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The Power of Inspiring Female Role Models in the Energy Sector

With women accounting for only 13% of engineers and 22% of overall core STEM roles, there is still a lot of work to be done in reaching a more gender balanced workplace.

Working with clients in the Energy sector, we see a male dominated picture across STEM workforces, but what can be done to create a better balance?

We met four inspiring women working in Nuclear, Electrical and Renewable Energy at this month’s WISE Knowledge Sharing event, hosted at Wood, to discuss this important subject.

Women in Power Knowledge Sharing Event Panel - organised by WISE campaign

Each told a unique story about their career journey; covering the successes and challenges they had experienced, and providing valuable advice on how to address gender balance across STEM roles.

The WISE panel strongly agreed on the importance of prominent successful female role models, to help young women see STEM as a viable career path, so let’s take a look at these inspiring women’s achievements.

Inspiring Women in Engineering

Amanda French
Nuclear Decommissioning Authority

Amanda French, Nuclear Decommissioning Authority

Experience: 25 years in mechanical engineering

Career Highlights:
  • A Fellow of the IMechE and a Member of the Association for Project Management (APM).
  • Joined the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) in 2005, becoming Head of Portfolio Assurance, leading work across the whole estate.
  • Led changes in project and programme delivery for NDA transport subsidiary INS, before returning to the NDA, to focus on the Magnox Transition programme.
  • Acting Head of the NDA’s Waste Management Programme, overseeing the performance of Radioactive Waste Management, including Geological Disposal Facility and the Low Level Waste Repository contract.
  • Her focus is now on Magnox reactor decommissioning options.
What inspired Amanda into STEM: Amanda joined the air cadets in the early 80s, in the first year that they allowed girls to join. She was not influenced by her family to enter engineering, but did have support within the air cadets who showed her how aircrafts worked, encouraging her enthusiasm. She was also inspired by a Chemistry teacher who saw her potential in STEM. Amanda has since started a family and continues to maintain a successful career, by having open conversations about the work life balance she needs.

How is Amanda helping to address gender balance? As a mother of 4 children, Amanda has inspired their enthusiasm around STEM by taking them to visit many places of engineering interest. She joined the board of governors at her child’s school to help encourage more children to consider engineering roles, and also acts as a mentor to women looking to further their career in engineering.

Meriel Griffiths
RWE Supply & Trading GmbH (RWEST)

Meriel Griffiths, RWE Supply & Trading GmbH (RWEST)

Experience: 20 years energy management experience

Career Highlights:
  • Worked for Montagu-Smith & Co Gas Consultancy
  • Also worked at National Power, International Power, RWE Npower and currently RWEST CAO.
  • Spent 11 years as an International Fuel Manager, enabling her to travel to Italy, Spain, Russia, Bangladesh, Mexico and Thailand.
  • Innovation Business Development Manager - installing temporary gensets on existing sites, developing commercial scale Solar PV projects, and development of commercial scale greenhouse project.
  • Capacity Market Manager at RWE - RWE enters 8 Gigawatts of electricity into the UK Capacity Market each year
  • Set up and currently running Edgware Energy Limited as a licensed UK electricity subsidiary of RWEST and looking after RWEG’s portfolio of Zephyr wind farm power purchase agreements
What inspired Meriel into STEM: Like most women 20 years ago, Meriel was not encouraged into a career in energy, instead starting off in the publishing industry after gaining an English Literature degree. Soon discovering that publishing was not the career for her, Meriel decided to try agency work, and landed a job in Gas Shipping, really enjoying the variety of the role. Through her own sheer determination, Meriel was able to not only enter the energy sector, but also forge a strong career within it. Meriel says the support from her family was essential, as she needed to travel the world whilst raising a family.

How is Meriel helping to address gender balance? Meriel supports local secondary careers fairs, talking to 11-18 year olds about careers in the Power & Electricity industry.

Bola Sangosanya
Renewable Energy Systems Ltd

Bola Sangosanya, Renewable Energy Systems Ltd

Experience: 12 years engineering experience

Career Highlights:
  • Started her career in Consultancy work, before getting involved in Project Management and Design Engineering.
  • Design specification and project engineering for Biomass CHP Plan Project creating fuel from draff and woodchips
  • Electrical design and grid connection for Garreg Lwyd Wind Farm
  • Systems design and grid connection for Battery Storage Project ESS
  • Thriving in varied roles with the opportunity to travel and work on different projects
What inspired Bola into STEM: Bola was determined to enter a career in STEM from a young age, starting by gaining an Electrical Engineering degree, with a focus on Power Generation and Distribution. She then went on to achieve a MSc in Renewable Energy Systems Technology – Biomass, Wind and Solar.

How is Bola helping to address gender balance? Bola is an active role model, raising her profile in the engineering community to inspire others. She has found mentors to be vital to her own career progression, always learning something new.

Dr Colette Grundy
Advanced Nuclear Technology, Environment Agency

Dr Colette Grundy, Advanced Nuclear Technology, Environment Agency

Experience: 20 years engineering experience

Career Highlights:
  • Began at Engineering Consultancy before BNFL in 2001
  • Worked at the Nuclear Regulation Group of the Environment Agency
  • Laboratory Fellow in Nuclear Regulation for the National Nuclear Laboratory, leading the Safety, Security and Safeguards team.
  • Travelled to Canada, America, France, Sweden and Jordan.
  • Attended the United Nations Committee on the peaceful uses of Nuclear Power sources in outer space
  • In 2017, she started work for the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy as Head of Regulation in Advanced Nuclear Technology (ANT).
  • The ANT team has contributed to the development of an enabling policy framework to support SMRs and AMRs.
  • In her current role as Senior Advisor for the Environment Agency, Colette oversees the next generation of nuclear reactors for the UK.
What inspired Colette into STEM: A familiar story, Colette was also actively discouraged from studying sciences at school. However, through her enthusiasm for science and determination to succeed, she pushed forward and sought opportunities to progress her career.

How is Colette helping to address gender balance? Colette is an active mentor to younger colleagues working within the Nuclear industry. She believes that emotional intelligence, kindness and empathy are skills that should be better recognised and is a strong supporter of continuous professional development.

What does it take to progress as a woman in the energy sector?

These women are hugely inspiring, each facing their own challenges from early in their careers. All four have similarities in what it has taken to progress their energy careers:

  1. Hard work to prove their worth, sometimes against the odds.
  2. A love for variety in their work
  3. Actively seeking new opportunities and put themselves forward wherever possible
  4. A thirst for knowledge and continuous learning

Top 5 ways to address gender balance in STEM

Each member of the Knowledge Sharing panel had advice on creating more gender balance in STEM fields. Here is a short summary of their key suggestions:

  • Support Schools: We must encourage young girls in STEM from primary school age, as well as before they start to make GCSE choices. Teachers must also use more inclusive language when discussing STEM careers to avoid unconscious bias towards stereotypes.

    The WISE Campaign are supporting the encouragement of young girls into STEM through their app My Skills My Life.
  • Apprenticeships: Engineering apprenticeships are on the rise, offering young women a way of starting their career in STEM. Schools and colleges must offer clear career guidance to raise the profile of apprenticeships, encouraging talented young women who have studied science, maths or technology, to consider all options. Businesses offering apprenticeships must work closely with schools and colleges to encourage more diverse and better balanced participation.
  • Mentoring: Furthering your career as a woman often comes with unique challenges, which is why the support from more experienced colleagues in your field can be invaluable. Having someone who understands your goals and ambitions, can give you that extra push to succeed.
  • Role models: It is important that people actively see women working in STEM. We must promote awareness of success stories so young people can be inspired to follow a similar path.
  • Recruitment and Promotion: To change things we must firstly ensure the language we use in job advertising is inclusive. The recruitment process must also use techniques such as standardised interview practices to help avoid unconscious bias towards candidates. Finally, there must be an increase in senior male colleagues deciding to mentor and promote women, to help break the cycle of male dominance in senior positions.
We hope this article has helped inspire you to either progress your own career, or to encourage others to pursue a career in STEM. If you have any fresh ideas to encourage women in engineering or stories on addressing gender balance in STEM, then please share them with us at marketing@firstrg.com. We would love to hear from you.

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