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Diversity in the workplace - an interview with Siemens' Rubby Wokocha

We spoke to Rubby Wokocha about what it’s like to be a female engineer in what is a largely male dominated sector. She told us where she first discovered her love of engineering, what her job involves and offers some words of encouragement for any young girls looking to pursue a career in the field.

1. Tell me a little about yourself. What is your current role and how long have you worked for Siemens?

My name is Rubby Wokocha and I am a graduate gas turbine engineer with Siemens, specialising in power generation. I joined the company in November 2015 as part of a graduate scheme which runs for two years and during this time, you’re expected to do between six and eight placement rotations within the business to experience the full benefits.

2. What has been your career journey so far?

At university, I studied mechanical engineering and immediately fell in love with it. I always got involved in projects which allowed me to improve and practice my manufacturing and design skills, while I got to work with engineers to get a real understanding of this world. After completing my degree, I went on to do a masters in both chemical engineering management and process integration and design.

The combination of all three fields means that I am able to cover a lot of elements, which is important because of the nature of the world today. Things move very quickly and I didn’t want to limit my skills.

Now, I have a BEng in Mechanical engineering from Anglia Ruskin University, an MSc in Chemical Engineering Management from the University of Hull and an MSc in Advanced Process Integration and Design from the University of Manchester.

3. When did you become interested in a career in engineering?

It sounds crazy, but when I was in school, people kept asking what I wanted to be and mentioned different things, but my initial thought was to be able to wear a boiler suit. In Nigeria, we have fuel attendants and they used to wear them and I really liked the outfits! As a girl that sounds funny, but I really liked them.

At that age I was always curious about the complex systems around me. It started out at home, making our old Video Home System (VHS) work properly by dismantling and cleaning it and any time there were issues I’d be the one to fix it just so I could keep watching the Sound of Music and the King & I!

I think the straw that broke the camel's back however was when I would watch my dad check the car bonnet before going to work. As we lived in a tropical region, the water in the radiator would evaporate quickly and he often asked me to bring him water to top it back up. Every time, I thought to myself “How on earth was this engine created? How does it work? Why is it so complex?” I often had lots of questions that kept me puzzled and curious.

4. What do you love about your job?

Well, getting to wear my own boiler suit to work is one thing! But I think the main thing I love is the impact that my job has, so when I do something that brings positive results that you can see then that is great. Honestly, I really like dealing with customer complaints and assessing problems to come up with a solution. It gives me a lot of satisfaction.

5. Have you faced any barriers being a woman in engineering?

Honestly no, but it is quite challenging especially when I graduated from a class of 60 that had only three girls. I didn’t think of it as a bad thing, but rather a unique situation to try and be myself because mechanical engineering is a pretty male dominated area. If I wanted to get where I was going, then this wasn’t going to be an issue.

Even now when I find myself on a site at work, the guys are all very supportive. They tend to want to say “oh no, don’t put yourself out and so on” but I am like well I didn’t come here to stand and watch! They are always cracking jokes with me and I them, so it’s a great place to be. Siemens is a very diverse place to work and these days it's the norm for women to do jobs that are typically for men.

6. Why do you think there is such a shortage of women in STEM?

I think most times, these subjects instill fear rather than excitement. It feels like a barrier between you and your goal, but in the real world it's not that way at all. Many think that engineering is a boy’s job, but that isn’t the case. Parents, teachers and children should be educated on the fact that it’s okay to be a girl and do this.

It’s more of a mindset issue that girls aren’t encouraged to pursue these kinds of subjects because they feel like they can’t. If you love something go for it. Follow your passion. It’s not what parents or anyone else thinks. If the girls enjoy it, then their quality of life will be better - nobody should go into work dreading it.

7. Do you know of any initiatives to attract and retain a diverse workforce?

As a STEM ambassador with Siemens, I work with the team as well as going into schools to talk with kids about their futures. Even at such a young age, you can see the excitement on their faces already. By exposing them to more options like STEM subjects, you can help find a good medium between the workplace and school.

At that age, it is important to keep them entertained and get away from the serious side of engineering. We focus on fun things and even do dance routines, because believe it or not there's a lot of creativity involved in both dance and engineering.

8. What do you think are the benefits of having a more diverse workforce in engineering?

I think having continuation is a big aspect. If you start at a business that is doing well and the person has to leave, there is a good opportunity to replace them to take it forward, so having a diverse workforce will help introduce more minds with new ideas that will help in the future.

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