To mark International Women in Engineering Day we interviewed Gordana Collier who is the programme lead for Engineering degrees at Oxford Brookes University
Can you give me a brief outline of why you decided to study engineering and your career trajectory to date?
I did my first engineering degree in Yugoslavia and worked for the MoD before moving to UK. I enjoyed working in industry, gradually progressing over the years to reach the position of Technical Manager for Europe in a large Singaporean stock exchange listed company. The role was amazing. Lots of travel and new challenge every day but I found it difficult to juggle family and work and also missed my books. Furthermore ever since my engineering degree I always envied my lectures for the opportunity to continue learning and sharing their knowledge with bright, young people. I decided to go back to study engineering at Southampton University and then took up an academic career.
What proportion of women hold senior positions within your discipline?
Engineering as a discipline is not the first choice for women anywhere, but even less in the UK but gender balance is slightly better in academia. However females holding management positions in engineering are still quite uncommon.
What are the classic barriers to women’s advancement in your discipline?
In comparison with male colleagues, female engineers frequently find it difficult to balance the workload with family demands, despite great support by husbands and partners. This is due to the fact that majority of husbands also work full time. Furthermore, being a manager does not land itself to job share or a part-time role, demanding tough choices to be made. However there are great ‘returns’ on time in invested, such as engineering degree students winning competition under your leadership, such as Formula Student (my favorite moment at Brookes so far is captured on that photo) and then later writing back to tell you about their job successes! Special relationship with Ferrari, Renault Formula One and many other fantastic motorsport companies is a bonus!
Is there anyone who has been particularly influential in your supporting career? Who? Why?
I was brought up in communist Yugoslavia, which had its many problems but we were brought up to believe that woman can take up any profession they like – nothing was out of our reach. My family also empowered me to follow my choices. In particular, my mother gave me unconditional support throughout my engineering degree and motherhood, allowing me to focus on what was necessary to maintain my career at the time.
Can you recall a moment in when studying engineering/ career where being a women was a disadvantage?
I have two children and found it very difficult to return to work each time after maternity leave but I knew that in order to maintain my career progression it had to be done. Looking at the practices in Europe and recent developments here, I believe that perceptions are changing and in the years to come career breaks and job sharing in technical and senior roles will become more common.
Have you any tips on dealing with high work loads when studying an engineering degree?
This is tough question – in England at present there is a culture and expectation to work long hours. It is important to plan in advance your time and stay very focused in order to achieve important goals rather than being driven by events. Avoid emails (especially the long ones!), use phone and knock on doors!
What is next for you in your career/ development?
Recruiting more amazing engineering degree students to win competitions, perhaps even across the pond!