Some would say that Cheryl’s path to engineering was pre-determined when she received her first soldering iron at the age of five, and accompanied her father to a father-and-son day at work (her brother wasn’t old enough at the time) where she made circuit boards for fun. After signing up to an ESITO (Electrical Supply Industry Training Organisation, now Connexis) month-long taster course that gave Cheryl an insight into the Electricity Industry, she left school at 17 to be a high voltage electrical apprentice.
With over 14 years’ experience in transmission, distribution, and generation under her belt, Cheryl’s non-traditional path to engineering included roles as a high voltage electrical and protection technician before gaining a diploma in engineering. Always driven to achieve, Cheryl held several roles in the industry before taking on the Network Manager role with a lines company in Te Kuiti. With an MBA now under her belt, she started working at Vector 16 months ago as an Asset Performance Engineer.
Cheryl has found ways to thrive in the industry by focusing on her strengths and just ‘getting on with it’. “I found my unique set of skills and focused on that, having small hands and paying attention to detail meant that I was good at wiring and reading drawings. Like all jobs, it has its challenges. The most frustrating thing was having to share a portaloo on a construction site with 30 guys; I used to have to drive to the nearest public toilet, sometimes 20-30 mins away. But this has changed since I did my apprenticeship.
“If my father (who is in the same industry) hadn’t told me about the ESITO taster course I would never have found out about it through the career teacher at school
.” Instead, her teacher had suggested nursing, accounting, law, and medicine as career options. Neither engineering or the trades were mentioned to her, but she’s sure it would have been if she had been male.
With a shortage of skilled labour in infrastructure roles, women are being targeted to fill them. Less than 4% of trade and technical trainees at Connexis are female, despite women comprising half of the general working population.3
Cheryl would like to see more information and education targeted at girls. “Many women don’t know they can do mechanical, civil or electrical engineering, so I would advise them to speak with other women in these types of roles, go on a taster course or register for a programme organised by your school. Don‘t assume that engineering is only for males, woman can do trades and engineering, they bring a unique set of skills to the job.
INSPIRING GIRLS EARLY
All three engineers emphasised the importance of having role models and mentors (male and female), whether these were family members or teachers. The early consideration of engineering as a career path meant they picked the right subjects (physics, maths, chemistry) in Year 11 to pursue engineering at University or an apprenticeship in a relevant trade.
A key step to encouraging more women to choose engineering is to provide the right information early enough to ensure engineering is part of the career consideration set. Increasing awareness of taster courses or school programmes available is also important; Renella had attended Enginuity Day organised by Auckland University’s Faculty of Engineering in Year 13.
With her range of experience across different sectors of the industry, Cheryl has run a few taster courses for Connexis and enjoys “giving back” to the organisation that helped her on her career path. She has also participated in a programme run by Ultimit, a Connexis initiative aimed at attracting more women into infrastructure industries, where she has shared her industry insights with teenage girls in schools across the country.
Vector’s sponsorship of the Auckland schools’ Vector EPro8 Challenge is another community initiative, in addition to our schools education programme
, where topics taught link directly to the New Zealand Curriculum. The EPro8 Challenge is an engineering and problem solving competition which will see over 7000 students from 700 schools across New Zealand take part in 2017. The event introduces students to a range of engineering and science principles in a fun and challenging way.
The three engineers featured in this article will have the opportunity to participate as role models at different Vector EPro8 Challenges. In Auckland, there are various competition heats starting in July, prior to the finals later in the year for students ranging from Years 5 to 10.
There are various groups that provide social, professional and networking opportunities for female engineers. Auckland University runs The Women in Engineering Network
(WEN) to inspire and empower women to achieve their career aspirations. Members are offered professional development, mentoring and networking opportunities.
, the Connexis initiative, aims to educate and encourage more women into trade and technical roles within the infrastructure industry. They do this through marketing and communication material as well as events such as ‘Girls with Hi-Vis Month’ where women have the chance to experience a technical/trade role for a day.
, NZ’s Professional Body for Engineers, was set up in 1912 to build a strong engineering profession that promotes and supports its members. Besides upholding professional standards and providing training opportunities, IPENZ also encourages its members to connect and celebrate achievement as well as to give back to the profession. Since its launch in March 2011, IPENZ’s Women in Engineering initiative has made recommendations to improve recruitment, retention, and promotion of female engineers based on its own research. 4
VECTOR'S WOMEN IN LEADERSHIP PROGRAM 2017
For our part at Vector, we’re huge advocates for having a diverse workforce and inclusive workplace. In 2015, we were honoured to win two awards at the Diversity Works Awards – Tomorrow’s Workforce and the Supreme award for the year.
And we’re not standing still, we will be inviting women who work at Vector to participate in our first Vector Women in Leadership Programme on 8 March 2017 which will coincide with International Women’s Day. Twenty women from within the Vector Group will participate in a six-month leadership programme starting in May, where they will participate in workshops and work on several projects during this time.
Professor Sarah Leberman of Massey University, an expert in leadership development, diversity and gender equality will lead the programme which will also feature internal speakers from Vector. Professor Leberman will be joined by Sarah Schulz, Senior Consultant at the Capability Group, who will co-facilitate the programme.