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Inspiring role models mark National Women in Engineering Day

Today is National Women in Engineering Day, a day dedicated to raising the profile and celebrating the achievements of women in engineering.

Rail companies are among those taking part by organising lectures and network events, organising industrial visits, and opening their doors to schools for children, especially girls, to find out more about a career in engineering.

The Women’s Engineering Society, formed in 1919, has also encouraged companies to mark the day in other ways, such as arranging social events for their women engineers, carrying out equal pay audits, review their diversity and inclusion policies, putting on an ‘unconscious bias’ training session for staff, and register their women engineers to speak at schools.

Girls Can't What Sticker Logo

Bechtel’s Ailie MacAdam, one of the UK’s most senior female engineers, is among those promoting the day. She joined the company as a graduate more than 26 years ago and is now MD of its global rail business. She has been project director for Crossrail, managed the successful close-out of HS1, and is a Science and Engineering Ambassador with STEMNET.

In her keynote speech at the recent Women in Rail conference in Derby, transport minister Baroness Kramer, said fewer than 20% of people working in the rail sector are women, while only 4.4% of the sector’s engineering workforce is female.

DB Regio Tyne & Wear is also promoting National Women in Engineering Day, highlighting that its own top team of executives is made up of five women and only one man.  

female directors (10)

Richard McClean, the managing director, said: “In our case, all of the executive team except for myself are women. I think it’s very important working for businesses to think about recruiting in the broadest possible sphere, to make sure that they get the opportunity to see the best people that are available.

“Working in any commercial organisation or any operational organisation, it’s essential to have the best and most competent team around the business to make sure we are effective in everything we do. I’m extremely lucky and very happy to have just that sort of team here on Metro.”

female directors (8)

The company asked its executives to explain more about being a woman in a senior engineering role.

Louise Shaw is the company’s director of engineering. She is 46, married and has two children, 15 and 12. She joined DB in 2013.

She said: “I wanted the opportunity to be more directly involved in running the engineering team in a train operating company. Metro is attractive, it is a self-contained and small, but proper railway, closely connected with those who use it. I lead a team of skilled train maintainers to provide the operations team with a clean, safe, reliable Metro cars on a 24/7 basis.

“I feel that women can bring a very different perspective and approach to the job, one which is more people-centric and inclusive, but still recognising the importance of good process, of having the right skills and competence in place and meeting our customers’ requirements.

“Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths subjects (STEM) are not just about oily hands, but about finding effective ways of solving a puzzle, creating answers to peoples’ needs and using what you know to best effect, as well as getting the chance to talk to interesting and challenging people; if you want to be hands-on, you can do that too.

“I think the opportunities for progression based on merit in STEM subjects are excellent, and STEM is really important as the basis for added-value in our knowledge-based economy. Manufacturing in the UK is still bigger by some distance than financial services, and substantially better at wealth creation across the population.

“Working as an engineer or within another STEM area means you are likely never to be bored. There are countless opportunities available, and the world will be your oyster if you do.

“We need to ensure there are opportunities for women to return to work after having a family, and then to ensure the senior people understand the need to facilitate flexible working wherever possible. In my case, I was able to return three days a week after my kids initially arrived, as did my husband, so we each had two days/week at home with the children.

“The railway industry has a culture which is more conducive to women making it to the top jobs than some of the other sectors which appear to be glamorous or superficially attractive. Hence the achievements of people like Heidi Mottram, formerly MD of Northern, Mary Grant, formerly MD at Scotrail and the MD of East Coast, Karen Boswell. There are also successful women engineers in the rail industry, like Kate Marjoribanks at Greater Anglia, who is highly respected.”

Sharon Kelly is customer service and operations director. She is 42 and married with two daughters, Olivia, 17 and stepdaughter Chelsea, 18. She has worked for DB Regio Tyne & Wear for four years.

She said: “I started my management career in the railway and wanted to go back into that field of work after being head of site for Npower for eight years. 

“I think it’s important to have the right person in a role whether they are male or female. However women make up more than 50% of the customer base so every organisation needs women in leadership positions to ensure it’s reflective of their customers.

“No two days are ever the same for me, but I am responsible for all customer-facing activity from staffing, station maintenance and cleaning, marketing and communications as well as train crew, control room and planning.”

“I think often women are concerned about the sacrifices they have to make in a top role. However men have to make sacrifices too in senior positions. If you work hard you can create the right balance in all aspects of your life. I’ve always worked in male-dominated teams and it’s a change to work with a group of strong, professional female leaders. We bounce off each other well and are very supportive. I feel each member of the team brings different but complementing strengths to the company.”

Emma Brough, contract and compliance director, is 37, married, and has a two-year-old boy and another baby due in a few weeks’ time. She has worked for DB Regio since 2010 after moving from a senior role at Nexus.

She explained: “I love working in public transport and have done for my whole career. The role I have appealed to me as it involves managing a range of issues and I have always loved multi-tasking. I manage the contractual relationship with Nexus, reporting on our performance, resolving any contractual issues, producing the company’s business plan and overseeing health and safety.

“Women often bring certain qualities to a role such as the ability to empathise with people and different situations. I think we are generally good at getting to the bottom of issues while maintaining good relationships. I also believe men bring equal if often different qualities to roles and the important thing is that women are not put off from entering into a role in industry just because they don’t feel it’s suitable for women. That is certainly not the case for any role in our industry in my experience.

“Women need to feel confident in their abilities and not be intimated by male-dominated environments. They need the support of a good manager or other support network, possibly taking a mentor. As a mother, I recognise there is often a trade-off between managing a developing career and having children, but there is a need for compromise. In my case, my husband is taking a career break to be a full-time dad and that works for us.”

Carol Bainbridge, finance director, is 48, married, and has two children. She has worked for DB Regio for more than three and a half years and before that worked in a senior role at Nexus for nine years.

She said: “I direct and manage all finance, procurement and IT-related activity for the company. I think it’s important that women are able and allowed to do any job that they are capable of doing whether it be a finance director, engineer or a train driver.

“I don’t think women should feel that STEM subjects are not for them. Women are just as capable of doing STEM subjects and successfully entering, what is traditionally classed as male-dominated professions.

“I think it’s gradually getting better as more women are seen to be successful in very senior roles within an organisation. Essentially I think it has to start at home and school and career advisors need to ensure that children are brought up believing they can be whatever they want to be – with a bit of hard work, support and a little bit of luck of course.”

Ally Young, DB Regio’s HR director, has worked there for more than three years. She is 47.

Young said: “I was attracted to this role as I knew the Metro brand well. Women at a senior level in the rail industry are generally under-represented.

“It’s rare for both the engineering director’s role and that of the operations director to be filled by women. In terms of organisational balance, attracting women proves problematic and remains a challenge, although we have recently recruited a couple of female engineers.

“Research shows us that women are less likely than a male colleague to take that next step until they feel fully equipped i.e. they are less likely to ‘take a punt’ at that promotional opportunity, a balance of internal/external coaching with accomplished female mentors would undoubtedly be one route to providing encouragement for progression.”

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