Can changing the narrative (finally) give women a voice in STEMM? Based on our recent conversation with Yvette Griggs, Senior Signalling Engineer for Alstom, we think – yes!
Growing up in regional Queensland, Yvette has worked in various engineering fields in mining, software, and railway signalling – typically a field/profession lacking young female professionals.
Despite this, she has been highly recognized in her field, winning a number of prestigious industry awards (including the Shining Light Award from the Institute of Railway Signal Engineers, and the Rail Technical Society’s Young Rail Engineer of the Year Award), speaking at railway engineering events both domestically and internationally, mentoring as part of QUT Women in Engineering and co-writing a popular blog for women in engineering.
She’s passionate about encouraging women to pursue careers in STEMM to see engineering as a viable, rewarding career path, and has even been selected as the Pillar Champion for the Australia and New Zealand chapter of Alstom Women of Excellence!
“My 13-year-old self thought the height of sophistication was a job where you could wear stockings and heels in a fancy office, then go home and have a Lean Cuisine with a glass of wine. But I’d tell my younger self that confidence is more important than appearance. You should always strive to be your authentic self.”
Expression through creativity
There’s no doubt creative expression is one powerful way for people to express their authentic selves. Which is why Yvette enjoys expressing her creativity through different avenues – one of which is writing.
Since 2016, she has co-authored a Women in Engineering Blog with one of her former colleagues, who she met while working in a lead mine in Mount Isa.
“One of our blog posts went viral, receiving more than 85,000 views. It was a series of images showing Disney princesses as various types of engineers. For example, Cinderella the Mechanical Engineer! After the problems she encountered using vehicles made by her Fairy Godmother, Cinderella decided to find out exactly how motors and machines worked, leading her to a pumpkin-free career in Mechanical Engineering.”
Putting pen to paper and drawing not only provides Yvette with a creative outlet, but also a break from screen time at work.
In her current role at Alstom, she works as the design lead on signalling projects – upgrading existing Queensland Rail lines to the European Train Control System. This involves ensuring the overseas teams’ designs undergo a rigorous quality control process, using resources in Brisbane.
“For many deliverables like Control Tables and circuit designs, I perform verifications myself. I also provide remote design support during construction, testing and commissioning.”
Drawing her own path to success
But Yvette’s path to success hasn’t always been a Disney fairytale. She’s faced her fair share of challenges along the way.
Having Chinese heritage, she was acutely aware of her heritage growing up in Townsville, where differences could be less tolerated.
“As a teen, I thought gender equality had been achieved and there was no more need for jumping in front of racehorses or burning bras. At university, there were very few other women [studying in my field], but we were made to feel “special” by affirmative action programs. When I entered the workforce, however, I discovered even highly qualified and competent women weren’t being treated as equals to their male peers.”
Yvette was denied the opportunity to complete a graduate rotation in a particular area because the existing women’s bathroom had been converted to a second men’s bathroom. She saw the senior geologist interrupted from her work and asked to prepare morning tea, as it was a “lady’s job”. And when Yvette resigned from one role, she was asked by her manager if she was leaving “to get married”.
She also suffers from endometriosis – which affects 1 in 10 women. This in itself is enough of a burden – but due to it being predominately a “women’s issue”, she previously experienced a hostile work environment that lacked empathy and processes to help her manage the condition. In one of her past workplaces, her fertility (or lack thereof) was even used as banter during a staff meeting.
But Yvette never quit.
She studied Computer Systems Engineering at James Cook University in Townsville and worked at a software start up as an undergraduate.
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Her first graduate role was with Queensland Rail as a graduate signalling engineer. After a year, she moved to Mount Isa and worked in fixed plant maintenance at a lead mine. She then returned to Brisbane to work in railway signalling.
Now Yvette is working for Alstom, she is happy to be treated with respect by her colleagues, particularly working in a small office with a team that is very much like a family. The team may have their differences, but everyone feels comfortable talking about issues that arise in an open way and learning from one another.
“I think our open workplace culture comes from the diversity of my colleagues and the effort Alstom puts into education and awareness. I love that we’re working together to make the passenger network safer and more efficient. I get a geeky kick out of “recycling” circuits. For example, I found a way to reuse an “obsolete” relay by renaming it and using it for a different function. It made my day!”
Finding inspirations along the way
While carving your own path is the key to success, it certainly helps having inspiration from other women along the way.
For Yvette, her 96-year-old grandmother is the most resilient person she knows, and is her biggest inspiration.
“She balances ambition, compassion, critique, openness and straightforwardness, while still being open to whimsy. She raised two strong daughters while managing a fruit department, opening regional branches and striking fear into the hearts of juniors who dared to step out of line! I hope I can be a fraction of the woman she is.”
Success, lessons and finding balance
Having mentored many people throughout her career, Yvette’s personal philosophy is based on encouraging people to be their authentic self.
“If you have to pretend to be a different person to get a job or form a relationship, it probably means you aren’t going to be a great fit. Spending all your energy on pretending to be fake is exhausting. Surrounding yourself with people who accept you for who you are gives you the best chance to thrive.”
She achieves the best balance in work and life by being organized, starting her day positively and ending it peacefully. Being able to work from home some of the time at Alstom certainly helps too. Earlier this year, she adopted a kitten, who loves her company while she works from home!
After achieving so much in her life and career, she looks forward to enjoying and being content with the present. Yvette has truly defined her career by being the most authentic version of herself and creating her own story.
“I hope that through my contribution, we continue to build positive relationships with the asset-owner railways in Queensland so our business in this state continues to grow.”