Energy Professional Talks About Empowering Asian Woman Engineers
An energy professional that helps businesses to reduce their energy usage, Jaz Rabadia is a young Asian female with a background in engineering. Often the only woman in the room, she spoke to The Asian Today’s Hifzha Shaheen about why it was important for Asian women to get into engineering.
You are the youngest chartered energy manager in the UK – describe to me your job role.
As energy manager for Debenhams I’m responsible for managing the electricity used to light the stores, the gas used to heat them and the water used for cleaning and washing. Energy is one of their biggest costs and has a big impact on the environment. It’s a demanding, but rewarding job where I get to apply my communication, creativity and engineering skills.
Like most students, I had no idea of what I wanted to do when I ‘grew up’. I chose engineering mainly because I wanted to keep my career options open and it seemed to tie in quite nicely with my A-levels in maths, design technology and chemistry. From a young age I was interested in learning about how things worked and loved getting creative with Lego.
When selecting engineering I knew it wasn’t the typical subject for an Asian girl to be studying, but it turned heads and I quite liked being different. I knew a degree in engineering would impress future employers and that there was a real shortage of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics) skills in the UK. I read up about engineering and realised how important it is in bettering the lives of people all around the world. I knew then that by studying engineering, I could also help to make a difference.
Whilst studying for my degree, I worked part time as a checkout assistant in my local Sainsbury’s store. In the second year of my degree I had to select two additional modules. I chose Energy Management and Renewable Energy and it was then that I saw how engineering could be applied to make a difference for the worlds future energy demands. When it was time to start writing my dissertation rather than take on the project title I was given (‘’A thermodynamic analysis of the combustion engine’’), I decided to create my own project (‘’The energy utilisation and management at Sainsbury’s’’). It seemed perfect, applying my engineering principles to a real life challenge; energy management in the workplace – and above all I could do my dissertation during paid working hours!
Once complete, I presented my study and its finding to Sainsbury’s Head of Energy who saw just how passionate I was; he even included a summary of my project in Sainsbury’s Corporate Responsibility Report. I maintained contact with him and soon after graduating, I received a call from him – offering me a job! It really was that simple and I’ve never looked back since. I never imagined that my part time job as a Sainsbury’s checkout assistant would result in a role as Group Energy Manager for the company.
Why do you think, as a career choice for Asian women, engineering is not one of the highest?
Engineering is not a common career choice for women in general, and the stats are even lower for women from Asian backgrounds. Engineering is the application of maths and science to real life problems by using creativity and problem solving skills to solve challenges. These are all skills that I think women are naturally good at! Even today there are lots of misconceptions of what an engineer does and looks like, these myths need dispelling to ensure more women are coming through the pipeline.
Engineering careers can be as practical or as executive as you like, whether you are someone who likes to get their hands dirty or not, careers in engineering can offer you both. Engineering is not about what you do, it’s about how you think; Pragmatic thinking, practical solutions and improved performance.
There is still a lack of awareness of engineering as a career option from a very young age. More needs to be done to raise the awareness of engineering careers not just amongst the student population, but also with teachers, career advisers and parents.
What advice would you give to females who are looking to go into engineering?
Engineering is not just hammers, spanners and boiler suits and if problem solving, team work and creativity is what you want out of a career then engineering is for you. With less than 10% of engineers being women, there is a real gap to be filled. The UK has recognised the shortage of women in STEM and these businesses are crying out for good engineers. The opportunities to get a job, grow and learn within engineering are endless.
I turned a checkout job into a career in energy management with my STEM degree. It’s important to note that opportunities exist in everything that you do and every conversation that you have. Over the years my success has not been down to that answers I have given, but the questions that I have asked. It’s important to be inquisitive, be hungry for knowledge and never stop learning, whatever your chosen career.
What kind of obstacles did you find in your path?
I have been very fortunate in my career to have managers how have championed me and my progression. It’s one of the main reasons I was able to climb the corporate ladder so quickly. At the earlier stages of my career, I felt that being a young, less experienced female was my biggest barrier. My mangers made me realise that this was not a barrier at all, having different ideas and a fresher outlook made me a valuable addition to the team.
I find that now, because I have confidence in my knowledge and my abilities (and the academic qualifications, as well as practical experience to back this up) I’m respected by my colleagues and peers alike.
What is a STEM ambassador and how did you become involved?
To address the shortage of energy and engineering professionals coming through the pipeline, I have volunteered as a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) Ambassador. It’s a voluntary role that encourages people in STEM jobs to reach out and inspire the next generation.
Throughout the year, I visit schools and colleges to gives talks on careers in energy and engineering. It’s great to work for a high street brand that students recognise as it gets them engaged very quickly. I love seeing the students faces when I tell which companies have energy managers and just how much they spend on energy each year. It’s really important to raise awareness of the energy sector as a career option and hopefully through my talks I will inspire a few more to join the industry.
I expand on some of the challenges I have faced as a young woman in engineering and by dispelling some of the myths around what an engineer does and looks like, I inspire more students to consider careers in engineering. This is not only hugely rewarding, it also helps me to develop my presentation, influencing and leadership behaviours.
How did it feel to be awarded the chartered energy manager and what does it mean to you?
When I joined the energy industry I was working with people who had been energy managers for longer than I’d been alive! Whilst this presented a great opportunity for me to learn from their experience, it was quite a daunting position to be in. I often felt that I had to prove my technical capabilities, perhaps because I was always the youngest in the room or because I was the only female in the room.
I worked hard to develop my professional and personal skills to gain the practical experience that I was lacking. After just 5 years in the energy sector I had gained enough experience and exposure to work towards Chartership. It was always something that I was aspiring to achieve to validate my technical capabilities and help gain recognition that I had reached the next stage in my career.
Being the youngest to have achieved this was a very proud moment in my career. It showed my commitment to my profession and hopefully will show others that you don’t have to be old to be experienced.