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Diversity in the workplace - an interview with Siemens' Anna Bereznova

To find out what it’s like being a female engineer in a male dominated sector, Rullion spoke with Anna Bereznova, a graduate engineer working at Siemens. With her two year course almost complete, after which she will qualify as a fully-fledged engineer, she has spent much of her time working on a number of large-scale projects including the new Crossrail project across the UK.

“I helped design and configure a SCADA system (Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition) called ‘Railcom Manager’ which enables the operator to control and communicate with various assets that are located at stations or portals along the track,” she says. “It provides support for various communication systems like CCTV, help points, telephony/radio systems and public announcements.”

Having spent much of her life growing up in Latvia, her first experience of work didn’t begin until she moved to Italy as a teenager. Back then her career was on a much different path, as she picked up jobs as a waiter and a chef working in bars and restaurants, while the rest of the time she focussed on travelling throughout Europe.

“I wanted to see Europe and work at the same time,” she said. This mentality then introduced her to her first real taste of engineering, as she took up a job as a technical support where she would help repair computers for customers. Before long, this drive saw her reach the shores of Britain where she landed herself work in a coffee shop as a barista.

“When I went to England I started working in a coffee shop and I worked my way up,” she said. “I then became a manager in training and all of this was while I was studying at university.” She came to the UK in 2007 and then in 2008 she joined the Staffordshire University for a course in electrical engineering.

After receiving her bachelor's degree, she then went on to earn a Master of Science in engineering before ultimately landing a role on the graduate scheme at Siemens.

Being an engineer at one of the largest companies in the world isn’t without its challenges, but there are plenty of things that Anna loves about her job at Siemens. “I think the diversity of projects, their complexity and the chance to learn things are what I love most about my job. I’m genuinely curious about engineering.”

But with studies reporting that just 9% of the engineering workforce is female, being a woman in such a largely male dominated industry can be a bit of a daunting prospect. For Anna however, this hasn’t been the case and she believes working for Siemens is a part of this reason.

“Siemens is a great company and works towards increasing women in engineering. We have multiple women here, although not as many as men, but I haven’t experienced any barriers while working here. We have an EDI team (Equality Diversity Inclusion) which does different things every month to help to get people involved throughout the company, as well as celebrating different nationalities. There are over 20 in my office alone.”

Another major diversity issue to contend with is the shortage of women studying science, technology, engineering and maths. According to the Guardian, women make up just 12.8% of the STEM workforce. One of the reasons for these low numbers, says Anna, is the impact that TV is having on children.

“It’s considered a cool thing to be a singer or an actor, but there aren’t many programmes like Brian Cox’s where he talks about science. Kids from the ages of seven and eight already have an idea of what they want to do, so if they are influenced by TV and celebrities, then of course they will prefer to do that over mathematics and science.”

This is something Siemens is actively trying to change, as the company helps sponsor women through the Institute of Engineering and Technology (IET) and, in particular, those who study engineering/computer science courses. Those fortunate enough would then be entered in with a chance of joining the company, with three female interns being taken on already this year.

Schemes like this go a long way to introducing women into engineering careers, but there’s still a long way to go yet. HR departments may sometimes overlook certain candidates before ever actually meeting them. “Managers get to see the people they are hiring first-hand so they know what kind of people they are, whereas HR just goes by the book and ticks the boxes without really knowing what the people are like.”

Being a good engineer requires a lot of skills and attributes that aren’t defined by gender or what’s on your CV, but rather the mindset. “You have to be good at problem solving,” said Anna. “You have to be willing to learn and develop yourself throughout your career because technology is always changing. You have to be adaptable to change.”

One of the things that HR can do to change that, she says, is to create different methods of testing for potential employees. “Psychometric tests are written by people with linear thinking mentalities, which can affect diversity as not everyone thinks the same way. People who struggle in some areas may be much better in others.”

To combat this, Siemens has developed tests through the use of games. The company teamed up with a game developer called Arctic Shores who helped produce an app for apprentices and graduates to help measure their results. Depending on how they answer, the results are used as a benchmark to test future employees.

Anna believes that having a diverse workforce has a lot of benefits for companies. “At Siemens, we have a lot of different nationalities and cultures. This is good because they can speak multiple languages and understand the customs of their countries, which in business can be extremely important.”

When asked about what she would tell any young girl looking to take up a career in engineering, Anna said: “My advice would be if you have a curious mind, just go for it and don’t stop. If you want to pursue a career in science and engineering, then your curiosity will get you through.”

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