Case study

Senior process improvement engineer — Sadie Peacock

Sadie studied physics at The University of Manchester. She now manages a team as a senior process improvement engineer. Discover what advice she'd give to other aspiring female engineers

How did you get your job?

My first job was a direct entry graduate role as a process improvement engineer. I was then internally promoted to senior engineer.

Engineering is a typically male-dominated industry. Why did you decide on this career?

I didn't decide that engineering was the industry I wanted to work in until I had graduated and was looking for a job. There were a few directions I could have gone in as a physics graduate, and when looking into these in more detail engineering was the one that aligned with my strengths and goals.

The fact that engineering is male dominated didn't really play a part in my decision making. I was at the stage of my life where I was confident in what I wanted and that was a career in engineering.

What's a typical day like as a senior process improvement engineer?

I have a team of 10 to 12 engineers, technicians and placement students that report into me. They work to directly support the assembly of one of our product ranges (CMM probes) made up of around 12 different product families. This involves attending any call outs raised by the assembly cells, managing investigations from these call outs, running and reviewing of process metrics and working on projects to improve these metrics. It's my job to support and advise the team on these activities, while managing communications with the senior managers.

I am also responsible for proposing high-level strategic improvements to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the day-to-day work my team carries out (e.g. procedural changes, resource management, recruiting of new staff).

What more should be done to increase female representation in engineering?

It's about recognising the gap and actively working to overcome it and I think talking about it is the best place to start. The number of female engineers going into entry level jobs seems to be improving, however the same rate of improvement does not seem to be taking place throughout higher levels in engineering companies. In my opinion getting women into senior management positions is the next step and understanding what factors could be preventing this (i.e. maternity and childcare).

What do you enjoy about your job?

The variety of the work, seeing the impact that my input has made and working with others to achieve a shared goal are the key things for me.

What are the challenges?

I'd probably say the volume of work. You get a real sense of ownership for the products you work on and as such you want to fix all the problems immediately. One of my biggest challenges has been managing the expectations I place on myself and understanding that I can't do everything at the same time.

What have been your career highlights?

My biggest achievement is probably becoming a chartered engineer. Having an external organisation recognise the contribution you are making to the industry is really affirming.

In what way is your degree relevant to your job?

The practical work carried out in the labs and the problem-solving aspect of it has been the most relevant. It's the application of theory to physical scenarios to predict the output when input factors are changed that is a common theme in both my job and my degree.

How easy is it to progress in your field?

If you have a desire to progress there are lots of opportunities to do so. I have taken the management route, however becoming a purely technical senior engineer (without management responsibilities) is also an option.

If I wanted to try out a slightly different area of engineering, for example a more project based role, that option is also available.

How did you get involved with the Women’s Engineering Society (WES)?

I am a very recent WES member (I joined within the last month) so I've not had a chance to fully explore the benefits it provides, although already I feel more informed in terms of the issues facing female engineers and what I can do to help tackle this.

What are your career ambitions?

It's important to me that I always enjoy my work. I like to have responsibility so I can influence the direction and objectives of the work and really feel that my input is making a difference. I want to feel that my contribution is improving things for others, whether that's the users of our products, or more directly the efficacy of the team I'm working with to improve business output.

If I feel that these goals can be best achieved through high-level management roles then that's what I will work towards. However, the most important thing to me is that my career gives me fulfilment.

What advice would you give to other aspiring female engineers?

Look at what you want to do and what you want to get out of a career and push yourself out of your comfort zone to achieve that. Have confidence in yourself and your abilities, everyone has self-doubt (it's been shown this is more prevalent in woman than men) but it's how we overcome and manage this doubt that lets us reach our potential. 

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