Women in Engineering: The XX Factor at Vector

Industry Perspectives Innovation
Equal rights and opportunities for women in New Zealand has always been a topic of interest. Headlines in this space have ranged from the under representation of women on company boards and the gender pay gap, to the low percentage of women in traditionally male dominated industries such as construction, mining, and utilities.

Gender clustering in the labour market has implications both socially and economically. Socially, the increase of women in the labour force has influenced family dynamics and redefined some roles; being a “wife” and/or “mother” are no longer mutually exclusive of having one or more professional roles. 

Economically, the common finding across various pieces of research show that the increased participation of women in traditionally male dominated industries and occupations contribute towards narrowing the gender pay gap.

Change is taking place, albeit slowly. The Women At Work: 1991-2013 1 report, based on census data, showed female representation in the physical, mathematical, and engineering science professionals group, increased from 9% to 21% between 1991 and 2013. 

However, the Institute of Professional Engineers in New Zealand (IPENZ) have identified that women remain under-represented at all levels of the engineering workforce and that recruitment, retention and advancement strategies are needed for the benefit of engineering organisations, the profession and society.

   In a survey of 15 engineering organisations, IPENZ found that although women represented 32% of a nearly 20,000 strong workforce, only 16% of engineers were women 2 (see IPENZ chart to right). 

So as a major player in the electricity supply industry, how does Vector compare? Across the Vector Group, women make up 31.8% of our workforce, and of all our engineers 19.1% are female, a slightly higher percentage than the 16% identified by IPENZ. 

Here, three female Vector engineers share their unique perspectives on what attracted them to engineering, the challenges they’ve faced along the way and what they’d like to see change to encourage more woman into the industry.
Being part of a key infrastructure company is very rewarding; having an inquisitive mind and an interest in how things work all contribute towards creative problem solving

Rose Thomas, Capital Investment Engineer


Rose Thomas (Capital Investment Engineer) and Renella Castelino (Networks Engineer) joined Vector through the Graduate Programme straight from University. Both credit an inquisitive nature and a love of maths and science for their careers in engineering. With engineers in their families, both could see career pathways that engineering would open for them. 

Renella explains, an engineering degree can take you so many places – it really depends on what you’re interested in and there are different options even within the same industry. At Vector, I’m working on planning for the southern electricity network, reviewing project options, considering both the traditional network and new technologies to meet our customers’ needs and the continued growth in Auckland.   

As a Capital Investment Engineer, Rose has a different job of future proofing Auckland’s electricity supply. She looks at the network projects in the pipeline to determine and prepare scoping documents for projects which will be completed each year, and to mitigate the corresponding risks to Vector’s network.

As a naval engineer, Rose’s father was the closest influencer on her career, although there were several engineers in her family – both male and female. My upbringing wasn’t centred around stereotypical gender type roles or careers, rather what my interests and strengths are. And as a child, I shared similar interests with my dad, I was always asking him why and how various things worked. This gave me the confidence in deciding my career path.

Renella loves the variety of projects in her role, “going on site and being involved in the whole lifecycle of a project from concept to construction, no project is ever the same – I’m learning constantly.  

Both engineers credit hard work and perseverance for getting them through their degrees, we weren’t treated any differently by our lecturers or tutors. One change they would like to see though is more female engineers in management roles,there is no one to look up to as a role model; there are lots of female managers in other departments but there could be more within engineering management, more female engineers should strive towards this.
In one of my early jobs, there was a bet going that I would last only 3 months in the industry; I ended up staying there many years. If I had to do it all over again I wouldn’t change a thing – I’ve learnt so much and made lifelong friends.

Cheryl Frankis, Asset Performance Engineer

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.”     



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.

Ultimit, 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.

IPENZ, 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 


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.


  1. Women at work: 1991-2013, Statistics New Zealand, http://www.stats.govt.nz/browse_for_stats/people_and_communities/Women/women-occupation.aspx 

  2. Women in the Engineering Workplace: Snapshot 2015, Institute of Professional Engineers in New Zealand,http://www.engineeringe2e.org.nz/Documents/IPENZ-women-in-engineering-snapshot.pdf

  3. Women targeted to ease Infrastructure skills shortage, by Abi Kibble, Connexis, http://www.connexis.org.nz/news/2016/06/14/women-targeted-to-ease-infrastructure-skills-shortage

  4. Women in Engineering to become Diversity and Inclusion programme, Future in Tech,http://www.futureintech.org.nz/enews/Industry/story.cfm?ID=86

  5. Girls with Hi-Vis - Getting Women into Infrastructure, Connexis, http://www.connexis.org.nz/events/girls-with-hi-vis

  6. Qualification Attainment, Ministry of Women, http://women.govt.nz/work-skills/education-and-skills/qualification-attainment 

  7. Demand drives surging salaries for engineers, Institute of Professional Engineers in New Zealand, https://www.ipenz.nz/home/news-and-publications/news-article/media-release-demand-drives-surging-salaries-for-engineers 

  8. University Gender Split, New Zealand Herald, http://m.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=11689381 

  9. Encouraging women to use and develop their scientific abilities to achieve their full potential, Association for Women in the Sciences, http://www.awis.org.nz/assets/Files/AWIS-Stats-2011-Booklet.pdf 

  10. Construction industry 12 per cent female, The Press, http://www.stuff.co.nz/the-press/news/9043424/Construction-industry-12-per-cent-female 

  11. NZ innovation: No women allowed?, Idealog, http://idealog.co.nz/venture/2015/09/nz-innovation-no-women-allowed 

  12. She works hard for the money: Kiwi women get their groove on to fight for equal rights, StopPress,http://stoppress.co.nz/news/she-works-hard-money-kiwi-women-get-their-groove-fight-equal-rights 

  13. As Women Take Over a Male-Dominated Field, the Pay Drops, The New York Times, https://www.nytimes.com/2016/03/20/upshot/as-women-take-over-a-male-dominated-field-the-pay-drops.html?_r=0 

  14. Want to close the gender pay gap? Start with more women in Stem, The Guardian,https://www.theguardian.com/careers/2016/nov/10/want-to-close-the-gender-pay-gap-start-with-more-women-in-stem-careers