Not for girls?

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Elina Siokou, head of product integration at P2i, tells us her story and explains why jobs in typically male dominated environments aren’t all about manual labour.

Let’s start at the beginning, what do you do and how did you get into the industry? 

I am a senior principal surface scientist and head of product integration at P2i Ltd. I studied physics at the University of Patras in Greece and specialised in surface and materials science during my PhD at the Department of Chemical Engineering at the same university. I worked as a postdoctoral researcher at CNR Rome and the Technical University of Eindhoven. 

In 1997, I was granted a two-year Marie Curie Post-Doctoral Fellowship and became a research associate at QMW College, University of London. This was followed by a one-year Marie Curie Return Fellowship which funded my research in Greece at the Institute of Chemical Engineering Sciences, where I ran the Surface Analysis Laboratory. In 2000 I became a permanent researcher at the same Institute, where I stayed until 2012.

In 2012 I moved to England and have worked at P2i ever since. I have been applying my experience and skills in the exciting field of functional nano-coatings development for water protection of electronic devices. 

What’s it like working in such a male dominated environment, was it/is it welcoming?

The manufacturing industry is traditionally male dominated. This has its origins in the times when manufacturing was considered to consist of hard manual work and long hours in a factory environment. More than that, women would not consider manufacturing as a career path, especially in technical roles, due to the general stereotype that they couldn’t progress in a male-dominated field.

In recent years, examples of successful women in the manufacturing industry are increasing and more young female scientists are attracted to technical roles, discovering that they can be fun and rewarding. 

This is a slow change but real. Companies are gradually abolishing their male-oriented culture. 

Non-technical positions such as human resources, marketing and communication managers, are those to be filled first by female candidates but the technical demographics are changing too. Women are now chasing responsibilities in more operational and technical jobs, such as production, research, and many others.

Are manufacturers making a conscious effort to try and increase female/male balance in the industry?

Yes, we see changes, but the steps are very slow. Women are slowly integrated into industrial professions, even top management positions. Today, industries are making a real effort to communicate their job offers and their desire to integrate women into their various professions. Young women are now choosing to commit themselves to scientific and technical training courses aiming for a career in the manufacturing industry. 

The quickest changes happen in manufacturing industries where a small cluster of women has already been formed in the technical sector. The formation of this small cluster is the rate determining step. Women first enter discreetly, but although things are certainly moving too slowly, they are less and less contested in their functions and their skills are recognised. 

According to Allison Grealis, president of Women in Manufacturing Research, when companies are more diverse, and when there are more women at the leadership table, those companies are more profitable.

What role models in the sector are there for girls who are considering a career in the industry?

Personally, I appreciate and admire women with the vision and determination to achieve their goals, without compromising their personal life. Women think differently, offering a different, multidimensional point of view and innovative solutions. This is our competitive edge.

I am inspired by women like Veronica Brake, vice president of operations, performance materials at BASF. She belongs to my generation, which means that she started her career in a male-dominated environment and she is now leading a huge team across 18 operating facilities in the USA. I fully agree with her motto: ‘get a mentor and be a mentor’ – I find mentorship invaluable for a successful career in the fast pace manufacturing sector.

Another inspiring example is Mary Barra, CEO of General Motors. I like her story because she started as a quality inspector on the assembly line and in 2014, she became the first female CEO of a major global auto manufacturer.