Former Lt. Amelia Gould
“I don't like the term 'work/personal life balance' because I don't want to compromise,” says Amelia Gould, systems engineer, former Royal Navy lieutenant, currently chief of staff to the BAE Systems chief executive, and mother of two!
“It's not so much a balance as a conscious choice and I'll concentrate on whatever needs attention at that moment. If there's a work project deadline then that gets my attention and if its one of my children's birthdays or they are ill then that is my priority,” she explains.
When offered the position of chief-of-staff, “my first ever non-engineering job which the company put me in to 'broaden me'” she laughs, she negotiated with her boss that she could work some days a week from home (thus saving a two-hour commute each way from London) and otherwise leave the office at 4 p.m. to be home before her children's bedtime. “Those of us, both men and women, who juggle careers and a family must make managers understand that there's a necessity for flexibility to get the most out of people,” she states.
She knows her current job is temporary but still misses engineering “and being part of the delivery team.” In other words, delivering a project.
Amelia did not follow any family footsteps. Her mother taught art, her father was a farmer. “But I've always loved science, particularly physics, and was very interested in space.” She even did an extra course in astronomy whilst at school. “And then one day I attended a 3-day introduction to Engineering for girls at Brunel University [specialised in technology and engineering] and built structures using spaghetti and marshmallows and I was hooked!” She got a place at Oxford to study engineering science “where a professor told me I had an aptitude for computing, which I didn't know I had, so I switched to engineering and computer science.” She was the only girl amongst 12 doing that joint degree and one of only two students who got a First (70% or higher). She was also the only Royal Navy personnel in her class. “Dad couldn't afford to send me to university so I applied for sponsorships and got one from the Royal Navy. I signed on for 22 years in 1995, a contract I could break as long as I served at least seven years after graduating.” A keen sailor, this did not put her off, so during her gap-year (between end of school and beginning of university) she did basic training and then served aboard ship (as part of the crew, a role the Royal Navy only made accessible to women from 1993). Her military status meant she was barred from some university activities and had to serve during holidays. “I loved it, it was a brilliant experience and taught me so much,” she says, but concedes that she “definitely had to work harder because I was 18, and most of the rest of my entry joined after university so were that bit older, wiser and more independent.”
The young lieutenant was deployed to Iraq after 9/11 leading an engineering team on the UK's flagship aircraft carrier, HMS Ark Royal, but then in 2007 she and her husband, also in the Navy, decided to leave for civilian adventures. “I was in a procurement job supporting warship command systems and testing and accepting new systems for the Navy but what I really enjoyed was design engineering which future roles in the Navy could not provide.” So they bought a catamaran and spent two years sailing it from Portsmouth to Sydney, writing a blog to keep family and friends informed of their progress.
When money ran out they had to return to the UK. It was winter and neither of them had a job. Her husband joined the Navy reserves and she spent four months unemployed until she got a job with a small cyber-security consultancy.
Five years and two children later Amelia decided that her consultancy job's growing demands to travel were not compatible with small children. So, she did a simple job search using the key words “Portsmouth + 10 miles” to see what was out there. “When you're job-hunting you need to think like a search engine using key words linked to what you love and enjoy and what captures your attention. Eventually you'll find something!” This is the advice she gives to the girls and young women she mentors today because “girls tell me they want to have a linear career, but I tell them that's not how it works.” And the job search returned a position in the Portsmouth naval shipyard with BAE Systems.
She joined the company in 2013 as the Royal Navy Type 23 (T23) Frigate Combat System Design Manager. These were undergoing an extensive mid-life update and she was responsible for the successful integration of the Combat System upgrades and changes. In 2016 she became head of engineering, responsible for the professional welfare of 800 engineers “but I only had 30 in my immediate team!”
Amelia is too discreet to tell me that in 2016 she received a Women in Defence Award for promotion of gender diversity and in 2017 the WISE (Women in Science and Engineering) Woman in Industry Award. “My children told everyone that I won a trophy for being a 'wise woman'” she laughs.