Engineering has long been considered a man’s domain, but that is changing as more women join and excel in the industry.
WORK180’s Endorsed Employers are companies that know the value of a diverse workforce, actively look to attract and retain women, and ensure they have the opportunity to thrive once they’re on board. We spoke to 25 impressive women, smashing glass ceilings and creating amazing careers about the benefits of working in engineering and the most valuable cross-transferable skills to bring to the industry.
If you’re considering a career in the industry and you want to hear advice and stories from inspiring women who’ve built skills well beyond the technical start, read on!
What makes a great Engineer?
Sarah Hannah, Head of Asset Performance at AGL Energy: At the heart of engineering is problem solving. However great engineers are also curious to first understand the real problem, evaluate whether there is value in solving the problem and then follow through to implement the solution. They know how to communicate their ideas and influence others to stop and listen. They keep an eye on the bigger picture and act ethically at all times.
Cate, Manager at BAE Systems Australia: One that I think is becoming increasingly important is resilience. There are many things outside of our control in the workplace. Mistakes will be made and things won’t go as we expect from time to time. It is important that we learn from the experience, adapt, move forward and not let the experience stop us from trying new things in the future.
Shevaun Cottrell, Superintendent Infrastructure at BHP: Understanding the customer, determining practical solutions with a safety lens as well as having the ability to understand and implement relevant standards are important, embracing innovation can be applied in any area of a business, but it’s the leadership and business skills I’ve developed in the workplace that have helped me transfer to different fields.
Cherie Silvestri, Principal Structural Engineer at BHP: Definitely strong communication skills, not only the ability to communicate your own intent, but the ability to listen. Respecting those around you from varying backgrounds and making sure they feel heard in the expression of their needs and requirements. By respecting ideas and adopting a collaborative approach, we can come together to provide innovative and simple solutions.
Ming Prince, Data Centre Systems Engineer, Cisco: Know how to learn best. The industry is changing in a rapid pace, in order to best support our customers, we have to constantly learn new things, keep up with the latest innovations and industry trends. Everyone is different, and it’s important to find a way that works for you and keep improvising it along the way. Teamwork - It’s impossible to know everything all the time, but anyone can be an expert in a certain area, and when we join forces, that is when we can move mountains. Be resourceful and know who are the go-to experts, and leverage them when needed. Meanwhile, develop your expertise and help others too.
Francoise Cuvillier Hochart, Senior Solution Architect at Ericsson Francoise is recognised globally at Ericsson as one of a small handful of experts on radio network capacity and dimensioning. Effectively her specific mastery at Ericsson is highly valued and respected and she is the go to for consultation on the most complex matters in this space: Engineering is all about problem solving! Engineers develop and draw on their creative thinking when deriving solutions to problems. Collaboration and communication are also essential skills. As an engineer, I have also developed a commercial sense from dealing with pre-sales opportunities, and project management skills when delivering solutions to customers. Engineers are savvy with technology; they are well prepared to operate in a technology-driven society.
Jessica Breen, Senior Project Engineer at Laing O’Rourke: I think some of the most important cross-transferable skills are lateral thinking, problem solving, decision making and strong commercial acumen. These skills can be applied to any workplace in developing a solution to a problem and executing with confidence. Based on a live construction site, I need to be able to make swift decisions, drawing on applied knowledge, previous experience and apply lateral thinking to solve real-life problems. Laing O’Rourke also has a strong safety culture which is embedded in everything we do. Using lateral thinking to review tasks and produce risk assessments are transferable skills across all industries.
Sara Meng, Technical Director at Mott MacDonald: Engineering is coming from communities, so we design for communities. The ability of understanding what communities need must be always kept in our mind when we carry on any engineering design and consultation tasks. We are required to develop our skills in communication and perception during the entire engineering career.
Persistence and pursuing the big dream. This is a common thing for all industries not just engineering, but it is the key for the achievement and continuous professional development in the engineering career.
Mel Thompson, General Manager – Network Deployment at nbn Australia: Engineering, like many other industries is diverse in nature. The core skills are very transferable - business acumen, financial and contract management, and the ability to manage a diverse range of stakeholders. It’s important to communicate effectively to internal and external stakeholders. Being agile, and able to solve problems, and think outside the existing process is also a huge benefit. The other skill that is important is resourcefulness – knowing how to obtain information, support, and advice through utilising subject matter experts from around the business.
Courtney Dobson, Graduate Metallurgist – Cadia Valley Operations, NSW at Newcrest Mining Limited: Throughout this year I’ve learnt first-hand the power of positivity. Quite simply, positivity is contagious. I find one of the great things about mining is that we work with such a range of people, who we may not normally converse with in our daily lives. Being able to build relationships and gain trust amongst everyone you work with is an important skill to be learnt and carried with you throughout your career. And for me, I found the best way to do this was to step into someone’s shoes, get dirty if need be, and see things from their perspective.
Jill Macmurchy, Vice President of Customer Solutions APJ at New Relic: I studied mechanical engineering and I now work in the software space, one of the core transferable skills is problem solving. I love the practical and creative nature of solving a technical problem and the satisfaction of improving a situation. This skill also translates into solving problems in other areas like ensuring our customers are satisfied. Another transferable skill that is relevant to all organisations and roles is building, developing and leading results-focused, high performance teams.
Lissette Geronimo, Systems Engineer at Penten: Engineering itself is very broad and you are always learning as you start a new project or role. Besides technical knowledge and skills you can bring in a company, I put a lot of emphasis in the soft skills as it is about the ability to talk the engineering language, talk to people, challenge the rationale of things, bring people together and work closer. In few words, you need to have the ability to work as a team and be an excellent player.
Sonia Hegde, Lead Design Engineer- Land 400 Phase 3 at Rheinmetall Defence Australia: Engineers are problem solvers. Right from University, you are encouraged to analyse problems and find creative and effective ways of solving them. This applies not only to work but also to life in general.
Sian Miller Manager – Asset Management & Operational Risk at Stanwell Corporation Limited: On the people front, the most important thing I’ve learned is to talk to the operators and maintainers in the field and use their experience and knowledge as an important input into everything you do as an engineer. Act with integrity, treat everyone the same, mentor the young, listen, be polite, stay calm but be passionate about what you do, and above all, retain a sense of humour!
Alison Steer, Senior Instrument & Control Engineer at Woodside Energy Ltd: Critical analysis and problem solving are important cross-transferable skills in engineering. There is often a large amount of data to understand before decisions are required to be made. Generally, there is not one ‘right way’ of solving a problem and weighing up conflicting drivers and understanding risk is part of the skillset required. Very rarely can you solve a problem on your own, so teamwork is vital.
Ellie Beurteaux, Mechanical Engineer for NWS Gas Platforms at Woodside Energy: There are not many engineering problems solved by one individual, so both communication and people skills are key to being efficient and effective in the workplace. As an engineer, you must be able to convey technical information and risk to people from a wide variety of backgrounds. Additionally, skills in data science are great cross transferable skills and becoming more and more valuable in the engineering field today.
Why work in Engineering?
Sarah Hannah at AGL Energy: The art of engineering is about transforming a natural resource into a something that enhances the lives of people. In my career, that has been in a number of industries such as making cereal, milk powder, paper and electricity to name a few. It’s about bringing together teams with diverse experience and skills to solve some of the complex challenges that exist. It’s about that intrinsic satisfaction of making a difference to the lives of those around you.
Megha Jensen, Senior Chemical Engineer - Kwinana Alumina Refinery at Alcoa: I love working in engineering! The career paths are varied; you can focus on technical goals if that’s your preference or work towards leadership and management. And you’re not locked into a particular career path early on as you sometimes are in other professions. Engineering is dynamic, there’s always big exciting projects underway or we’re adapting to market cycles or working with newly developed technologies. A career in engineering also presents opportunities to travel, interact with and learn from a diverse group of people and work in an industry that has the potential to benefit both the local community and wider society.
Joanne Gad, Project Director at Alstom: Engineering is a vital industry that is essential for the world to progress and move forward to resolve complex issues and produce solutions that benefit our universe. It’s important that the engineering industry drives, attracts and retains the best talent into sectors of engineering and that is to offer equal opportunities to both female and male engineers as the dynamics of having both is so much better within the industry. At the end of the day we make life easier for humans making that kind of impact for me is so rewarding.
Cate, Manager at BAE Systems Australia: Engineering is a career that will grow and develop with you. It offers life-long learning and development as technology evolves – as I write this a drone is delivering coffee to my neighbour in lockdown – super exciting! Drones aside, this continuing evolution brings challenges and satisfaction to our work and you can see the difference that it makes to Australia and our national security.
Cherie Silvestri at BHP: The huge variety of work in engineering is exciting and allows you to follow your passion and ideas. It is an environment of continual learning full of new and exciting challenges. Every day brings about a new opportunity for learning and development. Engineering is a profession of continual education and innovation that is both challenging and rewarding.
Sheree Cooks, Project Manager at Boral Asphalt Queensland: Variety of career opportunities, Intellectual development / creative thinking, Financial security, Potential to benefit the community, Job stability and Potential professional growth.
Kimberley Whitehead, Project Engineer – Infrastructure Projects working on the Warrnambool Line Upgrade Project, Structure package at Downer: I love working in Engineering and construction specifically as you get to focus on a project that has a clear goal and timeline with a start and finish date. Ideal for those who enjoy working at a desk with the added bonus of getting out onsite. You get to develop a relationship with the client and your key stakeholders to drive a win-win outcome for those involved. You are grouped in a team of high achieving individuals that are all focused on delivering a successful project together.
Francoise Cuvillier Hochart at Ericsson: Engineering is intellectually stimulating. It is highly satisfying to design a solution and see it implemented in the end. There is a lot of variety within an engineering job, from pre-sales to delivery, in different projects and different countries. It is a profession that will always be in demand. Working in engineering develops our ability to solve problems, think logically, communicate, collaborate and be organised.
Kristine Cuer, Network Support Engineer II, F5 Networks: The great thing about working in engineering is that as the technology evolves, us engineers must also keep up. As mentioned before, this gives us an opportunity to grow. It keeps you on your toes to constantly update your skillset and constantly learn.
Sarah Carney, Architect Manager, Microsoft: Engineering itself is an incredible career, but it also provides amazing insight into so much of an organisation as engineering touches so many facets of day to day operations. That means that not only is there variety within the role, but it can also be a brilliant jumping off point for identifying future career pathways. Within IT engineering, the opportunities are endless – from designing new products or hands on technical work through to strategy, planning and management.
Frances Badelow, General Manager – Australia at Mott MacDonald: There are so many benefits of working in engineering it’s hard to list them all. I have worked around the world on iconic projects such as the Burj Khalifa and Chep Lap Kok Airport, as well as projects that deliver fantastic social outcomes to the communities that use them, like Heathrow Express and Sydney Metro. I love the fact that I can travel around Sydney and see projects I have contributed to that have positively shaped the city that I live, work and play in.
Mel Thompson at nbn Australia: Every day is different. It’s dynamic and exciting to be part of something that has a significant impact on everyday Australians, businesses, education and healthcare. Engineering and telecommunication are industries always changing and evolving as technology evolves - The future potential is endless.
Courtney Dobson at Newcrest Mining Limited: I am excited for the introduction of more predictive modelling and digitization, autonomous operations and blockchain technology. With these advances, I hope we will attract the likes of analysts, data scientists and automation engineers who previously would have never considered working in mining. With this generation's high exposure to technology, I think we are well equipped to integrate this upcoming technology into the workforce and to help mining thrive into the future.
Samantha Taylor, Senior Production Engineer - Carrapateena SLC Mine at OZ Minerals: It depends on your career ambitions but the main benefit I see is that engineering is a natural conduit to leadership positions, up to the very top. For me, the broad range of opportunities available and the diversity in the tasks, projects and skills you can learn along the way that cannot be found in any other chosen career.
Sonia Hegde at Rheinmetall Defence Australia: Working in engineering has taken me to 4 different countries, 7 different cities and provided me with many life experiences that might not have been otherwise. The skills you learn as an Engineer are transferable to lot of other industries and this opens up many different opportunities
Sian Miller at Stanwell Corporation Limited: It’s never boring! There is so much scope to not only make a difference but to grow yourself and your own abilities, while seeing visible results around you. And engineers can work in so many different fields and industries too. I’m not sure how many other careers can offer so much. I love the fact that you never stop learning and developing.
Alison Steer at Woodside Energy Ltd: Being an Engineer means that you can work in the office, on site or overseas. Engineering is very dynamic, and I love the different challenges that the role brings. Looking out across the huge Karratha Gas Plant is quite awe-inspiring and being part of large-scale projects or operating facilities gives you a good sense of purpose.
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About the author
To help women find a workplace that will work for them, we prescreen employers on flexible working, pay equity, paid parental leave, and more. Find your next role on the WORK180 job board.