Fuel for females in industry

Posted on 17 Nov 2013 by The Manufacturer

The first Everywoman Advanced Manufacturing and Engineering Academy took place last week as a platform for sharing advice and experience between women in industry as to how to excel in their male dominated arena.

The Manufacturer magazine acted as media partner to the first Everywoman Advanced Manufacturing and Engineering Academy

The overall theme for this first Everywoman Advanced Manufacturing and Engineering Academy was ‘Fuel you Ambition’ and the line-up of speakers, masterclass hosts and panellist for the day were selected to highlight the circumstances, strategies and personalities behind some of the highest flying female career paths in British industry today.

Around 100 women, at various stages in their careers, attended the event from organisations including: Atkins, Cobham, Ford Motor Company, GE, GlaxoSmithKline, Siemens and QinetiQ.

The opening keynote was delivered by Jenny Body, the first female president of the Royal Aeronautical Society and the first woman to be appointed to an executive engineering role at Airbus UK.

Mrs Body reviewed her career for delegates, pinpointing turning points and crucial decisions which helped her to excel.

Having failed to complete her own engineering degree, she emphasized the importance of gaining practical experience above and beyond attaining academic qualifications for their own sake.

For ambitious women embarking on engineering career, Body advised “identify and be identified with executive management long before you might actually join them as a peer. When you finally gain an executive position people should say ‘wasn’t she one already?’”

Body was quizzed thoroughly be her audience on her ability to maintain work-life balance with one delegate forthrightly asking if her husband, who is also an engineer, put his career on hold to allow her to excel – particularly after the birth of their son.

A key message from Body’s presentation which was reinforced throughout the day was the importance of identifying a mentor in order to guide career decisions and to give support during time of self-doubt – which all speakers said they were prone to in a way they suspected male colleagues were not.

Importantly however, it was generally agreed that mentors did not need to be female. Body said “the relationships between you and your mentor should not be cosy, but they should be someone you feel comfortable with.”

Philip Greenish, CEO of the Royal Academy of Engineering, opened the event

The pros and cons of formal versus informal mentoring were discussed, with informal mentoring being favoured by most. Sue Rogers, a panellist at the event and global project organisation planning executive, at GE cautioned that those considering establishing formal mentoring systems in their organisations should take care that the individual’s needs should be put firmly ahead of business interests.

During a Q&A session, a panel of senior women were asked a series of challenging questions about approaches to career development as well as discussing progress on increasing all kinds of diversity in industry.

One question which was addressed in detail by all panellists was concerned with approaches to overcoming career dips and knowing when to look for a change of job role.

Panellist Michelle Vincent, general manager, unmanned systems, Cobham Mission Equipment advised that she always started looking for a next career step after a year in a role in order to stop herself becoming “bored.”

Ms Rogers agreed that frequent change was good for motivation, but emphasized that not every career step needed to be in an upwards direction. “I took five or six sideways career steps at one stage in my career,” she said. “Because I knew that at some stage I would then have the ideal portfolio to take a much more significant step upwards.”

The afternoon of the Advanced Manufacturing and Engineering Academy was given over to two masterclass sessions which tutored women in developing a personal ‘elevator pitch’ and developing personal career progression plans.

The day was concluded by a motivational presentation from rally racing champion Penny Malory who is also authoress of the highly acclaimed personal development book Take Control of Your Life.

Read the Everywoman blog following this event here.