During August, operations and maintenance service providers to the steam and boiler sector, Associated Energy Services (AES) celebrate the pioneering, energetic women who are challenging stereotypes within the engineering and industrial space, says managing director, Chris Paterson. This is part one of a two-part series.

Chris Paterson, managing director at AES. Image supplied by AES

Chris Paterson, managing director at AES. Image supplied by AES

“Historically, the boiler house operations and maintenance sector has been dominated by men. There were not many women, particularly on site. However, more recently this has started to change,” he observes.

As engineering and industrial skills are in short supply, , by employing female boiler assistants and then training and promoting them into operational and maintenance positions.

AES currently has 58 women out of a total of 307 staff in their workforce, where it should be noted that the major portion of its personnel are site based in hands-on energy operations and maintenance roles.

An added bonus is that more women have embarked on technical training in recent years and AES has identified a number of very strong female candidates, he says.

Paterson says AES has always employed the best person for the job, and that all women within AES are there strictly on merit.

However, he admits that a number of challenges remain, especially when placing female employees on clients’ manufacturing sites, such as a lack of women’s changing rooms and other facilities. Where women do need to use public transport and are potentially at risk, AES provides self-defence training.

Notwithstanding the inherent challenges, Paterson and his team place much value in diversity, and AES is employing more women in line with this ethos. Paterson says he is also looking forward to seeing more female staff obtain Government Certificates of Competency (GCCs) in the mechanical, technical or electrical sectors in the near future.

Repainting the picture of women in engineering

Portia Monama, procurement manager at AES. Image supplied by AES

Portia Monama, procurement manager at AES. Image supplied by AES

Portia Monama joined AES in February 2021, starting as a procurement administrator before being promoted to her current position as procurement manager.

She believes that it is particularly important for women to be included in engineering:

“I think any industrial or engineering company that is excluding women is limiting itself when it comes to the amount of knowledge, experience and talent which women can bring to any organisation. For me, it is crucial to be deliberate about gender diversity and about developing women in these historically male-dominated spaces.”

This will be achieved at grass roots level. “We must literally ‘repaint’ the pictures of different industries through things as small as circulating more images of women wearing their personal protective equipment on site. Once these visual representations of women in industry become more mainstream, I think it will inspire more women to enter the engineering field, challenging the stereotypical perception that this is a difficult field for women to be in.”

In terms of AES, however, Monama values the extent to which the company has supported, empowered and upskilled the women in its ranks.

“Ultimately, AES holds women to the same performance standards as men. Women are in meaningful positions doing worthwhile work, and their employment is not just about legislative compliance or ‘box ticking’. For me, that speaks to the integrity of AES, and its understanding that as women, we want to be held to the same standards – and do not want special treatment,” she says.

Her advice to other young women wishing to follow in her footsteps is simple: “Go to school! We can only rely on talent, policies and women development initiatives to a certain extent. Get the experience. If you are going into an industry like this, don’t be scared to go into the trenches and get your hands dirty.”