Director of Operations, Jacobs Water (Ireland & Scotland)
Arianna Paules Aldrey
Instrumentation and Controls Engineer, Jacobs
Graduate Process Engineer, Jacobs
Three women from a technical professional services firm reveal how they started their careers in STEM, the challenges they’ve faced — and the job opportunities they’ve enjoyed.
Were you always destined for a career in STEM?
Jillian: I think so. I played with a lot of Lego when I was younger. I was always good at maths and science and interested in physics. But I didn’t really know what STEM would look like because, at that time, there wasn’t as much talk about STEM careers for women as there is now. I thought engineering would let me consider the opportunities, so I studied civil engineering at university.
Arianna: When I was younger, my dream was to become a professional tennis player. But my parents said: ‘You have to study and leave school in a good place!’ I always felt like STEM was for me. Maths wasn’t my strongest subject, but I wanted to nail it, which was a challenge that kept me motivated. I ended up studying electrical engineering at university.
Emelia: I enjoyed every subject at school, but maths and physics came naturally to me. In sixth form, I took part in a survey which suggested that I should have a career in chemical engineering or finance. While finance was a good option, my love of science led me to study chemical engineering at university.
Have you faced any challenges in a male-dominated sector?
Jillian: I’m still often the only woman in a group, although the numbers of women in STEM are changing at the graduate and junior levels. We should be honest and tell young women that this can be a challenge — but it’s so worth it because STEM presents a huge range of career possibilities.
Arianna: Nothing major. When I’ve been on a construction site, the PPE is designed for men, so I’ve had to wear oversized jackets and hats because that’s all there is. And perhaps — sometimes — you have to prove yourself a little bit more than your male colleagues.
Emelia: I haven’t faced any at Jacobs because a lot of my managers are women. Certainly, the graduates I started with don’t see the fact that I’m a woman as any big deal.
The beauty of STEM is that you canArianna Paules Aldrey
move into so many different areas.
What do you enjoy most about your STEM career?
Jillian: Variety is one thing. I’ve worked on major highway schemes, water and wastewater schemes and energy projects. I’ve worked in managerial, commercial, financial and contractual areas. I’ve put my hand up when opportunities arose — but my career has developed naturally.
Arianna: The beauty of STEM is that you can move into so many different areas. You don’t have to do things that are technical, so STEM doesn’t always tie you to maths and physics.
Emelia: I always like to say ‘yes’ to an opportunity — and doing so opens up even more opportunities! I like STEM because you get the opportunity to travel and work with people from different cultures. Plus, there’s a purpose and value behind everything we do, so it’s very enriching.
What’s your advice to young women thinking of a STEM career?
Jillian: You don’t necessarily have to be the best at maths. It’s about having the right problem-solving mindset rather than: ‘How good are you at calculus?’ Plus, there’s a need for people from a range of backgrounds. So, go for it!
Arianna: If you have a good attitude, you’ll get there. It can be male-dominated, but don’t overthink it — and don’t be discouraged or intimidated. Keep learning and progressing.
Emelia: Some people think that if they can’t get to grips with something immediately, it means they’re not very good at it. However, if you struggle with STEM but enjoy it, stick with it because it’ll click — and you’ll end up being more successful doing something you like. So, keep trying.