Be the role model – you can’t be what you can’t see

Manufacturers’ Monthly speaks with 2020 Women in Industry award winner, mechanical engineer Jackie Gray-Lewis from BAE Systems Australia, about creating opportunities and support for women. 

As children grow up and observe the world that surrounds them, both girls and boys both aspire to be like the adults they see. 

Young girls grow up often seeing women in roles that are now the “norm” – nurses, teachers, and even police officers.   

However, when it comes to Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) careers, women remain underrepresented.  Less than 20 per cent of engineering students are women and female engineers make up only 15 per cent of the engineering workforce. 

Recently, BAE Systems Australia created a podcast titled You Can’t Be What You Can’t See. They invited a number of business leaders, including members of their own team, to talk about their experience, and how they are challenging gender bias and raising the profile of women in STEM careers. 

Gabby Costigan – CEO   

Gabby Costigan was one of three girls in her family. As a child, she wanted to fly helicopters, but was quickly told that (back then), women do not fly helicopters.  

Costigan quickly pivoted and decided if she couldn’t fly them, she would fix them, hence, launching her aeronautical engineering career. She has held leadership roles in both the Australian Defence Force and defence industry, and in 2018, she became the first female CEO of BAE Systems Australia.  

As a leader in the Australian defence industry, BAE Systems takes responsibility to inspire students towards STEM careers within the defence industry very seriously.  

The company works with education departments to develop tools and resources that show how students with artistic and creative minds can have STEM careers that are like that of students with maths and science skills.    

“We’re looking for ways to attract more women to the industry at all levels of experience,” Costigan said. “It’s a truly exciting time to be in the defence industry. The Commonwealth government is investing in Defence, and this is boosting our economy, and so a career in defence industry can be a career for life. 

“Sponsoring the Women in Industry Awards is a great opportunity to share our support for women in STEM and to highlight the fabulous achievements of female engineers in Australia.” 

Jackie Lewis-Gray – mechanical engineer  

Jackie Lewis-Gray recently joined BAE Systems as a graduate engineer. She joined the company at a time when industry is more encouraging of females in STEM careers.  

However, when she was at university, Lewis-Gray was still surrounded by male students. She made some great friends during her studies, but noted it felt different because of the lack of female representation.  

“When you have a female around, you can lift each other up. It inspires you,” she said.  

Lewis-Gray said recognition from the Women in Industry Awards last year helped her progress in her career.  

“I moved into a higher-level role than what I was expecting,” she said. “The company definitely recognised me and want to develop me more. They realised I had a good attitude.”  

Lewis-Gray has been running a five-day work program for schoolkids to work at BAE Systems Australia. Participants were given the opportunity to design and build projects in a group setting, which they could take home.  

“Working for BAE Systems has been incredible,” Lewis-Gray said. “They’re really ahead of the times in supporting their staff and giving them the right opportunities to develop as leaders in the business. The opportunities are very positive, and not just created to benefit to the company.”  

BAE Systems Australia initiatives include more diverse leadership, forums for women in business, and a STEM Returners program to facilitate employment for women who wish to get back into the engineering profession.  

“I think the more we can get our faces out there, even more younger women will believe in themselves,” Lewis-Gray said. “I didn’t expect to win an award.”  

Lewis-Gray said being able to fill in knowledge gaps was a great achievement, and that going to all-girls schools to present about engineering was a rewarding experience.  

“I told them engineering was not just about making cars,” she said. “I showed them career prospects that they could be interested in.”  

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