Meet a trio of female engineers leading the way at ABB

Automation is key to the future workplace – it improves safety and productivity levels whilst preventing costly problems. Meet some of the female engineers leading ABB’s automation services.

Three ABB female engineers in the process industry, robotics and electrification divisions of ABB share their stories, what motivates them in their work, and what they hope to inspire in others considering a future career in engineering.

Maria Ruiz, Senior Service Sales Engineer, ABB Process Industries

One of the reasons Maria became a mechatronics engineer is that she believes automation will improve the world.

“I love technical stuff! Which is why I studied to become an engineer in the first place,” she says. “Along the way though, I’ve found it more inspiring because I see how automation is changing the world for the better, by making industrial processes easier and safer.”

Hailing from Colombia, Maria says she was one of few women to graduate from an engineering degree in mechatronics, robotics, and automation 17 years ago.

“To be honest with you, it was very difficult after graduation to get a job as a woman in engineering,” she says. “I think this career path wasn’t particularly open to women because of the culture in Colombia back then.”

Initially taking on a sales role in technical instrumentation, and then compressors for a natural gas company, Maria’s journey has taken her from Colombia to Canada and to Australia. She’s been working with ABB within the Processing Industry Business Unit in Western Australia for over 5 years – and loves it.

“I look after all the services that we have for Grinding applications, automation and control systems in the Process Industry Business Unit and the clients – mainly in mining services – that fall into that category out here Western Australia,” she says. “It’s awesome being here, I enjoy the working culture and feel very supported by ABB.”

Maria finds her role in sales motivating because it is customer centric.

“The most important aspect of my job is listening, because by listening I can gain an understanding of the customer’s needs and then help find a solution for them,” she explains. “I love my job, because it’s about building connections with people, and delivering solutions that improve their business processes. It also establishes trust and inspires long-term working relationships that you keep building on.”

While Maria acknowledges that women comprise the minority in her professional field, she is encouraged by the fact that there are more opportunities available to women.

“When I was in uni there were four women compared to about 80 men, whereas I believe the ratio is now something like 20 per cent of women going into engineering,” she says. “But more importantly, I’m seeing a lot of companies offering women opportunities to work, such as ABB. I believe if there are qualified women seeking work, they will have great opportunities available to them.”

Moreover, Maria believes that by leading with example, she can contribute to achieving equality between men and women. She says it starts at home.

“The world is changing and there are many doors opening to women, but it’s important that women are fairly competing for work – not filling quotas – to be equal. That needs to start with how young people view the world,” she says. “I have a daughter and a son, and I am instilling them with the knowledge that they are equal. I don’t want them to grow up in a world where they feel that there is a difference in what they can do or achieve because of their gender.”

Maria also hopes that younger generations of women pursuing careers in engineering will “take more risks”.

“From my observations, I’ve noticed that sometimes women don’t take the same professional risks as men,” she says. “My advice to women is to take advantage of the professional opportunities that come your way, apply for positions which you have qualifications for but perhaps don’t feel fully qualified for – because what’s the real risk? You may miss an opportunity to advance your career.”

Emma Bebe, Robotics Operations and Sales Support Team Leader and Senior Sales Specialist, ABB Robotics

A self-professed ‘robot nerd’ Emma Bebe’s passion for her work stems from an interest in maths at primary school.

“I was interested in engineering as a young kid, mainly from my father’s influence – he encouraged my interest in maths,” says Emma. “As I got older, and got involved in robotics clubs at school, I realised this was what I was wanted to pursue professionally. Luckily by the time I had finished high school, robotics and mechatronics had become a course you could study at university, and for me that was a no-brainer.”

Emma has a bachelor of engineering with honours in mechatronics, robotics and automation engineering, as well as a bachelor of science with honours in computer science and software engineering which she completed in 2009. She picked what she refers to as a “hands-on course” that included a year of work placement.

“Which is how I started at ABB, back in 2006. I did a year with the robotics team and then I went back to university and finished that off,” Emma explains. “After working with an ABB partner after uni, I came back to ABB in 2011 and have had various roles since then, but always within the robotics team.”

Currently, Emma has a dual role at ABB – she is both a Service Sales Engineer and a Team Leader in Robotics Operations.

“The first role involves customer relations with any clients that have purchased our equipment previously – we basically look after the equipment for a long time, up to 20 years – and the role spans sales from service agreements to training to upgrades of equipment,” she says. “In my other role, I look after the operations team in robotics, which is a team of three plus me. We handle everything from sales support through to execution of orders.”

What motivates Emma in both her roles is problem-solving and helping people.

“It’s very gratifying when you can resolve a customer issue, because that comes from first gaining an understanding of their business as well as technical needs,” she enthuses. “For example, if you can get their production up and running again, that can make a huge difference to their operation. I also just enjoy working with different customers – sales is actually about relationship-building, supporting customers and improving their business, which I love. Plus, I get to work on the technical aspects.”

Whilst still in a minority as a woman in her field, Emma is encouraged by the increased numbers of female engineers she is seeing at ABB.

“ABB have always been highly supportive and while there are fewer female engineers, I’ve never felt any animosity about my gender or my age with colleagues or management. I’ve always felt part of the work family,” Emma says. “In industry at large the difference is still significant – for example it’s rare to come across a female maintenance manager when I go out to a customer site. However, I think that is gradually changing.”

Emma strongly believes in nurturing young people’s interest in engineering fields young. Which is why she is an active member of the Robocup Junior Victoria Committee. The committee runs events and workshops for RoboCupJunior, an educational initiative that sponsors robotic events for young students.

“Generally speaking, I think if companies want to get more women into the field of robotics, there should be engagement with students at least at a high school level,” she says. “Certainly, that worked out for me, and led me to my career at ABB. I was interested in robotics at a young age and being involved in robotics activities helped cultivate that interest further and engaged those vital STEM skills early on.”

Abhipsha Patel, National Systems Sales Manager, ABB Electrification

In her role as National Systems Sales Manager for ABB’s Electrification division, Abhipsha leads a team of account managers to deliver turnkey solutions, systems, and mega projects.

“In this role I have the opportunity to coach, train and work with highly qualified sales professionals and account managers across the country,” she explains. “We look after about $150 million in business per year, and our main motto within the team is to be the preferred partner for the customer.”

Abhipsha is driven by two main outcomes in her work.

“My first motivation is to provide our customers with a fantastic experience, and one that positively influences their business and growth,” she says. “Secondly, when our team wins big dollar value projects for ABB it provides a lot of satisfaction. I’m passionate about that because it has a direct impact on individual livelihoods – not only is it important for ABB’s business growth, it supports a lot of employment.”

Her own professional journey with ABB began in India, on the back of graduating from a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering.

“My journey with ABB has provided very interesting professional opportunities that span two countries, different divisions, and product lines, but predominantly I’ve worked in front-end sales,” Abhipsha elaborates. “My working experience with ABB has been excellent, and I feel I’ve developed a bond with ABB that continues to grow. Since I started, I’ve had different roles and challenges but have always been provided with the flexibility that I need, which has been important when it comes to looking after my family.”

While the ratio of males to females is higher in electrical engineering, Abhipsha is adamant that this has been a non-issue for her.

“The ratio of males to females in our university was skewed towards males but honestly it never bothered me. I always felt that I was choosing the profession and therefore choosing to do my best in this profession – that’s all that really matters,” she says. “It is a fact that women are in the minority in this professional field, but for me it’s been like anything else. I’ve had a target, an aspiration, and I’ve worked towards it. I believe that as more women do the same the ratio will become more equal.”

Abhipsha notes that a large part of her own success in juggling professional and personal responsibilities comes from setting clear boundaries.

“At home I have two very active boys, a husband, a house, and so for me to successfully do business, I have created boundaries which enables me to give my complete, undivided attention to the personal side of my life and to the professional,” she expands. “For example, I have a clear rule that I will not pick up the phone before 9am or after 5:30pm because that is my family time. Unless there is a truly urgent situation, that is the boundary. My peers and my customers accept and respect this. Also, by creating this boundary I’m able to work with a peaceful mind, which means I do my job more efficiently and productively. Likewise, I can attend to my family with the same kind of mental relaxation.”

Importantly, Abhipsha encourages women considering a STEM career to forge their own path towards a goal, which includes setting boundaries to get there.

“My advice to women considering this path – keep going! You can achieve it. The only person who can stop you is you. Find a way to make it possible that you are comfortable with as there is no right or wrong,” she says. “You can choose to work whatever days and hours suit you best, but decide what you want, set your boundaries, and follow the path towards the goal. If you have a clear understanding of what you want and need to get there, nothing can stop you achieving that goal.”

This article was written as part of the International Women’s Day 2022, celebrating the achievements of women.

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