Although the industry is still overwhelmingly dominated by men and the number of women studying engineering courses remains low (just one in seven), for those who have pursued their passion for STEM and engineering, such as Krystina Pearson-Rampeearee – a chartered engineer from Liverpool who works as a Senior Flight Systems Engineer – brighter skies may be ahead.
After being inspired by a family trip to see an airshow as a child, Krystina went on to become the first engineer in her family and now volunteers as a STEM ambassador and mentor to promote diversity and inclusion in the industry and encourage more women to consider engineering as a profession.
Last year, she set up her own business AviateHer selling accessories to further promote this goal and inspire young women to consider STEM careers and push past gender stereotypes. Late last year, we spoke with Krystina to find out a little more about her career to date, the change she would like to see and why she founded her own business to pave the way for future generations of female engineers.
Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
I was born and grew up in Liverpool where my parents moved to after emigrating from Mauritius. I’m now a Senior Flight Systems Engineer working at BAE Systems in Warton, Lancashire and living in Liverpool, the city that feels like home to me.
What made you want to pursue a career in this field and what does a typical day at work look like for you?
I was inspired to study a Masters degree in Aerospace Systems Engineering after visiting an airshow with my family one summer whilst in school. I still remember the feeling of awe I felt on that day and that was the point I can trace back to where I knew that I wanted to be a part of the Aerospace industry.
I began working at BAE Systems six years ago as a Flight Systems Engineer on various projects. My current role involves developing new technologies for a future combat air system as part of the Tempest project. For me a typical day varies, I could be working with various suppliers, liaising with other specialist disciplines or carrying out my own tasks, all with the goal in mind of looking at how new technologies can be integrated onto a future platform.
Growing up, did you feel like a career in STEM was accessible to you as a woman?
Growing up, I saw my parents in STEM careers, although not engineering, and I did feel like a career in STEM was open to me. There was a disparity in my physics lessons at school yet the gender disparity was blatant when I started university as one of only two women on my course. Going from my school experience to this was jarring, especially in the first few weeks. This did not overshadow my experience at university though, my coursemates became my teammates, and gender was not an issue.
When did you first know you wanted to work in this field?
I always enjoyed creative classes when I was growing up but my favourite lessons were physics and maths. Engineering was always a top choice for me, even though my parents wanted me to pursue a different career path. However, I wasn’t aware of the various types of engineering until I went to the airshow and started researching the Aerospace industry.
What challenges did you encounter on your journey to become an aerospace engineer?
Following my four years at university, I struggled initially to find a job due to my lack of real-life experience in engineering. When I was looking at my options following school, apprenticeships were not highlighted as an alternative option to university therefore a degree qualification seemed to be the natural next step to take. I persevered and got there in the end.
As a STEM ambassador and founder of AviateHer, what do you want to change in the industry?
I want to inspire more young women to consider a career in STEM, more specifically engineering. There is currently a shortage of engineers in the UK. Companies are realising that a diverse workforce brings a lot of advantages such as more innovation, which is an important part of engineering. This means that there are opportunities out there.
I also feel that stereotypes in society play a part as well. Boys and girls are brought up with targeted advertising or gender roles which encourages gender biases. Young girls may feel embarrassed about enjoying physics as there is the perception that it isn’t cool.
Leading on from that, how can those changes take place in a tangible way?
I believe that changes can be made with more visible role models. I see amazing women in engineering in my network but the stereotype of what a typical engineer may look like isn’t relatable to young girls.
There is also the awareness of engineering itself. Engineers can make a difference and there are so many paths with an engineering career! Showing young people how engineering has been used in everyday life and how it can be used for the future will definitely help bring about change. When I was younger, I didn’t realise how many different career options there actually are in engineering. For example, I didn’t even know the job I am in now existed until I came to searching for jobs after university.
Have you seen more women enter the industry in recent years and if so is this due to greater mentorship and encouragement from other women?
I have seen more women enter the industry and this is absolutely due to encouragement from other women and mentorship. I think women are actively striving for change and are more than willing to support young women who are considering future careers in STEM.
Selected as a Northern Power Woman Future List 2020 and winner of WeAreCity Rising Star Award, how did it feel to be given this recognition of your work?
It was such an honour to receive the recognition alongside a brilliant group of women! It meant even more to me personally as I had only recently returned from a year’s maternity leave in 2019. To come back to work and go on to receive the recognition I have done has motivated me to open the door to more opportunities to push diversity in engineering, and showcase my experiences to young women.
If you could give your younger self one piece of advice about life, what would it be?
If I could give my younger self a piece of advice it would be not be so scared to put myself out there. I suffered from a lack of confidence when I was growing up which held me back from networking and getting involved. This changed once I had my little boy and started ‘winging’ motherhood. My confidence grew and I’m now saying yes to opportunities and trying not to be so afraid of failure!
During the first lockdown you started a business selling enamel pins to highlight diversity in STEM, how was it received and why is it so important to you to further this cause now?
The response was fantastic! I hadn’t expected such an amazing reception and the messages of support I’ve received have really inspired me to continue. The cause is perhaps more important now than ever because the Coronavirus pandemic is disproportionately impacting women’s careers and it’s so important that we retain women in STEM.
Which charities are some of the proceeds going to and why did you select these particular causes?
I donate part of the proceeds from each pin sale to charity, with each pin contributing to a specific charity associated with the message of the pin. It started with my first Engineering pin for which I chose the Women’s Engineering Society and whenever I have expanded with a new pin I have researched to find a charity that is working to increase diversity in that field. The charities that I ended up selecting are the Women’s Engineering Society, the British Science Association, the Association for Black and Minority Ethnic Engineers (AFBE-UK) Making Engineering Hot campaign, Stemettes Futures, the Young Women’s Trust, Fly2Help and Eco-Sud. So far, in total, almost £1000 has been raised thanks to my wonderful customers.
Lockdown rules permitting, how do you like to spend your spare time?
In my spare time I enjoy spending time with my family and friends, volunteering as a mentor and STEM Ambassador and travelling all over the world (when possible!). I really miss attending live music events and festivals at the moment so I hope we can get back to those soon.
Where are some of your favourite places in the North?
My home city of Liverpool has some of my favourite places such as Sefton Park, the Docks and Lark Lane for delicious food! I also enjoy visiting the Lake District and the Northern coastal areas as I love being near the sea.