Q&A: Getting connected at Thales

If you bring your full self to a role, are confident and assertive, there shouldn’t be any reason why women can’t succeed in engineering, says Amy Blake, Assistant Project Manager at Thales in the UK.

Tell us about your career path, what led you to engineering?

I joined Thales in April 2020. I had never worked in an engineering field before, having previously worked in the retail and beauty industries. I was looking for a new challenge, and knew I had lots of transferrable skills, so was very open minded as to what that could be.

At the same time, my sister, Lily, was working for Thales on the Connect project, and flagged that the team were actually recruiting for some new roles. She convinced me to apply and interview for a job on the same project and I’m so glad she did.

I joined the team during the pandemic, so am in the early stages of my career compared to a lot of the Thales team who have worked on Connect for many years. It was quite daunting joining as the new person, particularly coming from outside the engineering sector, but the team has been very welcoming and supportive. Now, over a year in, I forget that I haven’t had a chance to meet some of them properly face to face because of the pandemic and am looking forward to rectifying that soon!

What are you currently working on?

My role is focused on Thales’ on-going upgrades to London Underground’s Connect communications system – which provides safety critical communications on the network. We’re currently working on the upgrade of dispatchers, which enable effective real-time communication between personnel on trains, and those working in station, depots and control centres. So far, we have installed 162 new dispatchers across the network, all of which are essential for keeping passengers and staff safe.

MORE INWED21 CONTENT CAN BE FOUND IN SKILLS & CAREERS

I find the project really fascinating, particularly given how important it is in keeping the London Underground moving. In the event that the system went down, the whole underground would come to a standstill as it just wouldn’t be possible to safely run services for passengers without the drivers being able to speak to control, and station staff being able to speak to depots.

My day to day involves a lot of hard work and a whole heap of planning! The public would never know or comprehend what happens at night to maintain the Underground. It really is a team effort. A lot of the engineers and field services have been working on Connect for a number of years, so the depth of knowledge that they bring to each project is invaluable. Working collaboratively with our customer (London Underground) and all of our suppliers goes a long way to the delivery of successful outcomes.

Have you come up against any negative perceptions as a woman working in engineering?

I have always been treated the same as my male counterparts within Thales, which I think is better than being singled out because of your gender. There is support and encouragement when you need it, but equally, there has always been trust in that I am able to do my job well, regardless of gender.

That said, more broadly, people are often surprised when I say I work in engineering. Admittedly, it’s not where my career started, but I think there very much is still a perception that not many women work in engineering.

Thales
Amy (right) with her sister Lily (left) who also works at Thales

I definitely think more women should consider careers in the sector. A lot of people outside engineering might think that you can’t necessarily be feminine if you wanted to succeed in the sector, but that has not been the case at all.

Do you think there are any roadblocks to women working in engineering or progressing their careers?

Once you are in the sector, I would say there are fewer roadblocks. There are a lot of different directions you can take your career within the sector, and given that Thales is a huge, global technology company, there are clear progression opportunities.

However, I would flag that it is not always easy to know where to start. In general, young woman are not encouraged to do the right GCSEs and A-Levels you typically need to work in engineering, so a large proportion of women do not have the “option” of doing engineering.

My sister has a degree in engineering, and I very clearly remember when she was at high school and showed a real interest in engineering, the school and her teachers were not particularly supportive. Our mum and Lily had to fight for her to be able to take the right level of classes and exams for her to be able to get the exam results needed to pursue her ambition.

Do you see efforts to improve opportunities for women in the industry?

I work with some amazing women within Connect, but outside Thales, I didn’t know any other woman working in engineering. Women are still vastly outnumbered within the industry. I can see things are improving but it is slow.

I would love to see more senior female engineering leads. Having women in positions of seniority is a great inspiration for others to follow. It can be intimidating working in a male dominated industry, but as long as you bring your full self to the role, are confident and assertive, there shouldn’t be any reason women can’t succeed.

Amy Blake, Assistant Project Manager at Thales in the UK.

International Women in Engineering Day – June 23 – is an awareness campaign to raise the profile of women in engineering and focuses attention on the amazing career opportunities available to girls in this exciting industry. It also celebrates the outstanding achievements of women engineers throughout the world. The event is organised by The Women’s Engineering Society.