One of our aims at Women in Defence is to highlight the opportunity and choice to work within the Defence Enterprise – whether this is industry, consulting, the military and wider. We will be publishing blogs from women working all across the enterprise to give you an idea of the types of careers available to women interested in working in defence.
If you have an interesting job in the defence enterprise, why not blog about it. Click here to get in touch.
Our first blog in the series is from Laura Sexton, Squadron Leader in the Royal Air Force.
The Royal Air Force defends the air space of the UK and its international territories. The technology required to do that, the project management required to put that technology safely into the air, and the leadership required to motivate and inspire all those who make it happen, requires a group of people who are very carefully trained in a range of skills – and who are motivated to do so. This global-reaching organisation therefore comprises a huge range of experts, in areas such as engineering, logistics, air operations, administration, medicine, and intelligence. And pilots. Integrating with the British Army and the Royal Navy, we ensure the people and interests of the UK are protected.
I’m the ‘UK Engineering Authority’ for Typhoon Mechanical Systems. This means I represent the UK in engineering and airworthiness on landing gear, hydraulics and the air flow control systems on the aircraft; my signature allows the fleet to be modified to improve capability or safety. Last week I was at a meeting at Airbus in Germany assessing landing gear loads monitoring results from a recent trial; this week I’m in Munich providing the UK view on future capability development in hydraulics; the week after I’ll be dialling in to Spain, to hear the output from supersonic flight trials to assess thermal behaviour in certain areas of the aircraft. I relish the level of responsibility I am given, and the knowledge that what I do matters, and will have a tangible impact on the Typhoon programme.
The best bits….
The RAF has taught me to fly, scuba-dive, ski and mountaineer. It tried to teach me to surf but was unsuccessful; that’s another blog. It has provided me with world-class leadership training and a career structure that has opened up endless opportunities for progression, broadening and experience. I have on several occasions taken a moment to appreciate this; I feel proud of what the organisation has allowed me to achieve. I’ve seen more of defence as a ‘sector’ in recent roles, and firmly believe it really has to be one of the most exciting sectors to be associated with – as an engineer, you are dealing with some of the most advanced technology in the world, being put to use in a world-shaping environment.
And the worst bits…
As a mum of two young children, with a husband who works away a lot, finding a balance between my career and my family has been really tough. The RAF does not allow regular personnel to work part time yet, although it has recently been announced that this will be available from 2019 – fantastic news. My going back to work after having children was entirely our choice as a family, so I won’t be seen complaining about it (occasionally clinging onto a glass of red, but I think you’d agree that’s reasonable), but it doesn’t make the practicalities of life easy, or more importantly the emotional choice of leaving our kids in childcare each day. I decided to go back for several reasons, but one of them was that I felt it was important to show our daughter that the opportunity is there for her, if she wants it. We always make sure we point out the fast racing car/tractor/helicopter to both her and her brother – and that the dressing up box full of fairy wings and dresses is there for them both, too! If she decides she wants take on roles traditionally filled by women, that is absolutely fine, as long as she also knows she can hold a spanner if she wants to.
In Defence, gender – and other minority ‘labels’ - makes as much difference as eye colour, and I feel great to be part of the generation removing those labels.