What are the most important things you learned while working in industry?
The big thing I learned was that nothing is constant and adapting to change is fundamental to succeeding in a role and corporate environment. I also learned nothing moves at the rate I expected - whether it is people, processes, product development or clients and anyone who has managed complex projects will know this is a common issue. I recall a time when I was a junior engineer in industry where I had 30 or more projects internationally, so learning who worked at different rates and adapting to different cultural styles was a learning curve for me.
The most exciting time was working with non-European countries like the US and in the Far East and South America; working with those teams taught me a great deal. While at Hasbro, I remember working with a great team in Mexico on Action Man plus working heavily with the Far East on developing board games. I only had a few years of work experience at that time but quickly learned to modify my style and flex when necessary. My role at Mars was mostly Europe based but I did travel a lot during those days so I learned to always have a packed suitcase at the ready.
Another aspect that I think is important is to look out for opportunities - in firms I have worked for, I have been involved in innovation programmes, social clubs, sports activities, charity etc. Plus any other business activities I could be part of. Having a 360 point of view of your job is important as it builds friends, networks and helps with day-to-day work. From the start of my career, I have always had a fair bit of media attention and over time I have become more involved and have established good contacts with management magazines and toy journals.
As a result of my work, I was shortlisted as a finalist for ToyNews Women of the Year 2015. When I was working at Hasbro I won the IET WES Young Women Engineer of the Year 2006. Since then i have enjoyed a wonderful relationship with the Institution of Engineering and Technology and Management bodies - we are always doing exciting projects together. It is great to promote women in Business particularly those with a STEM related background.
What advice would you give to women looking to get into engineering?
You are needed in engineering! Currently there is a huge shortage of female engineers and we only represent less than 9% of the engineering population; which is shocking. Engineering is still an underrated and misunderstood profession in the UK which I find frustrating. My friends often show a great deal of interest in my job after all we all know what a teacher, doctor or a lawyer will do during the day but do we have enough role models in engineering and technology? To be a good engineer one has to be numerically strong, a good communicator, creative and yet very business minded. We are currently a sales/marketing, finance and service driven society.
At Dyson, I learned that having a strong engineering and design team can be great for business. The engineering and government bodies are aware of this national issue but now there are many activities and awards to encourage more people to join the profession. We need to value people with technical knowledge in the UK and Europe as they can drive new thinking and apply technology in a cutting edge way. It is the engineers who develop phones, cars, houses etc. so for me it is a very exciting time for women to be part of the field. In saying that my key piece of advice is to be determined and driven to make change happen and network with other like-minded people.
What is the biggest challenge facing women in business today?
Personally, it has been other women. Often women in the business world are over-competitive with one another, they have a real desire to compare what they have. In the beginning of my career I would underplay my achievements as I was worried that people would be unconformable that I had an MBA or that I had won an award but other women are not shy of boasting about their achievements, their promotion or their next big adventure. This is not just in the business world but even during my university days and outside of work I was mindful of their over competitive nature.
As I have grown older, I see this less of a challenge and it has stopped bothering me but it is still important to be competitive to remain successful. We should all be proud when people do well irrespective of what aspect of life it is in. Women can create a tough environment and like one of my female mentors said to a large female audience many years ago ‘woman should support each other and stop competing’. I generally work in a male dominated environment and I thought men would have an issue with a female in their team but with 12 + years experience, a strong network and a hardworking 'can do' attitude I have gained peoples respect. So in short - work hard, be professional and learn as much as you can and don't compare yourself with other women.
What is the biggest challenge you have overcome and how did you do it?
Leaving any company is challenging. I was really upset when I left any firm, they are firms with strong values and ethics and I am still in touch with many of the teams in those firms. I had been instrumental in setting teams up both locally and globally, additionally brought in best practices, innovative ideas and stream-lining projects to save time and cost - it was like building little businesses so leaving any firm is hard. But when one door closes there are always other avenues – things happen for a reason. As Steve Jobs said ‘You can’t connect the dots forward – only backward’.
I have always wanted to do more media, innovation, brand and process related work so I changed paths a little so that I could focus on my passion. I think it is important to be true to yourself and do things that make you grow and inspire. I am looking for the perfect full time role but in the interim i am exploring all the areas while not being in a full-time corporate role. I have recently been a judge for the Institution of Engineering and Technology Global Innovation Awards plus had formal media training and looking to explore a strong innovation and strategic side to my career. Challenges test patience, character and resilience - I don't always like challenges but as time goes on I am learning that it is more exciting and fulfilling to have exciting challenges than be in a plain sailing career....after all engineers are problem solvers!