In this article, Lanna Deamer, Reporter at The Manufacturer, speaks with Krystina Pearson-Rampeearee, STEM ambassador and Flight Engineer at BAE Systems. Krystina also runs a side hustle, AviateHER, which aims to drive more women into the field of aviation. Here we hear about how Krystina is keen to show young people how critical engineering is across so many industries, and to continue to break stereotypes to help make the industry more accessible, particularly for young women.
How did you first become interested in engineering?
KPR: When I was at school, I really enjoyed maths and particularly, the mechanical side of physics. I was considering mechanical engineering specifically because that’s all I really knew; during my time at school engineering wasn’t something that was discussed at all.
However, when I was 15 years’ old, I went to the Dartmouth Regatta Air Show which is where I first saw fast jets and I absolutely loved the sound of the aircraft. It made a lasting impression on me, so much so that this was the day I decided that I wanted to go into the aerospace industry. From there, I started researching aerospace engineering and possible career opportunities.
You went on to study engineering at university, you were one of only two women on the course, how did that make you feel?
It was quite daunting at first to be honest. I’d gone from a school setting where although there were always more boys than girls in the physics and maths classes, I was familiar with everyone as well as the setting, because I’d always gone to the same junior, high school and sixth form. Not only did I find it daunting, but it was also unexpected, because the gender disparity hadn’t hit me until that day.
Having said that, I really enjoyed my time at university. My fellow students and I set up lots of team projects where we would revise together. I got on so well with everyone at university that gender didn’t become an issue at all. However, it can be a challenge, especially when you are young, and I can see why it would be the same for any other young woman in the same situation.
What does your current day job at BAE Systems entail?
I’m currently a flight systems engineer at BAE Systems. The flight systems are the organs of the aircraft and I’ve had the opportunity to work on various platforms and be involved in different systems across my time at the company. I’m currently working on Tempest, the project aiming to realise the development and delivery of a UK-led Future Combat Air System and I’m working on developing new technologies for flight critical systems. It also involves embracing innovation because we’re using digital technologies and digital engineering to help us mature that technology which is something that’s incredibly exciting to be a part of.
What was the motivation behind your side business that you set up in 2020?
I set up AviateHer during lockdown. I’ve always collected pin badges – whenever I’ve gone on holiday I would always pick one up. I was looking for a particular pin badge that I had in my mind on Etsy, but I couldn’t find it. So I thought to myself, could I get this made and sell it? So, that’s what I did. It basically stems from when I tell people that I’m an engineer, the standard response that I get is that I don’t look like an engineer. For that reason, the first pin badge that I designed said: ‘This is what an engineer looks like’.
Part of the proceeds went towards the women at the Women’s Engineering Society, because I wanted something good to come out of it as well. They sold out within less than 48 hours, which really surprised me. And then I had lots of messages from people asking if I could you do one for a scientist, pilot, mathematician, physicist and so on.
Now it’s expanded to something that I never imagined – I’m now running a small business as well as my day job. But it’s something I really enjoy – I enjoy the messages that I get from people who’ve said they’re going to wear their badge at a conference or exhibition. I’ve sold over 2,000 pins so far, which I didn’t expect, and I have raised over £3,000 for different charities, so I’m glad that something good could come out of it as well.
Setting up AviateHER and joining the engineering industry itself, has given me the chance to use softer skills which don’t often get spoken about in the industry. People tend to focus on the technical skills in engineering but there’s a lot of collaboration, creativity, and communication. Running a small business has enabled me to use those soft skills which are really important in engineering.
A lot of your work around AviateHer is about breaking down some of those stereotypes that exist for young women in engineering, how much of a preventing factor are they?
It’s off putting for a lot of girls. During my STEM outreach, I get asked a lot of questions about what it’s like being in the minority in engineering. There is still a lot of stereotypes that girls have of engineering and often they don’t think that they look like someone who could be engineer.
I’ve asked girls in the past what they associate engineering with and the answer I get back is often that they think it’s a messy, greasy and oily type of work, which is not the case at all. There are so many different sectors that young people can try. Many of us that are in the industry are working hard to dispel the myths surrounding the sector because it’s not just young people that have these misconceptions, it can be parents as well. If the parents don’t really understand what engineering is and all the opportunities that it could bring, then they aren’t going to push their children towards it.
At BAE Systems, we are working hard to create more visible role models, education outreach (which is something I really enjoy doing as part of my volunteer work) and also flexible working. It’s really important that companies offer this to staff, it’s something that has been vital for myself after returning to work after maternity leave and still being able to have a successful career.
What has the progress towards parity been like in the last few years?
Engineering is changing and we have made progress. It’s been slower than I would like, but there are more girls coming into engineering now. I hope that through these initiatives companies like BAE Systems are doing with the STEM outreach, that we can keep dispelling the typical myths.
There are so many exciting new sectors within engineering now and I hope we can continue showcasing the range of digital engineering that is happening; there is so many opportunities for young people.
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