Counting her in: how Paulette, Diana and Elina are inspiring inclusion for women in engineering this International Women’s Day

Counting her in: how Paulette, Diana and Elina are inspiring inclusion for women in engineering this International Women’s Day

As women working in a historically male dominated engineering industry, Paulette Halabi, Diana Jimènez and Elina Aghbolaghi are no strangers to feeling like they’re in the minority. But it’s something they’d like to see change for women in the future.

To that end, they are helping to foster a workplace culture at ABB that uplifts and advocates for women in engineering. And so this year’s International Women’s Day theme of “inspire inclusion” resonates strongly. Here they share insights from their decades of experience and the ways they play a role in meeting that imperative.

The myths and the facts of women in engineering

According to Engineers Australia’s 2022 Women in Engineering report[1], engineering has the lowest representation of women in the STEM professions, accounting for just 16% of Australian engineering graduates. The aggregate proportion of qualified professional female engineers in Australia is just 13%. One of the main reasons stated by women for not studying engineering is the lack of positive perceptions of the profession, which is seen as male dominated and challenging, and not impactful or fulfilling.

Paulette, Diana and Elina know better than anyone that the first two of those characterisations are accurate — engineering is male dominated and challenging. But as for the second two, well, they are the kind of myths about the industry they’re only too happy to dispel. Indeed, they would argue that the fact it is a challenging profession is part of why it’s so fulfilling.

“The happiest team in the business”: how Paulette builds a sense of purpose

Paulette studied fashion for four years before realising her future lay elsewhere. She worked her way up through various warehouse management positions before stepping into her current role as Sales Operations Manager in the Electrification business.

As a member of her division’s leadership team, Paulette attended a strategy meeting recently when she noticed that half the participants in the room were women. She describes how empowering it feels to use her voice at a level that can make a difference and affect positive change.

“If we can get it right at that level as a leadership team, then that culture of diversity and inclusion can filter down to our own teams and that inspired me a lot” Paulette explains. “I’m a person who gets huge satisfaction from doing a job well and from knowing I’ve helped make something happen. And there is so much scope in this role for me to make a difference to the business. I have a lot of freedom and appreciate the lack of micromanagement.”

The message that what you do has an impact is one Paulette is passionate about instilling in her team.

“It’s so important they understand that they’re part of a bigger picture that’s helping ABB succeed. Knowing that gives them purpose and meaning.”

That sense of purpose is palpable to people who encounter her team.

“We have a lot of local and international visitors who’ve said our team is the happiest one they’ve come across,” Paulette says.

Inclusion is critical to cultivating that team spirit and success.

“When everyone’s voices are heard and valued, you get a great team. Having the opportunity to be heard can really boost your confidence, especially if you’re a bit shy like I was. I wouldn’t be where I am without the encouragement of some amazing leaders in ABB who helped me recognise my potential.

“Oh, you’re the engineer?”: how Diana brings a fresh perspective

Diana is a Business Development Manager who describes her job as “helping to keep the machines running” for mining, oil and gas customers. Like Paulette, she’s acutely aware of her impact on the business.

“We are very focused on looking after the customer and I know I can make a big difference.”

Although there’s few women on the mine sites she visits, Diana says this doesn’t hinder her ability to get the job done. Instead, she feels even more empowered to use her role to open doors for a future generation of female engineers in mining.

“It’s challenging but I feel so proud to be doing this. Women can bring a fresh perspective and as women we have to demonstrate that engineering skills are not just for men.”

It’s the team culture that really attracted Diana to ABB. “In other companies you can be quite restricted to just working within a particular position. At ABB there is so much cooperation across different divisions, you really work together.”

That flexibility also accommodates career diversification. “There are lots of opportunities to take our careers in different directions,” Diana says. “In most places, if you start in sales, you’re stuck in sales. But what really impressed me about ABB is that you can always shift to other areas.”

“We thought you won't last in the role more than a week”: how Elina defies expectations

For Elina, Engineering Manager for the Energy Industries Division in Australia, listening to her team and promoting a sense of belonging is at the heart of building an inclusive culture that encourages advancement.

“I’m passionate about cultivating a psychologically safe environment for my team where they can all share ideas and opinions without fear of judgement. Everyone brings a unique talent so I want to hear what they all have to say, no matter their level of experience,” she says.

Elina says she knows what it’s like to have her voice ignored and the impact it can have on a project where important issues have been swept aside, as well as on one’s career and confidence. More than once, she’s had people tell her she won’t last more than a week.

“It’s always satisfying to surprise people by showing them they’ve underestimated you,” she says.

“I always strive to be the kind of leader I wanted to have. So yes, as an engineer I’m a very technical person but my leadership style is very people focused too.

“I think it’s so important to embrace who we are as women. Don’t subsume that identity through the process of trying to prove you can work in a male-dominated world. Women bring very unique and valuable qualities to the table.”

Abhinav Harikumar, ABB Head of Energy Industries – Australia, says engineering’s lacklustre track record on gender diversity is what makes the current strides being made by parts of the profession so exciting.

“For too long, the lack of inclusion in women across many industries has meant we simply have not been accessing the diversity of thought we should have been.

“As more women enter, remain and gain seniority, we’re going to see the rate of innovation and progress increase. We’re already seeing it happen in Australia.”

  • Diana at Seaworld in Queensland
  • Paulette with her team at Moorebank, NSW
  • Elina in her natural surroundings in Canada

From networking to nature: the secret to success

All three women agree on two key things when it comes to building a sustainable and successful career in engineering. The first is to connect with other women in the industry and look for mentoring opportunities.

“Through ABB, I had the opportunity to join the NAWO mentoring program where I met other women in operations and learn from their experiences which really helped my confidence,” Paulette says.

Elina agrees and wishes she’d looked for a mentor earlier in her career. “Building a network is so important — make sure you reach out to other people and look out for internally sponsored programs and employee resource groups. A great example of this is the ABB Process Automation Women’s Leadership Development Program that is run annually through Dale Carnegie. This year is the largest cohort with more than 200 women participating”.

As for what they’d say to women considering a career in engineering, Diana sums it up: “If you don’t take the risk, you’ll never know what’s possible. There are so many opportunities in engineering to demonstrate your skills — professional and personal. And we must empower each other and ourselves.”

ABB’s mission to solve some of the globe’s biggest challenges depends upon the efforts of exceptional people, working together. The more diverse our people, the more diverse our solutions can be. It’s why fostering a culture of inclusion and equal opportunity is so vital for our mission.

Interested in a career at ABB? Check out our career site for the latest job vacancies or join our talent community to be notified of jobs that match your experience and interests.


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