Despite campaigns and events to highlight and address the imbalance, women are still under-represented in the engineering field. As it was International Women in Engineering day last weekend (23 June) we thought we’d catch up with one our valued women engineers, who, appropriately enough, joined us from overseas.
Isabela Santos is originally from Brazil and she has been with us for over a year now as a Quality Engineer. In her role she is responsible for ensuring that we have an effective quality management system and that we observe and adhere to this at every stage of the product journey, from goods in to dispatch. We caught up with her to find our how she became an Engineer and what she thinks about Women in Engineering.
How and when did you decide to become an engineer?
I remember there being lot of pressure in high school to make students decide on their career. We were submitted to multiple aptitude tests to help us make our decision. My test results showed that I was strongest using a combination of maths, engineering and creative reasoning to solve problems and generate ideas. This made me think I could be an architect or a designer but I’d not considered being an engineer at that time.
When I was 18, I started my first job in a multinational telecomm manufacturing company in Brazil. They were looking to hire employees even if they had no experience because they were also providing training. I was still undecided on my career and I saw in that opportunity the chance to try something. There was an assessment which I passed to start my first job.
Once I got inside the factory I was completely fascinated by the environment. The company was so big, so many machines, equipment, tests, everyone concentrated and looking very professional.
I was immediately interested to learn more about manufacturing and the methods and processes involved to make a product.
Yes, I never thought to become an engineer until the moment I stepped inside a manufacturing company. From then on I have never doubted my decision and I am proud to be a Production Engineer.
What was your university experience like as an engineering student?
I didn’t stop work during my five years at university as I took evening classes, so it was a big challenge to combine my responsibilities at work, learn new disciplines and participate in activities at University.
After five years I was exhausted! However I was able to discover more about myself in the process and identified valuable opportunities to grow.
The production engineering course allowed me to understand the combination of engineering and business. In addition I gained knowledge of the concepts behind design, planning and optimisation of production and manufacturing processes and the other support processes, such as supply chain and quality.
Basically I’m applying the theory learnt at university on a daily basis at Tharsus as Quality Management System Engineer. It’s about constantly working towards process improvement and ways to bring change through strategies such as cost reduction, savings and reducing times.
What has been your career path from graduation up to today?
I started my career in Quality before my graduation over 10 years ago. In the early months in my first job in manufacturing I was given the chance to work as a quality inspector. Since then I’ve always worked in Quality.
In parallel with my job I firstly graduated as Electrical-Electronic Technician and then started my Production Engineering degree at University. After 5 years I completed my course and graduated as a Production Engineer. I’ve completed other courses on quality such as, APQP, PPAP, FMEA, SPC, 5S, 8 wastes, Root Cause Analysis, 8D, and Lead Auditor to complement my background in Quality.
I worked in quality for different type of industries such as telecomm, automotive, pharmaceutical and now electro-mechanical. My experience in quality is on quality management systems, quality planning, processes, supplier quality performance and customer services.
What has been your most challenging experience as an engineer?
As a production engineer I am able to explore the decisions made to tackle management problems in an organisation. I use methods and techniques to resolve organisational systemic problems, so challenges are to be expected and all part of the role! However I experienced a double challenge when I came to work at Tharsus. It was more than a new job, it was a new country, culture and language for me.
I was hired to be a Quality Engineer focused on quality gates and quality in shop-floor processes. However I saw the opportunity to improve other areas in the business through the Quality Management System; to increase product quality, optimise manufacturing processes and exceed business standards.
It is not an easy task to build a strong Quality culture in an organisation. Especially when you are new to the business, you have to be assertive and very strong and consistent in your approach to ensure that you are implementing a robust and sustainable QMS tool.
As a result of this work and the support of colleagues throughout the business I am proud to say that we were recently successfully accredited to ISO 9001:2015 standard– the latest standard for Quality Management Systems.
How do people react when you tell them you work in engineering? Are they surprised and do they ever ask about it?
When people ask me what I do and I tell them I am engineer in a manufacturing company, I think they are surprised: 90% of the reactions I receive are just WOW! And I get questions such as; is it hard to work in such a male-dominated environment? They just don’t expect it.
Sadly the UK has the lowest ratio of women to men in engineering in all of Europe. The International Women in Engineering Day is a great support to females but I’m looking forward to the day when we will celebrate STEM female professionals without differentiation from males.
What advice do you have for women interested in engineering?
Go for it!
There are loads of opportunities as there is a huge shortage of engineers generally. It doesn’t matter if you are male or female. The only thing that matters is the quality of your work.
I believe that if you think that you would like to work in the engineering field and you are enjoying your maths and physics classes, you should not be afraid to pursue this, even if it turns out that you are the only woman on a course of 100 people. The world has changed and we have much more fluidity in job roles that were traditionally male and vice versa.
If you’d like to read another interview from our ‘Women in Engineering’ series you can find the previous instalment here.
If you are interested in joining Tharsus you can see all of our available vacancies on our careers page.