Women in STEM: life as a graduate engineer at BAE Systems

Three female graduates share their experiences at BAE Systems, from the mentoring they’ve received to the important STEM outreach work they’re doing.

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When you join BAE Systems, you’ll be part of an inclusive culture that’s committed to working to the highest ethical and environmental standards, making a positive contribution to the countries and communities in which BAE Systems operates. This is a place where you can make a real difference.

Want to know more about what your life would be like at BAE Systems and how you’ll be empowered to make an impact? Hear from three engineers at BAE Systems – Alexa, Becky and Beth – on the culture and people at the company, their experiences as female engineers and how they inspire others to follow in their footsteps through BAE Systems’ STEM outreach activities.

Once you’ve read this article, head over to BAE Systems’ new article on how its graduate engineers can make an impact to hear more from Alexa, Becky and Beth about the graduate scheme, including the projects they’ve worked on and the training and support they’ve received.

A culture of helping hands

Alexa, Becky and Beth all pinpointed the people they work with and how happy they are to help as one of their favourite things about working at BAE Systems. ‘Everyone is really helpful, nice and friendly and this is what makes it such a nice place to work,’ says Beth. ‘I’ve picked up a number of informal mentors along the way. I feel valued and know that people want to make sure I progress.’

This informal support is complemented by more formal mentoring schemes. As part of the graduate programme, you’ll be assigned a mentor who you’ll meet regularly to discuss your development and work on different skills. Becky has also taken part in a reverse mentoring scheme: ‘I’ve been paired with a senior leader and I get to mentor them too, which is really interesting. They’re asking me for help on how they can engage more with the graduates and, in turn, I’m learning a lot about the company through them.’

Meanwhile, Alexa attends a ‘coffee roulette’ for women within BAE Systems. ‘Once a month, I take a coffee break and talk to another female engineer I’ve been paired with. It’s a different person every time, from any business area, so it could be a really senior leader or a graduate like me. It’s been really invaluable to get to know more people and learn about their jobs.’

Breaking through misconceptions

Another thing that Alexa, Becky and Beth agree on is that, while there are some stereotypes and concerns about being a woman in engineering, their experience at BAE Systems has been nothing but positive.

‘I had some concerns about pursuing an engineering career before joining BAE Systems. My course was heavily male-dominated and I wondered if I was going to fit in or be looked down on because of my gender. That hasn’t been the case. I feel really supported in my team and I’ve never been treated differently because of who I am,’ says Alexa.

‘I didn’t have any big concerns, but it was in the back of my mind that I might not be taken seriously. As soon as I got here, I knew that wasn’t going to happen. BAE Systems has such a big learning and development culture so, if I don’t know something, I know training and support will be available to change that,’ says Becky.

‘My mum was worried for me when I said I wanted to work in engineering because she didn’t think people would listen to me or take my opinion into account as a woman. Actually, one of the perks of there being fewer female engineers is that people tend to remember my name far more quickly than I remember theirs!’ says Beth.

Inspiring others to follow suit

You will also have the opportunity to complete ‘stretch assignments’ (tasks outside of your normal day job). Assignments could be rooted in areas such as sustainability or branding and comms but, for Alexa, Becky and Beth, the most rewarding choice was to get involved in inspiring more young people to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and maths.

With so much STEM outreach work on the go at BAE Systems, there are numerous ways for graduates to get involved. Becky recalls attending a women in STEM opening evening for university students, where she gave a presentation on a day in her life. Beth has run mock interviews for school students and, based on feedback from schools that students couldn’t see why they’d need to study algebra, developed a lesson on how engineers at BAE Systems use algebra in their jobs. She also helped to run the company’s Schools Engineering Challenge, bringing students from local schools to Portsmouth Dock for the day to build their own boats and put them through speed, accuracy and endurance trials.

Alexa has taken on a role as early careers coordinator, handling requests for the company to attend careers fairs, as well as leading a team to organise BAE Systems’ Engineering Taster Week for 50 school students. ‘Getting to deliver the taster week was really great. It was the first time we ran it virtually, so we redesigned the whole week. It was six months’ work and it was so worthwhile to give back to the students and see them get excited.’

Careers advice from…

Beth : ‘You’re not expected to know everything, so don’t worry about that when you start your job. Actually, people don’t mind as long as you ask questions and show that you’re willing to learn, rather than just sitting there quietly.’

Alexa : ‘Don’t be afraid to talk to people and make contacts. Some of the work I’m doing now is because I’ve been willing to introduce myself to somebody and say yes to something new.’

Becky : ‘Be confident in your own abilities and skills and don’t be afraid to show off about what you’ve achieved or try to hide those things away. If you make people aware that you are good at your job, then you will get more opportunities.’

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