IET Young Woman Engineer of the Year 2010 winner Arlene McConnell highlights the benefits to her and the company she works for from her association with this prominent industry award.
Arlene McConnell, a systems engineer for SELEX Galileo, was awarded the title of Young Woman Engineer of the Year (YWE) in 2010 after being nominated by her company. She calls the award her “rocket launch”, as it has given her many opportunities including a high-profile platform to promote engineering and female engineers.
“It meant a great deal to me as it’s such a prestigious award,” she says. “I’ve been a student member of the IET since the moment I began university and to receive an award from the IET was a great honour in the first instance.
“It’s benefited me in many ways, but mostly it’s given me a platform to speak about the issues affecting women in STEM,” she explains. “This is something I’d been doing for a while at SELEX, but being able to say I’m an IET YWE winner really does help get your message out there.”
Arlene has found that the award has given her a chance not only to speak to school pupils about careers in STEM, but also influence decisions and policies at a strategic level, and she has the opportunity to speak to the Scottish government as well as heading to the Houses of Parliament.
“I can't believe I got to speak at Westminster,” she enthuses, “especially being a Glaswegian from a council estate!”
“It’s been gratifying to see the amount of attention she’s got and obviously opportunities to go to places like Westminster, but what most tickled me about her events was something at the other end of the scale,” highlights Allan Colquhoun, SELEX Galileo’s university liaison and emerging technologies manager.
“After her talk at one school event the young ladies in the audience were coming up and asking her to sign their programmes. It’s great to get the Lords and MPs to listen to you, but having that obvious and direct influence on young people is what’s going to make a real difference,” he explains.
Arlene’s also had amazing networking opportunities and met people from all walks of life. Getting to visit so many places and people has helped her formulate a better understanding of the problems related to getting more women into STEM.
“Hearing the different opinions on what the problems were has helped me to formulate ways to solve them and it’s given me a real boost to carry on the work and highlight the issues myself,” she explains.
Although Arlene passed on the award to 2011 winner Captain Charlotte Joyce, her opportunities have not ended.
“The award is simply a springboard. It’s not just a year long thing, it’s a rocket launch and it’s down to you to continue,” she explains.
Indeed, Arlene’s work has not slowed down. She believes that it was through the YWE award that she was invited to join the Royal Society of Edinburgh’s Young Academy where she has continued to promote STEM careers and discuss the issues stopping more women from getting involved.
Becoming a well-known respected campaigner for women in STEM has only helped Arlene’s career and she believes the award has helped widen her career options and given her new opportunities to progress.
“I was given a promotion this year,” she says. “[Winning the award] certainly opened up a lot of different avenues: I’ve had a lot of job offers since being given the award but I’m quite happy here at SELEX.”
The award not only helped Arlene, it also helped promote her employer and nominee – SELEX Galileo.
“Arlene, like all of our engineers at SELEX Galileo, has been given a range of development opportunities and the nomination for YWE was just a part of this. As well as showing off Arlene’s talent, having a winner at the company is a clear demonstration of our commitment to nurturing young talent and developing our female engineers,” highlights Beatrice Nicholas, group engineering director.
“Arlene’s award has been great for drawing attention to SELEX Galileo’s engineering expertise but the main benefits have seen inside the company. As a woman who has risen to the top of an engineering company, I know the importance of having role models and encouragement to grow and develop in what is often seen as a male-dominated field. This award has cemented Arlene as a role model for other women at the company as well as showing how seriously the company takes their contributions.”
Allan believes awards such as YWE are hugely important to the industry on many levels and that all companies should put forward their most inspiring female engineers.
“We were obviously thrilled to nominate Arlene – she didn’t come from nowhere, she was accelerating within the company and was incredibly active with schools and universities,” he explains. “Going through the nomination process is a learning exercise for both the company and individuals. It’s not something we undertook lightly, we had multiple candidates that we put forward and we worked with them to promote that. I think the nomination process alone helped both the company and the candidates develop.
“I think the IET has done a fantastic job in promoting the YWE as a brand and an icon,” he says. “It’s great for us to leverage our association as a sponsor and for Arlene as a role model.
SELEX Galileo has worked closely with professional institutions to promote engineering for many years and felt sponsorship of the YWE award was an extension of this work.
Yes it is great promotion for the company and helps it become more well-known through growing PR exposure, however, it also shows the importance the company puts on encouraging female engineers into the industry.
“We’re keen to address the gender issues in our industry because there’s a huge pool of talent that is being wasted,” says Allan. “But we don’t just talk the talk, we walk the walk, and we are changing our gender bias quite dramatically across the industry with appointments such as Beatrice’s,” he explains.
“As a company, being a sponsor of the award is a concrete indication to all our female engineers that we’re serious about promoting them and their talents within our organisation,” Beatrice adds. “It’s also a signal during recruitment to women thinking of joining us that we’re an equal opportunities employer that will develop them and give them a platform to make the most of their skills.”
“I’d recommend that every engineering company out there gets involved in this award [one way or another], this is something they should really want to get involved in,” Arlene concludes.
Part of the IET’s remit is promoting, recognising and rewarding excellence and it does this through four awards programmes: the Ambition Awards, Achievement Awards, Innovation Awards and Young Woman Engineer of the Year Awards.
The IET Ambition Awards programme includes a range of undergraduate and postgraduate scholarships, competitions and travel awards encouraging young people to enter the engineering and technology profession and providing financial support throughout university. The IET Achievement Awards recognise the exceptional achievements of individuals working in the engineering and technology profession. The IET Innovation Awards celebrate the products, technologies and processes that lead the way in engineering innovation. The IET Young Woman Engineer of the Year Awards recognise and promote women in engineering and technology and encourage more women to join the profession.
For more information, visit: www.theiet.org/awards.
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