys, so we watch a LOT of CBeebies, and I’m impressed by how many strong female characters there are.

That’s important for children to see. Plus, parents have a huge role to play if children need help or encouragement with STEM subjects.

Why should women aspire to a STEM career?

It’s so varied. For example, mechanical engineering is needed in every industry — food, clothing, petrochemicals, energy, etc. Being a mechanical engineer is a ticket to everywhere.

Abhi Selvarajah

Freight Logistics Operator, RWE Supply & Trading

Abhi — part of a 15-strong team — has been a Freight Logistics Operator for 15 months. Her role is to manage the operation and optimisation of six ships in the RWE fleet.

Abhi started her career with the company in a freight-related back office role. “Doing that job made me realise that I wanted to be on the frontlines managing ships and making decisions,” she says. “For example, does the ship need fuel? Does it need to carry cargo? Is it sailing at the right speed?”

She now aims to take shipping exams and become a more senior member of the team.

Can you chart your career development?

I took chemistry, maths, further maths and economics at A Level, and then did a finance degree.

After my second year at university I took a (non-freight) placement opportunity with RWE. That went well, and I was made aware that there would be a role for me with the company after graduation.

What’s it like to work in a male-dominated industry?

Some of the people I’m in contact with by phone or email obviously find it hard to understand that a woman is managing ships!

We do have to get more women into freight operation. Ultimately, though, I’m lucky because seven of us in my team are female, including my manager.

Do you feel you have to prove yourself more than a man does?

Yes, to a certain extent — although I want my work to speak for itself.

On the other hand, there are women in senior roles in the company, so I’ve never felt restricted in what I’m capable of achieving.

How important are female role models?

Every manager I’ve ever had at RWE has been a woman. In my placement year it was so important for me to work with a high-flying female. It made me realise the same opportunities she had would be open to me.

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