Diversity in the workplace - an interview with Siemens' engineer, Leire Ruiz Estebanez
As the UK House of Commons Science and Technology Committee is roundly criticised for its all male, all-white panel, it seems the battle to get more women into STEM careers is far from over – so what can we do to change this?
To get more insight, we spoke to Leire Ruiz Estebanez, a senior electrical and control system engineer, about the reality of being a female starting out in in the industry.
What is your role and what does it involve?
I’m an electrical and control system engineer at Siemens. I work in a team of around 15 people, looking after package design for gas turbine control systems here in the company’s Lincoln site. We work on a variety of projects aimed at different users – it’s a cliché but every day really is different. For example, I’m involved in digitalisation projects as a Siemens design tool key user and the new package design configurator between others.
Talk us through your career path to date
I joined Siemens almost two years ago, after completing my Masters. I studied engineering in Spain, where I grew up, and then studied Management and Information Systems at Cranfield University.
What are the challenges in your role?
I was delighted to join such a hugely respected global company but that global element does throw up challenges. It means we need to communicate with package designers the world over, getting to know them and the intricacies of their own business, while at the same time creating different products. This is the best way to work, it’s evolutionary and of course it’s not unique to us – most industries are now operating on a global scale. The power generation market is moving at a very fast pace though, so it is essential that we change and adapt.
What do you enjoy about your role?
My role is flexible, I’m able to learn and adapt myself to different situations. It provides an opportunity to learn not just engineering, but also how business works. I’m lucky in that my role has given me great insights about both aspects: innovation through engineering and business and leadership opportunities.
Have you witnessed gender inequality in your career?
Personally, I haven’t met any challenges in my industry because of my gender. At university, there were quite a few females on my engineering course. Here at Siemens, two other women joined my department at the same time as me - and the company has a proactive diversity and inclusion programme so I know that gender equality is of key importance. I do, however, see that on a global basis, the amount of women entering engineering is still way lower then men.
How do you think the engineering industry can attract more women?
I don’t think the problem lies in engineering; it is a wider social issue. The education systems needs to make more of an effort to entice female students, but then we also need to look at whether women are pushing themselves forward more – because of family obligations, many women may not have the confidence to go for the same roles that men do. Progress is being made, but there is still a long way to go.
Would you recommend engineering as a career?
Absolutely! It is flexible, fascinating and hugely enjoyable. And it doesn’t have to mean being ‘on the factory floor’, so to speak. Apparently 83% of engineering roles are office-based.
What advice would you give to women hoping to get into engineering?
I would advise people to stay motivated, work hard and get that initial engineering qualification. Once you’ve got that you are on your way, you just have to trust yourself. There will be days that you have doubts in your own ability but with support from family and friends, your confidence will grow.
Also, don’t be shy to ask for things. Put yourself out there, speak to your manager regularly and get a mentor. Ensure you join engineering associations such as IET. I’m in the process of becoming a Chartered Engineer as I think it is important to always look forward and think of your long-term career path.
And what is that long-term career path?
I’m still at the start of my career, so it’s hard to say! But I like to learn from every aspect of my work and explore all opportunities. I find engineering fascinating, so I see myself remaining in this area but with more responsibilities like being involved in business decisions and leading teams. I love the fact that my role offers opportunities to travel and most importantly, teamwork. We’re all working towards a common goal and there is so much satisfaction to get from that.