My Story

I'm originally from Canada, I grew up in a very, very small town of about 1500 people in Florenceville, New Brunswick. I was always quite a keen student and always enjoyed school. All throughout, even in elementary school, I always liked math and science.  Anything that was tangible or practical, I found it so much more interesting. 

In my later school years I took electronics, physics, chemistry, biology, environmental science, anything I could get my hands on. For University I knew that I wanted to do something science related and the decision became; do I  go the route of a bachelor of science to then have to do something else after because it doesn’t have that same professional employability as engineering, or do I want to go the engineering route?  In around year 11 and 12, I started to think, you know what if I go and get the professional degree, I'll be finished quicker and be highly employable. At the time, the employment rates were a hundred percent for graduating engineers. I think I also wanted to be a whitewater raft guide as well, because of my love of the outdoors, but it wasn't practical. Eventually that's going to be hard on your body. You're not going to have a retirement plan. I told my mom, I said, "I'm too smart to do that, I know that that's not sustainable. So I'll do engineering and hopefully I'll have enough money that I can do stuff like that in my leisure time".

Through my engineering career I've been able to travel and, and ultimately ended up in Australia. What was a two year contract has now turned into, about five and a half years. I've since married an Australian man and bought a house. I don't think I'm going anywhere, anytime too soon, much to my parents' dismay.. And I've just recently been promoted to senior engineering manager. So I'll have oversight on the Ballarat Mars site here, but then Mars Wrigley Australia also has a factory in Asquith, where we make our gum mint and Skittles. So I take over those factories from an engineering perspective.

Road to Leadership 

At Mars we classify our different roles as business, technical, or people. As the Engineering Manager, my role is at that people level. In some ways your technical qualifications stop mattering as much and your ability to lead, motivate, and engage others becomes critical. Having a base in engineering then helps as I will also need to give technical advice at times.

A valuable experience I think for me, was being able to show my people leadership skills in my last role. That was a big step for me going into the value stream (production manager) because I hadn't actually been a formal people leader. But I previously had students work for me, I'd had contractors work for me. I led indirectly or without authority. And so it was actually quite a jump for me to go from leading basically without authority to not only having a team, but I was a manager of managers. So I had those two levels and a significant number of people.

So I think it was very much being able to show that you can lead, even if you haven’t done it directly, but leading without authority drives for results is important. So being able to actually have tangible results in them with the value stream manager, you deal with a lot of ambiguity which is something I struggle with.

I'm an engineer. I like black and white. Yes and no. But that was something that probably I went into and that has been my biggest development is learning to delegate, but also deal with that ambiguity.

When it comes to showing your leadership skills somebody somewhere needs to take a chance on you. So nobody, you know, you can't have experience managing people until somebody takes a chance without you having ever done it.

So it's all about how can you be creative in the ways that you can prove that you can do so? For me, I was the captain of my soccer team. I was the president of Engineers without borders when I was in university. And through my engineering work, I led contractors and students.

So even though it wasn't, you know, classical line management, there is an element of that, and there's so many times in your career where you have to lead without authority, which I think is quite powerful. So I think every kid that comes out of university, you know and looks at these jobs and it's like, well, I'm only 20 something years old and you guys want 10 years of experience.

But in order for me to get the experience, somebody needs to take a chance. So I think it's getting creative. Where else in your life have you gotten these learnings and where can you apply those?  So I think, yeah, just drawing on any experience because if you think outside the box, actually all of us have so many different experiences.

Greatest Achievement

My greatest Achievement is being the first female value stream and engineering manager at Mars Ballarat. I have a lot of passion for STEM, particularly women in STEM.  I’ve been quite involved with the Ballarat Tech School and am currently on their Technical Advisory Committee.

Previous to that I did a number of outreach events with the tech school in partnership with Mars. So we've done a number of girls in STEM, but also just general STEM activities. But for me, I think it's important to get in and speak to younger students and very much about what we're doing here in this Profile.

It's about sharing your story, saying "Hey guys, this is what I studied. This is my path, these are some of the things that by studying stem you can do".

At Mars we also do a really cool activity with bars and incorporating different technologies and math and efficiencies and safety and quality in the challenge. Plus it's chocolate so the kids love it. That's one thing that I love being able to do. So kind of integrating into the kids community around work and stem and that sort of thing. So again, I think it's also important that again, they see a female coming in and talking to them about that.

Unexpected Day and Open Doors

Probably the thing, when I think of my role, that's a little bit unexpected of the number of meetings and the lack of “doing” that I do. So depending on which route you go, whether you go highly technical, you will contribute eventually in a ‘direct application’. Whereas what I do is more an indirect application. And so I sometimes feel like I'm not doing anything and I'm spending so much time in meetings, but it's so important that I go to these meetings.

I get that, you know, full business view from all the different cross functions. Then I give the direction and make the decisions and cascade that down to be executed. So I think that I think that probably some of the things that someone would find unexpected. 

As an engineer I've done a number of different roles. I've been quite technical as a process engineer and project manager. But then I've also done roles that are very intangible and almost a step away from engineering, but the engineering foundation has helped. But in order to grow and if you're quite ambitious as far as kind of roles and salaries and that sort of thing, sometimes going through that management stream is good.

And I think that when you're young, you don't realize how many different doors that Engineering or any sort of education can open up. The other thing that probably was, is really cool for, I think the students to know is how many doors that can open, not only for jobs, but also locations and travel.

So if travel is something that people are passionate about, you can actually find jobs that will help pay for you to travel. I mean, at the end of the day, it's still work, but if you're creative and if you're young and don't have strings, you were able to tack on a weekend in London or you tack on Idaho. Who just goes to Idaho?

So you see some parts of the world that you might not otherwise. And there's also you know, the ability to move around. So if you have a role that's required in a certain company in a country that maybe you wouldn't have moved to otherwise, I wouldn't have been able to move to. Yeah, there's so many doors that open.

School Years

I was always quite a keen student, so I enjoyed school and it came quite easy to me. This actually hurt me when I hit university as I hadn’t needed to develop intensive study skills. But all throughout schooling I always liked math and science and stuff that was tangible and in some ways practical. I just found it so much more interesting.

I took French immersion throughout school and given I grew up in Canada, then as I got into my later years, the French immersion was hindering my ability to take whatever science and science courses. So I dropped that and really started to focus. I took electronics, physics, chemistry, biology, environmental science, anything I could get my hands on.

I also had a real interest in anything outdoors. 'Outdoor pursuits'  is what we called it in Canada, which was basically like gym class or phys. ed., but all outside. So hiking and camping. So that was probably my other highlight throughout school. So it was really this nice balance of, you know, I loved the practical, but I also wanted to have a bit of fun playing soccer all throughout.

I knew what I wanted and what interested me. Probably what hurt me then when I went to university is because it comes so easy and because I got quite high grades with a manageable to low effort. I got to university and all of a sudden it was a little bit of a different ball game. So obviously the learning style is different. You're in this massive auditorium and there's different pressure,  and so I quickly realized that I needed different discipline and different study skills and what I had In secondary school.

So I had to make a few tweaks. In some ways I found the students that had to work really hard for their 80%. Whereas I kind of sailed through not, you know, little to no effort for nineties. They actually did better when they first started university because they had to work for it and they had developed skills to work for it. So that's probably a watch out. If you haven't developed those skills in secondary, you have to develop them pretty quickly.

Advice

Apply for summer student positions, and look for mentors!

When I took my first role at McCain as a summer student, which I recommend to anyone, if you're taking university classes, if you can get practical experience, In the field while you're studying, it makes a world of difference. I was getting quite worried going through school. It was so technical and so specific. And I just couldn't draw the connection between what I was learning and how that would look like in real life. And so when I took that summer student position, I actually got more excited about engineering and it's like all of a sudden, okay, I can see what I'm learning makes sense. And then I can also see that there's so many different paths than just being holed up in a corner, designing pumps and plants and, and whatever else. And so through that summer student job there was one of the summers I actually worked for a girl that was two or three years older than me. She was one of my very few female mentors. She's a mechanical engineer. Absolutely held her own within, you know, the male dominated field within the contractors. And so being able to see her career and, and, and That that really helped. And so she, yeah, played a bit of a mentor in those summers.

Don’t be afraid!

Don't be intimidated or scared. I think sometimes people, you know, they automatically sometimes back away a little bit because stereotypically, you know, your engineering and your sciences and your medicines are more demanding educationally at times.

So I think don't be, if you have the interest, don't be daunted. There's so many people that can kind of help you get through that side of it. And then as far as career, I think just having an open mind that there's no, again, there's not this one career, you're not an engineer. And that stereotypical engineer that people see on TV or, or read about in books, same as, you know, there isn't one type of lawyer, there isn't one type of nurse, etc.

More people like this