Anne Wright joined Alcoa as a graduate electrical engineer 15 years ago. She started at the Point Henry Aluminium Smelter in Victoria. However, as a third generation Alcoan, her new workplace already felt like home because it felt so familiar and she’d spent time there growing up.
“We used to go to the family fun days at Point Henry; it was a really inclusive environment for employees and their families. Alcoa were always able to accommodate mum’s responsibilities with us kids and it felt like a big family.”
Anne initially met her first Alcoa work mentor when she was just seven years old. She was visiting her mother’s workplace and when crossing paths with him in the hallway squealed she had just met King Neptune!
“On my first day as a graduate, the man remembered me calling him King Neptune all those years ago! We had a good laugh about it.”
Why women should consider STEM
Anne studied both engineering and science at university, and very almost began her career as a scientist. She enjoyed the hands-on nature of science and physics classes, while engineering classes seemed a bit dull. When Anne joined Alcoa’s Vacation Student Program at Anglesea Power Station, she learned just how appealing a career in engineering could be.
“I’m quite a hands-on person, and once I completed the vacation program I realized engineering was the path for me. I spent a whole week of my vacation placement observing a transformer overhaul and it was fantastic. I was so happy for the experience.”
Growing up, Anne had two older brothers, and her parents never instilled any gender bias on the opportunities available to her.
“I was always good at math and had an excellent memory. Then, once I studied physics at secondary school and it was actually challenging, it became my passion. I went to an all-girls school and I still didn’t realize there were preconceived ‘boys’ or ‘girls’ subjects.”
It wasn’t until university that Anne discovered that studying STEM was not typical for girls. Now, Anne works at the Wagerup Alumina Refinery powerhouse in Western Australia and is called in to analyze and repair failed equipment around the plant. She proudly reported there has only been one project she couldn’t complete within the day, and that’s because a part had to come from the manufacturer.
To anyone considering a STEM career, Anne says follow your passions.
“If you find something that holds your attention, and challenges you to learn new things, then that is the baseline for a great career. That’s what my career in engineering has been, challenging and very rewarding.”
Balancing kids and career
The Alcoa Women’s Network and Parent and Kids Forums helped Anne connect with other parents when she found out she was expecting her first child.
“It was a great way to meet new people and talk to someone who had been through what I was going through.”
As a Mum of two beautiful daughters, Anne finds Alcoa is really supportive of working parents.
“Before I went on parental leave for my first daughter, Alcoa began the Parents and Kids Forum where new parents and parents-to-be can bring their children to a quarterly catch up to keep in contact and up to date with Alcoa news. The forum was a great way to keep in touch with the company, highlight concerns for working parents, and they even run training such as CPR for Children. A significant struggle for many working parents was the lack of suitable childcare facilities close to Wagerup refinery. A great example of the benefits of this program was the cooperation of Alcoa helping to establish a day-care center in Waroona, just 10 minutes from Wagerup. Any commuting parent understands the value of easy drop off and pick up logistics.”
Anne took 12 months maternity leave after each of her daughters were born. The Parents and Kids Forum helped her stay connected to peers, managers and the company, without feeling pressure to work while on leave.
The best things about an engineering career
Anne had plenty to share when asked what she loves about being an engineer;
- The technical work. “I’m one of those people that enjoys continually learning, engineering is great for that. Alcoa is supporting my technical development and supported me to get my Master of Engineering qualification.”
- The mentors. “I’ve had really good mentors who have encouraged and supported me.”
- The relationships. “I work with a large, diverse range of people and I have made numerous friendships along the way.”
- The openness. “Everyone accepts me for who I am. I am not judged on my appearance or superficial things; they judge me for my work and what I can actually do.”
Anne was able to finish her Master of Engineering over three years while working full time. There are abundant career progression opportunities at Alcoa. The Graduate Program is a great example of where people are able to work at different sites, learning a myriad of skills and are guaranteed a full time role at the end.
For Anne, the best opportunities occur when you put your hand up, take chances and say yes when needed. During Anne’s Graduate Program experience, the global financial crisis hit, Alcoa needed a maintenance coordinator and Anne put up her hand for the secondment.
“They asked if anyone was willing to step outside their comfort zone. I said I’m happy to do that if you’re happy to support my engineering development on the side. That year spent in maintenance was invaluable; engineers don’t always appreciate maintenance systems, so it was a great growth opportunity for me.”
After the year-long secondment, Alcoa created a role for Anne as Power Systems Engineer. She took initiative, asked for opportunities and it paid off. Currently, Anne is seconded in another growth opportunity as a Principal Electrical Engineer, and she knows the fantastic mentors and endless opportunities will benefit her career for the next 15 years.
Anne clearly loves her job, and ended with a laugh saying,
“My husband and I are both engineers, our children are probably going to be artists.”