Education and qualifications:
MBA, University of Strathclyde International Business School
MSc, Design, Manufacturing and Engineering Management, University of Strathclyde
BEng, Product Design Engineering, University of Glasgow & Glasgow School of Art.
Sustainability Packaging Program Manager – Global Sustainability Team
What inspired you to become an engineer or pointed you towards an engineering career?
When I was seven years old, I often tested how things worked. So, I would take apart watches, pens, phones and hairdryers to see what was happening inside! My father is a physicist and he encouraged my sister and I to have open minds in regards to learning and following our passions.
By the age of 10, I found myself wanting to do maths for fun and gravitated towards logic puzzles and Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) building block, and I generally liked making things. My father has been a STEM spokesperson in Scotland for 50 years and I remember watching him speak publicly and finding it fascinating. In my teens, I remember my dad taking me to the James Watt School of Engineering at the University of Glasgow and I was amazed by the place. The rest is history….
Please describe your role or position within your workplace.
I currently work in a Global team at Diageo Plc focusing on packaging sustainability solutions. I joined the team in February 2021 and really see this as such an important area, as I think engineers hold the key to overcoming some of the major sustainability challenges. Moreover, the company values those from a STEM background and many of my seniors and peers have Chartered Engineer (CEng) status, PhDs in Engineering, or hold a strong Science degree.
On a daily basis I look at strategy development, environmental regulatory issues as well as site and manufacturing projects. It is an international role and the team are smart, dynamic and very collaborative. I feel lucky to be in a role that leverages my manufacturing background, my technical network and my experience in packaging and project management, not to mention my strong connection with the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET).
Over the years my days have varied a great deal. In some roles I was travelling to Europe and the USA regularly, while at times waking up early to take calls from the Far East to late night calls from the US.
I would review prototypes and first shots – this allows a design engineer to see what needs to be changed before moving to full mass production. I was also involved in mapping out project plans, talking to tooling experts and the wider brand and manufacturing teams – we all had to pull together to make sure we hit the big launch date. That is what I like so much about engineering - it is a global profession and involves very skilled people who come together to launch something unique.
In all my jobs there have been lots of team meetings, so getting on with people is key and knowing how to negotiate and compromise is essential.
Can you describe a typical working day?
I work in a global team and look at regulations for packaging sustainability as well as reporting and project-related issues. It involves understanding issues from other people’s points of view while still driving key agendas that may impact the business. I work with a broad range of technical and non-technical people globally on a daily basis, and understand local, regional and global challenges.
I work across departments, functions and levels, with brand and innovation experts, technical packaging engineers, project managers and finance professionals. It is collaborative, fast paced and very meaningful work. The breadth and depth of skills an engineer needs to have in industry is large - sometimes it is operational while other days it is strategic.
Are there any particular challenges or unusual aspects to your role?
No two days are ever the same – there is always a new challenge, experience, or issue. It is a changing environment which keeps me on my toes.
What do you find most enjoyable about your job?
The range of people that I interact with is the most enjoyable part – technical to non-technical, graduates to Vice Presidents and regional to global players. I think emotional intelligence is key within business, and working within a global environment it is crucial that one understands the challenges, barriers and opportunities in the regions where we operate.
Looking at materials and packaging from a technical point of view is fascinating to me. Understanding the full supply chain including how it is made to how it will be recycled or disposed of. Packaging is a very exciting area for engineers as the materials are changing and all products have some form of packaging. Moreover, I like understanding the ‘why’ behind packaging and questioning how things can be improved.
Is there a great professional achievement or high-profile accomplishment that you would like to tell us about?
Within an 11-month period from September 2019 to July 2020 I gained my Engineering Professorship at Middlesex University, Fellowship of the Women’s Engineering Society (WES) and Chartered status with the Engineering Council. I was keen to progress from the job I was in at the time, and I knew that by developing my network and knowledge base it would assist me in getting to the next step. In 2007 I won the WES IET Young Woman Engineer of Year Award. In 2019 I was elected onto the Global IET council. To be a woman of colour in this position and then go on to celebrate their 150th anniversary felt like a real achievement.
What contributed to your decision to become professionally registered?
I should have applied for my professional registration years ago but I kept putting it off. When I started looking for a new job about 16 months ago, I knew I wanted to work with strong technical minds, so becoming a CEng was the best route. I wanted to make sure I stood out as much as possible when I applied for roles. I now work in an environment where my CEng is valued. By gaining professional registration I had my 15 years in engineering and manufacturing work acknowledged by some of the top engineers in the field and equally I can sit shoulder to shoulder with those on the Global Engineering Councils/Boards.
In what ways has registration benefitted your career?
Through professional registration I gained confidence and clarity about my career and personal drivers. I realised how I wanted to use my engineering skills to do good – for the environment, for development of people, for breaking down norms. I gained a roadmap both personally and professionally, as well as a network that is priceless.
How does your employer benefit from your professional registration?
My employer has someone that is driven by engineering standards, ethics and integrity.
Is there any advice you would pass on to someone considering professional registration?
Do it! It will change how you see your own development. For me it opened many doors and allowed me to gain the confidence in myself that at times I felt I lacked.
Registration enables you to grow and reflect on your career and personal goals as well as for stakeholders, suppliers and employers to see how you have invested in yourself. It was such an insightful process and it showed me how to join the dots from my past to assist in making sense of where my present and future may well be.
Where do you see yourself in your career in five years’ time or what are your future ambitions?
I see myself continuing to find the connection between creativity, engineering, sustainable solutions and business - this is where my passion and purpose lies.
I want to continue being a rule maker and breaker in industry. Breaking down barriers to ensure people are given the freedom to grow and develop irrespective of their race, background, economic standing, heritage, thinking style etc.
I gain so much by mentoring others and helping them reach their potential. I was lucky to have a handful of people during my career that had faith in my ability when I did not. I use my free time to sit on panels, councils and boards to support those people that need a hand in getting there.
I would like to reach board level at the IET, gain a second Fellowship and grow within my chosen field.
Outside work, is there any activity you enjoy doing in your spare time that relates to engineering? For example, do you participate in mentoring, volunteering or membership of other engineering groups?
I like creative activities like cooking, dancing, art and crafts – I see the connection between the creative world and engineering, based on problem solving, looking at new avenues and experimenting.
I am an active volunteer and spokesperson for IET, The Royal Academy of Engineering (RAEng) and WES. Since 2020 I have also undertaken a Visiting Professorship at Middlesex University. This post means a great deal to me, it was lovely to see my dedication and drive for my profession being recognised by an academic institution. I have the amazing team at Design Engineering and Mathematics, Middlesex University to thank; the head of the department is the very talented and supportive Prof Mehmet Karamanoglu PhD CEng FIMechE FRSA FHEA MIEEE. I have indirectly worked and met with Prof Karamanoglu over the years at IET events and he was aware of the charity work I did within the engineering space. Last year he contacted me and asked if I would give an inspiring and uplifting lecture to his students - I didn’t hesitate in saying yes. Many of his students had a similar background to me and he was keen to showcase female engineers from diverse backgrounds who broke down barriers. Giving back to a university is amazing and seeing the students becoming confident in their field of work is fabulous. I share my engineering story with them, from events during my seven years at university right up to events in industry, sharing the good, the bad and the ugly, ensuring that they can learn from my mistakes, challenges and successes.
Within my role as a Visiting Professor, I am hoping to continue to support the department in its aim to help address some of the challenges faced by engineering education, as well as act as a role model and a mentor to students, particularly female engineering students.
I come from an academic background and many of my family members work at universities. Now that I have a fair bit of industry experience, I like seeing how practice compliments theory and vice versa. Engineering is a very practical field so I think it is important for those younger people in university see what amazing careers are available to them plus have ‘relatable’ mentors in their network. I like giving back to the universities that I am associated with – knowing that we have grounded, smart and driven people in the supply chain, manufacturing, technology and engineering related roles is essential for the economy and the greater good of society. Moreover, for my own personal development it shows that both academic and industrial work is valued and recognised by an established academic institution.
Do you identify as disabled, or as a member of a minority or under-represented group? Would you like to comment on what impact or influence you feel this has had upon your career?
I have Indian parents/heritage, born in Massachusetts, USA and educated in Scotland. I am also neurodiverse and was diagnosed as being dyslexic at the age of 17 which means I have a spikey IQ profile.
Finding out I was dyslexic was a blessing and a curse. I realised my brain was wired differently to the average person. I focused on my strengths and realised that engineering and creative fields would be the best avenue for my skill-set. Personally, I now see my neurodiverse brain as a benefit as I can see connections and patterns, plus I like to visually represent thoughts and theories. When working globally and even though everyone is fluent in English, I find a visual representation of ideas to be of benefit. It was found that my verbal reasoning was above average (likely to compensate for weaker written skills) and as a result I really enjoy public speaking and mentoring work. I did delay applying for my CEng, as I found the forms and the text-based process was off-putting but I broke it down into small pieces of work and just did a little every few weeks.
Coming from a mix of heritages and cultures was confusing as a child but now that I am an engineer and work globally, I really have embraced and feel empowered by my background. Engineers tackle global issues so teamwork is key and I think my background has been useful to seeing different points of view. I have worked in regional roles in the past but find I operate best when working with a diverse group of people who have a global mindset and an international background.