An incredible journey
Two National Grid colleagues have made The Telegraph's Top 50 Women in Engineering list: Faye Banks, Electrical Transmission and Asset Manager, and Cathy McClay, Head of Commercial Operations. Faye, also the youngest-ever fellow of the Institution of Engineering and Technology, had to overcome some incredible obstacles on her way to this momentous achievement - and has blazed a trail for women looking to establish a career in engineering. Here the 38-year-old tells Connecting her inspirational story.
An incredible journey
“I was totally disengaged from the educational system and left school at 16 with no real qualifications and no job prospects”
Faye Banks, Electrical Transmission and Asset Manager.
Only 9% of the engineering workforce is female. And only 6% of registered engineers and technicians (i.e. CEng, IEng, EngTech) are women.
Source: The Women's Engineering Society
I grew up in local authority care and spent five years living in children’s homes and with several different foster families. Life at that time was really a matter of survival and I was living day to day, not really planning for the future. I was totally disengaged from the educational system and left school at 16 with no real qualifications and no job prospects.
Desperate to get off benefits, I went to get some careers advice where I was told I was basically a “write-off” with very limited options. I took an unskilled job at a local plastics factory but soon became bored and frustrated.
One day a machine broke down and production completely stopped. I had to wait for an engineer to come and fix it. Watching him repair the machine, I realised how important the engineer’s skills were for the organisation and how this ultimately impacted on plant productivity. This was a light bulb moment for me as I realised that this was what I wanted to do with my career.
Qualifications give you the edge
I went to talk to my manager about the company’s higher apprenticeship scheme but my heart sank as I realised I didn’t have the qualifications I needed. I decided to return to education to re-sit my exams and over the next year I combined 12-hour shifts with evenings at college and working every minute.
The following year I gained 10 As at GCSE and was thrilled to finally start my apprenticeship. This is when reality started to sink in; I was only earning £6,000 a year as an apprentice and had to take on three extra jobs to make ends meet. It was all worth it though when I finally qualified five years later.
Throughout my career I have continually asked myself what would give me the edge over my peers and I keep coming back to the same thing – qualifications. I continued with my studies and achieved a Master’s Degree in Engineering, a Master’s Degree in Technology Management and an International Triple Accredited MBA.
In 2004, I won the Young Woman Engineer of the Year title which was an enormous achievement for me. I was delighted as I had never dreamt I would be able to achieve anything like that. It was concrete proof of just how far I’d come. The award paid dividends for my career and I finally felt I had arrived as an engineer.
I was also asked to get involved in many UK engineering initiatives – working alongside the BBC and the Open University to produce a number of STEM documentaries, as well as being elected onto the Institution of Engineering and Technology’s (IET) UK Communities Together Project team and National Apprenticeship Working Group.
It had long been a personal goal for me to work for National Grid as I felt it was one of the best places for me to develop my true potential as an electrical engineer. In 2013 I was lucky enough to be offered my current role of Electrical Transmission and Asset Manager where I lead a team of over 100 engineers in the north-east. This involves proactively maintaining the electrical transmission network: my team delivers the maintenance plans that help our company make decisions about future investment in our network.
In July 2015, I was privileged to become the IET’s youngest ever fellow. Now my priority is to give some of my time back to the IET and to work with the Institution to inspire the next generation of engineers.
Outside of work I am a keen runner and busy mum of two young boys and feel very lucky to be able to combine life as a parent with a high-pressured management role.
Engineering has been a life-changing experience for me, and although I appreciate that it’s not the same for everyone, no one can deny the range of opportunities out there. And I am living proof that this can be a great career for women.