Women in STEM
"20 years ago, nobody believed I was an engineer. At meetings, people would address my more junior [male] colleagues instead of me, thinking they were in charge."
"As a woman, my colleagues [in the past] didn't listen to my ideas. They just ignored them."
"Women have to prove ourselves more than men. Constantly."
To mark International Women in Engineering Day (June 23), three female engineers from the Nissan team in Europe have chosen to share insights and reveal how they succeeded in their field.
Elena Soriano, Senior Engineer and Project Manager at Nissan Technical Centre Europe (NTCE) in the UK, will tell you the first thing you need in engineering regardless of gender is optimism. After more than a decade working on some of the most iconic Nissan models (including the Nissan JUKE ) and now leading a team of five, she knows better than most. "Anticipate everything. Focus not on the difficulties, but on the situation you've got and how you can influence it." Early in her career, Elena admits that she used to underestimate what she could achieve, but quickly realised "you do things you think you absolutely can't!"
Ekaterina Zhivutskaya, Seats and Safety Design Senior Engineer at NTCE in Russia, goes even further. She believes "an engineer is a person who can solve any issue." She points to Jules Verne's classic novel The Mysterious Island as proof – a book which serves as inspiration for her career. "The engineer is the leader of the group. Because of his knowledge and approach, all the team survive." She adds that in the real world, "the engineer is the superhero!"
This conviction is essential for overcoming daily engineering challenges. Emma Deutsch, Manager in the Vehicle and Component Test department of NTCE in the UK, explains, "you have to see how the problem will be solved in the real world. If you can't link to the real world, you can't believe in it."
Unfortunately, as women in an industry still mistakenly seen by some as male-oriented, they have faced additional challenges. Studying engineering at university, Elena explains "I was one of only four women in a class of 100." Her professor even joked this would mean "four future dirty houses" – since Elena and her female peers would be working instead of cleaning at home. Attitude is everything: This never demotivated her, if anything it inspired her to carry on and prove her professor wrong.
Emma says that early on at Nissan, her colleagues often rallied to take small actions to support her. "Even if it was just announcing straight away in external meetings that I was the lead engineer, this ensured I was listened to. They said they weren't doing anything to help, but I could tell they were!"
Diversity is essential for all areas of business, not least in sharing the best ideas to develop cars. Elena saw that first-hand working on the seats and harness components for the new JUKE , which gave her the opportunity to learn in Japan as part of the Nissan Global One Team programme. "It was difficult at first trying to communicate technical information, due to cultural difference and sometimes language barriers. But we finally did find common ground and managed to work hand in hand, and when we presented our ideas to executives, they were accepted first time. That was my proudest moment."
Extending opportunities is a career highlight shared by Emma. "It feels great to see people I've helped succeed in their careers. Seeing them go on to achieve bigger things makes me very proud." More widely, encouraging new female talent to succeed in the industry is also the basis of two flagship programmes for young girls at Nissan Europe: GIMME (Girls in Monozukuri , Manufacturing, and Engineering) in the UK, and Inspira STEAM, which similarly promotes scientific and technological vocations for primary school students in Spain.
On the next generation of female engineers, the interviewees offer similar advice. "Always listen to your authentic self," says Ekaterina, adding "know you may hit difficulties, but persevere." Elena echoes a similar view. "Never underestimate yourself. If you've studied, you have the right to learn and grow. You deserve it!"