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Meet some of Thales’s pioneering female Engineers!

To celebrate this year’s National Women in Engineering Day (NWED), we spoke with some of Thales’s female engineers to find out what they get up to on a daily basis, what inspired them to pursue a career in the field, and what they would say to encourage anyone thinking about doing the same.

Thales is proud to support NWED, and encourages diversity and innovation within the workforce to foster creativity and new ideas. Thales is home to many award winning engineers and recently one of Thales’s female engineers, Kate Gregory, from our Research Technology and Innovation business, became a fellow of the Institute of Innovation and Knowledge Exchange [IKE]. The award, which was presented by the Innovation Institute’s Chief Executive Professor, Sa’ad Medhat, was given in recognition of her achievements in the field of innovation during her 12 year career at Thales. Kate commented: “I am delighted to have been awarded a Fellowship from the IKE. I am proud of the professional achievements I’ve made throughout my career, for which I have had a lot of support from the Thales innovation community. I hope to be able to continue to promote the exciting field of innovation within Thales and use the Fellowship to broaden my knowledge and understanding through the IKE innovation council”. We are proud to support Kate and are looking forward to even more success from her in the future.

Opportunities for engineers and experts within their fields are numerous in Thales, and we have seen huge amounts of success across our business. Below, you will find some profiles in a quick snapshot of the multitude of brilliant female engineers across our organisation in the UK.

MEGAN COGHILL - Optical Design Engineer

Keeping people safe with optical design

Megan Coghill, Optical Design Engineer, Land & Air Systems joined Thales in 2013. Megan has a degree in Chemical Physics and originally planned on becoming a scientist. Megan says “I moved to Germany to begin a PhD – but as soon as I got there, I realised I had made the wrong choice!” Megan decided pursuing a career in academia wasn’t the right choice for her, nor was living in Germany, so instead of staying there for three years, she left after three days. She said “It was the best hasty decision I’ve ever made! I found out that Thales was recruiting a graduate optical design engineer in Glasgow and I applied.” 

Like many, Megan had never heard of Thales before she applied, but the role sounded like a great match. After doing more research she realised that Thales operated in so many different sectors, which was something very appealing to Megan: “the products we make in Glasgow alone keep people safe all over the world. That’s a big motivator for me.”

Megan counts herself lucky as she works on a big range of different products. In Glasgow, there are only three optical engineers. Since joining, Megan has designed the lenses for two of Thales’s new laser products by working with the systems engineers to understand and define the best way to go about creating the new products. She is responsible for optical support to almost every project on site, whether that’s submarine periscopes (some which are older than she is), tank sights, helmet mounted displays for fighter pilots or thermal imagers. Megan emphasised, the best part of her job is: “the scope for creativity.” She commented: “I have so many opportunities to be ‘traditionally’ creative. Besides that, there’s communicating and influencing creatively like thinking of new ways to explain complex topics to a broad range of people, and creative problem solving – this is a really fun part of my job, and it’s great to see the benefits when you come up with a clever new solution to a problem.”

VICTORIA VENTON - Senior Principal Engineer

Understanding the fundamentals of how things work

Another one of our female engineers is Victoria Venton, Senior Principal Engineer for Thales’s Security business. Initially she had no ambitions to pursue a career in Engineering. Victoria enjoys problem solving and fundamentally understanding how things work: “I enjoyed watching programmes such as Tomorrow's World when I was growing up.” She worked at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory in Oxfordshire during her Industrial Placement year and then applied to study an MSc in Meteorology and Climatology during the final year of her BSc in Maths and Computing. But Victoria changed her mind when they started studying a module in Software Engineering “It was at that point when I knew what I wanted to do.”

Victoria joined Thales 13 years ago: “I work with a great team of engineers who are committed to designing, developing and delivering the best solutions for our customers. Feedback is invaluable; it is very rewarding to be told that our solutions have made real life operational improvements for our customers.” At the moment Victoria is working on a project which is providing an upgrade to a secure radio system. The customer’s requirements have been very challenging, requiring Thales to condense a large system into a smaller unit whilst providing enhanced capability and performance. If there’s one thing she could say to anyone thinking of a career in Engineering she says: “Pursue what interests you and what you enjoy, and keep an open mind!”

NATASHA WILLOUGHBY - Acoustics Engineer 

From ballet dancer to acoustics expert

Natasha Willoughby is an Acoustics Engineer in the Maritime business at Thales, and joined the company in 2012. She says, “If engineering is a career you feel very interested in, then go for it! There are so many flavours to choose from, there’s sure to be one which fits in with your particular interests.”

But how did Natasha know she wanted to become an engineer? She tells us: “I didn’t always know. When I was very young I wanted to become a ballet dancer or a vet! After her A levels, Natasha went on to University to study Maths and Physics and later on took part in an applied maths PhD project sponsored by Thales. “That’s how I became aware of, and interested in the work that Thales does” she says.

Broadly speaking, an average day for Natasha consists of studying fluid-structure interactions in an underwater environment. She works on theoretical aspects of acoustics involving mathematical and computer modelling. She says: “My job is quite varied, consisting of both research and working on projects. The research side involves working with university collaborators to develop mathematical models. I then write software to implement these models and do work to validate the software.”

For Natasha, the most rewarding moments of working as an Acoustics Engineer is when a piece of research moves forward after a lot of hard work and when a computer code works! She says: “I am lucky to be in a job that enables me, through the research in particular, to have a certain amount of creative freedom and to try out new ideas.”

BRONWYN TYSON - Manufacturing Apprentice

If you have the drive, you can do whatever you want

Different to some of our engineers, Bronwyn Tyson, Manufacturing Apprentice for Thales’s Maritime business in Somerset, knew from a young age that she wanted to become an engineer, but she didn’t realise what engineering actually was! She joined Thales in 2014 and is in the second year of her apprenticeship.

When Bronwyn tried explaining to some of her old school teachers what it was she was interested in, one of them suggested she look into engineering as an option.  She tells us: “Once I looked into it, I knew that was what I wanted to do, and I’ve been driven towards that ever since.” Bronwyn wanted to join Thales to be able to work on equipment and products that are entirely unique to anything that she had ever seen before.

Every day is different for Bronwyn. She comments: “As an apprentice, I am moved around various different departments on site in order to work on all the different products that we manufacture here, as well as working with a couple of the engineering teams too.” The best part of her job is getting to see all the different products on the site, how they link together, and being able to work with a large variety of different teams as well.

If there’s one thing she would recommend to anyone considering a career in engineering it would be: “To go for it! Engineering is a subject that can be challenging at times, but it is a very fulfilling career. I’m only at the start of my career, but I can already see the opportunities that are open to me; that will be the same for anyone else! There is a lot of perception that engineering is just for men, but if engineering is something you’re interested in, don’t let that hold you back. You can go as far as you like if you have the drive to do it!”


LAURA SHRIEVES - Systems Engineering Manager

For better results, diversity is key!

Laura Shrieves, Systems Engineering Manager in Avionics at Thales joined the company in 2006. We asked Laura if she knew she wanted to become an engineer: “Absolutely not! As a child I didn’t even know what an engineer was. I have always loved understanding how things work, usually by taking them apart and putting them back together” she says. Laura always loved Maths and Physics and had very supportive parents. Growing up she was the first one in her class to get a BBC computer, and her love of computers and technology later grew into a degree in Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence and a Masters in Human Centred Computer Systems. After that, she was offered a place on the Thales graduate scheme as a software engineer. Laura says she was “fascinated at the variety of industries and markets that Thales is involved in.” After she applied, she has never looked back.

There is no such thing as an average day for Laura as it can range from planning the engineering aspects of a project to working with INCOSE (International Council on Systems Engineering) on the future of Systems Engineering in the UK, being the Thales UK representative and the deputy chair of the UK advisory board. When asked what the best part of her job is, she replied “I love the fact that it’s so diverse, challenging and interesting. I have worked in a few different parts of the business over the last 10 years – Defence Mission Systems, eSecurity, Corporate and now Avionics – every time I am ready for a new challenge, Thales comes up with one!”

If there’s one thing she would say to encourage people who are considering a career in engineering? “Do it! A lot of women don’t know how creative and rewarding engineering can be, and I have been very lucky to find something that I truly love to do and that gets me out of bed in the morning” even though she is not a morning person. Laura adds “there is a lot of research out there that proves that the more diverse a team is, the better the results, so we need more women in engineering.” Some of the best engineers she knows are women.

Laura thinks it’s great to have a National Women in Engineering Day to promote the shortfall of women in engineering, but she’s confident, and really looking forward to the day where women in engineering is the ‘norm’ and events like this aren’t required – this isn’t a women’s issue, it’s just an issue. Well said Laura; we agree!