Female Engineer of the Month
Serrie-Justine Chapman is a Requirements Engineering Consultant at Test and Verification Solutions in Bristol. We spoke to her about her career in engineering:
Why did you choose to become an engineer?
It wasn't my first career, and it was almost by accident. I decided to change career and initially looked into doing a sales and marketing course. Before that I decided that it would be wise to get some computing skills with a foundation course on the Computing for real time studies with UWE. Once I started on the course I realised that I actually enjoyed the programming element and went on to do the full degree. The course itself covered both hardware and software, but I felt most at home with the hardware element and so went into a job as a semiconductor verification engineer in automotive straight after University.
What skills do you have that make you a good engineer?
Within verification maths is an obvious one and something that I have always been strong on, and an ability to essentially work through specifications and clearly identify key information required in order to be able to efficiently test a design is also key. Requirements management is very similar as it requires a lot of data analysis and managing of data through disciplined processes but also requires quite strong communication skills in order to elicit the data from the various involved parties.
What advantages do you have as a female engineer?
I'm not sure that being a female is necessarily an advantage but I do feel that the communicative nature of women helps in an industry that is not really renowned for its communication skills. Maybe being a female helps with the lack of male competitiveness which means that many colleagues go out of their way to help ensure that you have the knowledge necessary to do a good job.
What has been the most exciting project that you have worked on?
Whilst I have worked on many exciting design projects I feel that moving over to requirements management has been the most challenging and in many ways rewarding. Due to the complexity in managing the data required to do an efficient job I drove a tool called asureSIGN to be expanded from a test management tool into a requirements to test management tool and have recently moved to the company, TVS, that owns the tool. It’s allowing me to continue to expand the tool to not only close the gap between requirements and test but also help with communication and project management, which are also issues I have struggled with working in a large multi-national company.
Engineering is still often perceived as a 'male' industry. What advice would you give to young women who are considering a career in engineering?
Within Bristol girlgeekdinners we have many discussions on why women aren't in the industry. Unfortunately it's not something that appears to be bound to the engineering discipline itself as we have, as a gender, no disadvantages to doing the work, it appears to be a more social issues and sadly means that women rather than being on the rise in the industry have largely disappeared. The talks have involved issues such as the unconscious gender bias, the fact that in eastern Europe there appears to be less of a bias and also the fact that women as young as 19 are saying they don't work in the industry because they are told that they shouldn't - and like me they don't believe that to be true so fight to get into the industry. Many women also feel that they are excluded from the industry either because they don't exude confidence in their CV's or because they leave industry for a couple of years for various reasons. This appears more related to recruitment agencies than the companies as, so far as I can see, the industry is currently making an effort to entice women back in. On a plus side, because of the fact that it is a male dominated industry, the pay is pretty good and there is not an obvious pay gap between men and women (although sadly in some cases this is still being witnessed).
The willingness of the industry to support women is very obvious to me and it can be an interesting and varied job so I would fully support women looking at it as it's a very rewarding industry in many ways, most projects are related to making the world a better, more efficient place, be it with smart cities, electric cars or smart grids, it's all for the good. Personally some of my male colleagues have been some of my greatest support and become good friends.
What key fact would you share with parents about the opportunities for women in engineering?
It's a great long term career, there is a definite shortage of both male and female engineers in the country now and things are likely to get worse with the rise of the internet of things and the increased data needed to be managed to be of use. It's most definitely a great job for women and the benefits and support are first class in almost 100% of cases. My company supported a lot of flexibility over time taken out for childcare and I have never seen any bias over maternity leave etc. It's a great long term job and the benefits in comparison to many female role jobs are pretty obvious to be seen. I think that to allow women to have a voice in the industry and showcase their talents without the feeling that they should be humble about their achievements is what is needed to ensure the gender gap eventually disappears.