To mark International Women’s Day, we’ve interviewed women working in the different stages of their career in the STEM industry about their experiences. We had the pleasure of speaking with Jennifer Insley, who is Systems Safety Engineer at Lockheed Martin. She shared her experiences across the STEM industry and perspective of International Woman’s Day.
What does International Women’s Day mean to you?
International Women’s Day is a great opportunity to celebrate the achievement of women globally. We’ve made great progress, from our rights in the workplace, progress in politics and sports and culture. However, there is still more we can keep doing to address gender inequality, which is why IWD is a great reminder and time to reflect on our opportunities.
International Women’s Day was first marked in 1911 – over 100 years ago. Why do you think the day is still relevant?
Our contributions to society often go un-celebrated so today is a great chance to appreciate the amazing women who have fought for our rights and inspired us to strive for success. By eradicating the gender norms and stigmas, women have more opportunities and the attractiveness of career prospects in STEM industries has increased. We need to keep this momentum and work going to show women that we can close the gender gap and be successful culturally, socially and politically.
What barriers did you have to overcome as a female?
I remember when I told my guidance teacher at school that I wanted to study engineering, he asked me if I knew what engineering was and, unknowingly, that was my first encounter with unconscious bias. I was the only female in my undergraduate course cohort, and I would find myself having to explain to people that yes, I study engineering, and no, engineering isn’t a “male subject”. As a result of these experiences early on in my studies, I signed up to become a STEM Ambassador with the intention of helping to raise awareness not only for younger generations, but also their teachers, that engineering isn’t just for boys.
Can you tell me about a female role model who has inspired you?
I’m inspired by Mica Endsley, who is an engineer and former Chief Scientist of the United States Air Force. She was the first Human Factors Engineer and the first female to serve as Chief Scientist. I think that her work has inspired women and encouraged them to pursue careers in STEM.
What encouraged you to enter a career in STEM?
I attended Air Cadets and Army Cadets, so when they introduced STEM courses into our activities. I was able to see real life applications, which was amazing. At a young age, I saw planes flying to bridges being build and that developed my love for technical subjects at school. So, when I was deciding what to do when I left school, I already knew it was in the engineering field.
Why do you think diversity is so important in the workplace?
By having a diverse workforce, you get the best ideas and solutions for your business. We’re living in an age where we can see what is going on all over the world, so why would a business not develop their strategies by having employees from different backgrounds? If you want to evolve and keep up with the constantly changing environments, you need diversity.
With women only making up 24% of the STEM workforce, how can we inspire more women to pursue a career in STEM?
We need to encourage STEM at a school age and break down the stigma that it’s a career for men. This unconscious bias makes women believe that they can’t have the same opportunities, which is not the case. By creating these conversations and platforms, we can educate and inspire more women to research into career prospects in technical fields. I also think we need to investigate how we can retain women in the workforce, as there are childcare limitations, which means more women have to stay home. Covid-19 has proved that a lot can work from home, so hopefully we can make progress and more companies can look into more childcare flexibility for men and women.
What would you say to young females who want to follow in your footsteps?
I would always encourage anyone to go into a rewarding career like mine. Do your research into the different types of engineering. I would also suggest you start developing your soft skills as well as your technical ability. Complete activities like problem solving and communicating as that will really help you in your career.
Finally, what would you say to any female school students who would like to reach great heights?
Always seek feedback from peers to see where you can improve and where you’re doing well. By knowing this, you will progress quicker in your career. Imposter Syndrome is something we all suffer from, so acknowledging your strengths is just as important as working on your weaknesses.