Happy International Women's Day!

Each year, this day serves as a powerful reminder of the progress made towards gender equality and highlights the work that still needs to be done. This year’s theme is ‘Inspire Inclusion’ which emphasises the importance of diversity and empowerment in all aspects of society.

To celebrate, we asked some of our members and colleagues to share their thoughts with us. Read just some of their perspectives below.

What does ‘Inspiring Inclusion’ mean to you?

Inspiring inclusion means putting in place an environment, policies and procedures and a culture where everyone feels valued and respected. It’s calling out poor behaviours and badly thought-out expectations and highlighting contributions from underrepresented groups.

Anna Perera, HR Director at Collins Aerospace

For me, inspiring inclusion means fostering an environment where everybody feels respected, included and empowered. I lead the women’s employee network at Thales which was set up to provide a supportive community where we can encourage more open conversations and feel comfortable to share our experiences, good and bad! The network now does much more than just support and connect our employees, we also focus on giving everyone a voice and aim to create a culture of transparency, trust and shared understanding between employee and organisation. Being part of this network is important to me as I want to work in an inclusive environment where I can be myself, and inspire others to do the same. 

Lilly Rickenbach, IVVQ Manager at Thales UK

Having empathy for others and understanding that we all have different needs and that diversity can bring real strength to any team, whether that is in diverse thinking or diverse skill sets. To support and inspire inclusion, we all need to take time to listen to others’ views, allow colleagues space to share their thoughts, develop and take on responsibility. As a manager, there is a crucial responsibility to support and nurture individuals’ ambitions.

Jon Gray, Director – Security & Resilience, ADS

Inspiring Inclusion for me is all about awareness, whether it be at the early stages of a child’s education right to those in careers outside of the ADS sectors. Involving people and letting them see what a career as a women in engineering or STEM is like not only encourages them to forge that career pathway, but also may help them realise that there is not one type of person who works in these sectors. We are all unique pieces of the big picture but you may not realise that until you have sight of it.

Kristy Ireland, Systems Engineer at Leonardo UK

What unique skills do you bring to your sector?

As a female leader in STEM, I bring skills that cultivate teamwork and collaboration. I recognise the skills of my team and encourage them to develop these. I understand each team members communication style and how best to get them to work together and I recognise the power of acknowledging individual and team success to encourage equally positive outcomes!

Patricia Cunningham, Supplier Quality Manager, Collins Aerospace

I find that the fact that I don’t have a military background in itself provides a unique perspective particularly when problems arise. I find myself naturally inclined to tackle issues from a different angle and that added diversity into the way we address challenges makes our team even stronger. 

Joanna Long, Training and Assurance Manager & Chair of LMUK Women’s Impact Network

Have you had any standout moments as a woman in STEM?

I have had a diverse career working in the Marine research sector, in industry, with the Royal Navy and at a conservation project in Asia. Through this experience I’ve developed core skills from scientific diving, data analysis, environmental management, teamwork and leadership, with practical real-world experience. My skills have proven to be key to developing the science community and growing a team of environmental professionals in DE&S.

Dr Delphine Byford, Lead Environmental Consultant and Science Discipline Lead at Defence Equipment & Support (DE&S)

I would highlight my work launching the Marshall Skills Summit event series, which has brought together the entire aviation industry (including, of course, many ADS members) to recognise and address the widening skills gap in aircraft maintenance and engineering. I’m so proud to have been involved in something that’s so important to the sustainability of aviation, while helping Marshall show leadership and build collaboration across our industry.

Janine Hornsby, Senior Marketing Manager, Marshall

Working in STEM has given me many opportunities, from presenting at international conferences to working with cutting edge technology. However, there is no better experience than boarding an aircraft and seeing a part that your team has designed and manufactured, I just wish I could tell everyone of the amazing contributions to the industry that we have made.

Ciara McMullan, Composites Engineering Manager, Collins Aerospace

I now lead a large scale Defence Engineering and Asset Management business, which does seem to be a surprise to some given my gender and background. My stand out reflection is that everyone in Defence recognises the importance of STEM, and that if we can tap into the early engagement girls have in school for STEM subjects and draw that passion into the workplace, we will be not only ensuring we have enough people to fill the roles at an entry level, but that we can draw that all the way through ensuring it is seen as a really long and fulfilling career for everyone.

Salli Shapcott, Air & Maritime Capability Director, Serco

What made you join your sector?

From joining ADS in 2019 as the Prosperity and Growth Executive to heading up the International Business Development function, my time here has taught me how to navigate the intricacies of a Trade Association as well as domestic and international stakeholders. A process which can be daunting but with the right guidance and support has been an exciting and perhaps less scary process to go through.

Connie Mathisen, Director, International Business Development, ADS

 I became interested in Engineering in my mid-teens. I loved problem solving and I was doing physics and maths at school. My physics teacher told me that good engineers would always find work. At the time, my father had been made redundant and was out of work for six months, so this was really important to me.

I love the variety in engineering – I’ve worked on some amazing projects during my career – real ‘once in a lifetime’ projects at the cutting edge of technology!

Pam Robertshaw, Head of Engineering Performance Excellence, Raytheon

I joined the engineering sector due to a combination of early interest, visible role models and personal passion.

I knew I wanted to be an engineer at the age of five. Even at such a young age, I was fascinated by how things worked and had a natural curiosity for the physical sciences. Although I did not have female engineering role models whilst growing up, I consider myself fortunate to have had male engineer role models who were still able to inspire my own journey in engineering. Their accomplishments and the impact they had in their field motivated me to pursue a similar path. This interest only grew as I got older, and my strong aptitude in maths and the physical sciences, further confirmed that engineering was the right career choice for me.

Ifeoma Noelin Okolie, Product Safety Manager & EDI Network Devlopment Lead, Thales UK

No two days are ever the same. I work with a diverse group of people across the business, as well as external stakeholders. All of which bring their own unique challenges, as well as many opportunities to learn and grow. I wanted to be an electrician. I went to an all -girls comprehensive school – careers meetings never touched on jobs in what was considered male-orientated roles. This school, however, was one of the first to provide GCSE Electronics, which first gave me the spark (excuse the pun!) to look into Apprenticeships and the rest is history.

Jenny Quarterman, Head of Facilities, Lockheed Martin UK

What would you say to women considering a career in our sectors?

Join! Join! Join! Let’s bring greater diversity, equality and inclusion into the sector. The sector offers various roles from a wide range of careers; your varying skills and experiences can be a significant contribution to the defence sector. I have loved my journey in the sector to date and specifically at the UKDSC.

Pally Gill, Assistant Director – Prosperity and Economics Data, UK Defence Solutions Centre

The beauty of the space sector is that it is ever-changing and ever evolving to keep up with the fast rate of developing technology. For that reason, no day is ever the same and the community of people who work in the sector are incredibly forward-thinking and passionate about what they do. It’s an exciting time to work in Space in the UK and couldn’t be a better time to join!

Preeya Lakhani, Programme Manager, Lockheed Martin UK Space 

Do it. The space industry is so varied that there are some brilliant opportunities. From large companies like mine who are growing their space divisions, to new start-up companies just beginning their space projects. There is a shortage of engineers in the UK today, especially across the space sector, and we cannot afford to exclude or discourage women from joining us. It also helps that it’s a fabulous sector to work in with really exciting projects.

Elizabeth Seward, Head of Space Strategy, BAE Systems

Elizabeth featured on this week’s episode of ‘Defence Talks’, a podcast ADS is proud to partner on. Learn more. 


One of our members asked us if she could share her response to a common question at this time of year…

Why is there an International Women's Day?

I get this question a lot and I understand to some extent the confusion with how sometimes International Women’s Day is portrayed. To me, International Women’s Day is a remembrance day for the fearless heroic women of our past and present who fought and to this day still fight tenaciously for equal rights.

So, to those that ask why there is an International Women’s Day and why do we need to keep celebrating it? It is to remember those that have fought for what some women have and to remind ourselves of those that are still fighting. If there is one thing you could do to help, it is to remember these reasons and help spread the word.

Rosina Chester, Electrical/Avionics Fitter, Marshall

What does International Women's Day mean to ADS?

ADS is proud to represent more than 1,300 members across the UK’s aerospace, defence, security and space industries. Our sectors are proud supporters of Diversity, Equality and Inclusion initiatives that deliver a more inclusive future for all of us.

I am proud of ADS’ work to empower women in our sectors – who have perhaps, not always been perceived as the most welcoming. I am glad to say that is changing and we are all better corporate citizens when we empower every person in our organisation to bring their whole self to work – and I’m delighted to support diversity initiatives across our sectors, including the Women in Aviation and Aerospace Charter and the Women in Defence Charter. 

At ADS we are dedicated to supporting the amazing women in our sectors and encouraging more women to join our sectors. Our goal is securing UK advantage and women must be and feel included in all fields of our work.

Kevin Craven, CEO, ADS

I believe International Woman’s Day is an important celebration of women’s achievements. Over my career within the legal profession, I have seen a change in culture where more women have been qualifying as solicitors but the evolution to senior positions and members of boards, whilst going in the right direction, has been slow. At ADS the importance of having a diverse and inclusive workforce and board is recognised, though with the Board it is slightly harder due to the general demographic of c-suite level individuals within the sectors. This is why ADS is committed to ensuring it has a 30% female Board and Council by 2030. Other businesses are doing the same so hopefully this, along with all the good work being done to inspire inclusion, will see a continuation of change.

Christina Smith, Legal Director and Company Secretary

Our Chief Economist Aimie Stone was named on the Women In Trade Association’s Power List in 2024 – for the second year running! Here’s what she had to say this International Women’s Day…

I’m so lucky to be able to work with inspiring women across the whole of the ADS team. It is a privilege to be able to learn from those who have amazing careers across our sectors and to be able to support other women who are just starting out. These women are all so hard working but always have time to lift each other up.