Photo caption: Elizabeth Seward, Head of Space Strategy at BAE Systems.  Courtesy BAE Systems

As the world marked International Women’s Day last week, the aviation industry is stepping up its focus on getting more female representation and BAE systems is one such company.

Head of Space Strategy at BAE Systems, Elizabeth Seward, and former apprentice and engineering technician who is now a Sustainability Executive at BAE, Billie Sequeira, offer advice for women and girls wanting careers within Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). 

Elizabeth Seward, Head of Space Strategy at BAE Systems

What would be the one piece of advice you would give for women or girls wanting to work in STEM?

To put it simply, find your friends. In work life this is called networking but really it is getting to know people from different places, making friends and staying in touch so you can bring the best out of each other. It’s something which resonates through careers from early on, starting at school and then through work or university, you’ll meet people who are interested in the same things as you and by working together you can all move forwards. When they require it, help them out and make sure to stay in touch, that way when you need help you’ll have a community of people you trust to ask.

What do you think needs to be done to encourage more women and girls into your field?

It comes back to normalisation of what we see in our everyday lives, it needs to be seen as ordinary to study and have a career in STEM subjects. We’ve come a long way since I was at school and this has enabled a lot of talented women to have important STEM roles but there is still sometimes a view that science and engineering is for boys and that’s just not true.  It’s so much fun working in STEM particularly for me in Space at a time where our eyes are fixed on new horizons and new possibilities, we just need to make sure those eyes represent all of us to the fullest extent because everyone should be able to do it if they want to.

Billie Sequeira, a former apprentice, engineering technician and now Sustainability Executive at BAE Systems

What would be the one piece of advice you would give for women or girls wanting to work in STEM?

Try not to feel confined by the archetypal stereotype of people who work in STEM. If you love STEM, there’s something for you. In Engineering alone, there are a huge range of opportunities and subject fields to work within, and I truly believe there is something for everyone. Recognise and pursue your passions, and be your authentic self throughout. There are resources that can help you find your niche: careers advisors, recruitment teams, Google! We need more women, and people from diverse backgrounds, in STEM. Don’t be afraid to look past the stereotypes and be a part of the change.

What do you think needs to be done to encourage more women and girls into your field?

The approach to encouraging women and girls should be different. For girls, we need to see more representation and role models at an early age. The images I saw at school of Engineers, Mathematicians, Scientists etc. were all of white men. You don’t need to explicitly hear “STEM is for boys” to create the perception that these subjects are for boys/men. As the saying goes, “You can’t be what you can’t see”. Increasing visibility of women in STEM, mentoring and championing women role models, alongside greater access to work experience opportunities, internships and taster days will help. In my experience, I was stuck on what career path to take but seeing the work environment and products in real life during a Taster Week at BAE Systems was what solidified my choice that Engineering was the best career path for me.

For women who may have worked in other fields, stressing the value of transferrable skills is important. STEM relies on a number of skills, and many of these are used in other areas of work: problem solving, creativity, critical and analytical thinking, teamwork, and more. Greater flexibility and maintaining a work/life balance is increasingly important to women and men alike; allowing employees the flexibility and time to spend with their family and friends or those with disabilities/illnesses some time to rest is important, and ultimately leads to a happier, more diverse workforce.

Much work goes into recruiting women and girls into STEM, but it’s important to focus on creating and ensuring an inclusive environment so they remain working in STEM too. Ensuring women and girls continue to be happy, supported and fulfilled in their STEM roles by supporting people from a range of backgrounds will maintain progression and help to improve the gender stereotypes naturally, through word of mouth.

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