Women in STEM: an interview with Olivia & Kathrin11 July 2022
At Sewtec, we believe that the engineering sector is a fantastic place for both women and men to thrive. For that reason, we’re passionate about encouraging more women into careers in engineering and STEM in general.
We are lucky enough to have some fantastic women flying the flag for Sewtec. In this article, we interviewed Olivia Collyer, Technical Sales Manager in Food & Confectionary, and Junior Applications Engineer Kathrin Peyer about their experiences and viewpoints on being a woman in STEM.
How did your career in STEM come about? Tell us a bit about your career history so far
Olivia: I grew up in a family of engineers, so it’s something that I have always been exposed to from a young age. I used to go to work with my dad and that’s when I fell in love with the industry and knew that engineering was what I wanted to do when I grew up. It’s been rooted in my family for a few generations now.
Kathrin: My story is very different from Olivia’s, as there are no engineers in my family! I have, however, always worked and studied in STEM. After deciding to study mechanical engineering, I completed a Masters and PhD before going into academia and teaching the subject. This role at Sewtec is my first industry-based role and I am really enjoying it so far.
What made you choose a career in STEM? Did you/do you have any female role models in STEM that made you consider this career path?
Olivia: I went to an all-girls school and I don’t think anyone went into engineering apart from me in my year group of 180 girls. It wasn’t really a career that was discussed when we were talking about our options for the future.
It’s just the males in my family that have worked in engineering. All of the females in my family are in teaching, nursing and childcare which are all very nurturing jobs. I have somewhat broken the mould in that sense, but have followed in the footsteps of the men in my family.
Kathrin: I don’t think so, no. I made the choice to enter into STEM because it just suited me and my skill set. As a child, I loved building things and playing with lego. I was in the scouts and was always hands-on. Hand me a broken bicycle and I’d work out how to fix it. When I reached the point in my life where I was deciding what I wanted to study, mechanical engineering just made sense.
What’s your favourite thing about your job and what do you find most challenging?
Olivia: I love that in my sales role, I am involved in the whole process. My role isn’t just about finding a new customer and passing the details on for someone else to quote for and waiting for the go-ahead. We have end-to-end interaction with the customer throughout projects, so it’s a really multi-dimensional sales role.
Challenge-wise, I’m lucky enough to be experienced in my job and I don’t come across too many frustrating challenges associated with being a woman! There are, of course, challenges in any sales role such as balancing the commercial needs of the company and the customer’s expectations.
Kathrin: I am new to my role and it’s unlike anything I’ve done before, so everything is a bit of a challenge at the moment! But that’s exactly what I was looking for. My role is pretty much all about challenges and solving problems and that’s what makes it interesting. For me, my favourite thing about my job is the challenges!
What challenges do you think face women in STEM? What have your personal experiences been with this, if any?
Olivia: I do think women have to work harder to prove themselves in STEM. I’ve definitely experienced some judgement in the past and some customers have assumed that I am not as technical as a male equivalent. I definitely have felt like I have had to prove myself a bit more when I’ve been out meeting people. However, as I become more confident in the job, I am finding it easier to assert myself and my expertise.
Kathrin: Seeing women in STEM is fantastic, but I do wonder whether some people might assume that you are a token woman. They may wonder if you are there because you deserve it and have the skill set, or whether you are ticking an inclusivity box. You may be met with scepticism on whether you really know your stuff.
Whilst I understand this to be true, my personal experiences with this have been minimal. I feel lucky that today, much of the path has been paved before me as a woman in STEM.
Do you think that being a woman affects your career in terms of progression and day-to-day?
Olivia: I don’t think that it has an effect on me whatsoever. I sit in the same board meetings as the men around me at work. I don’t get treated differently by my employer for being a woman and nor would I want to be – even if it was advantageous! All we can ask for as women in STEM is an even playing field and to get to where we are because of our skill sets and nothing else.
Kathrin: I think women everywhere are hindered slightly in progression if they want to start a family, no matter what industry you work in. The natural urge to become a parent does create unavailability to commit to a full-time job. Whilst I don’t have children, I am a carer for my partner so I have had a taste of what it is like to need that flexibility that women with children would need. This has made me more selective about what positions I could apply for but I have obviously been fortunate enough to find a role at Sewtec that allows me to balance my commitments.
How do you think we could better pave the way for women in STEM going forward?
Olivia: Awareness of STEM careers needs to start in school. Engineering was never encouraged during my school years. I only became aware of it through my family. I also think that the perception of engineering needs updating. When I tell people I work in engineering, they assume I spend my days in a hard hat getting my hands dirty and that is an old-fashioned view.
If young women particularly were made aware of all the different avenues available within engineering, we may see a positive change with more women seriously considering it as a career path in their future.
Kathrin: I agree. The younger we can expose young women to it, the better. We need more imagery, stories and examples of females in engineering roles. And this doesn’t even necessarily need to be pushed towards young women – it just needs to become normalised. We are influenced by what we are exposed to, and at the moment young girls just aren’t being exposed to women in engineering or engineering in general.
How are Sewtec contributing to encouraging women in STEM?
Olivia: Sewtec is great at showcasing what a career in engineering is really like. We are shouting about how diverse, exciting and dynamic our jobs can be through the ‘Day in the Life’ series of articles on our website.
Kathrin: Sewtec’s work with schools, colleges and universities are instrumental in encouraging women in STEM. We need to keep shining a light on what a career in engineering can offer to all types of people, targeting women alongside men. Engineering holds a diverse range of roles with the potential to attract a diverse range of people, and Sewtec are working to highlight this.
One piece of advice/wisdom for women thinking about or beginning a career in STEM?
Olivia: There are a multitude of avenues that engineering can take you down, so explore all your options. You are just as capable as a man in engineering, even though you may need to work a little harder to prove that to people. Be prepared to hold your ground and fight your corner and don’t let people’s pre-judgements get to you.
Kathrin: Being a woman in STEM does take confidence, but you won’t necessarily start out confident. Don’t be fooled into thinking that everyone knows more than you. Men go through just the same learning curve as women do. Don’t get intimidated – everyone starts somewhere and that includes the male colleagues around you.
Interested in a career with Sewtec? Please visit our careers page for more information.