"I am among those who think that science has great beauty. A scientist in his laboratory is not only a technician: he’s like a child placed before natural phenomena which impress him like a fairy tale."
This quote by the iconic Marie Curie, twice Nobel Prize for Physics first and Chemistry then, has been shared by many, especially by women who are passionate about the disciplines under the STEM acronym (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics). Science, engineering, mathematics, physics and chemistry may understandably strike terror in people with literary-humanistic vocations, given their complexity and the commitment needed to handle them.
But both before and after Marie Curie, continuously history has presented female figures who have found enormous satisfaction in these areas. And it is almost mandatory to focus on gender issues: according to an EU study in 2018, only 24% of science and engineering professionals, and 15% of professionals working in the same fields, are women. Just a short time ago, in 2012, in Europe only 12.6% of women graduates specialized in STEM areas, compared to 37.5% of male graduates. The European Commission expects the shortage of STEM talent to worsen: in the IT sector alone, a shortage of 900,000 workers is expected by 2020.
Improving this trend is difficult, just like the study of these disciplines, which continue to be fundamental for organizations and their innovation processes. It is encouraging to discover exemplary stories of working women in STEM fields, even more so in an industry with such a strong male presence as in Aviation.
Angela Tessa, Avio Aero Rivalta Quality Manager, began her career as a Design Engineer and then became Program Manager. Over the years she followed engine programs for many important customers (Pratt & Whitney, Rolls Royce, Eurojet, Airbus, and Sikosky). Her experience is a story of hard work and determination, but also of well-deserved success.
How long have you been in this position and what does your job entail?
"I've been in this position for almost 2 years. Basically, I deal with the quality of the products that are made in Rivalta. I am also responsible for the Customer Quality activities, so I am the customer's first interface for these issues."
When you were a child, what did you dream of being when you grew up?
"My dream was to be an archaeologist: I loved ancient history. I figured I would dig somewhere around the world and discover archaeological treasures."
What did you study at university and how did you make this choice?
"I received my degree in mechanical engineering from the Polytechnic of Turin in 1998. I have always been passionate about scientific subjects, and when I finished high school I wanted to enroll in Medicine or Engineering. Then, almost as a joke, I took the selection tests for Mechanical Engineering. I passed the test with an excellent rank, and at that point the choice was made. Out of 300 students majoring in mechanics, there were about 20 women - less than 10% of the total - but we were very determined!
Have you also worked in other industries or in other countries other than Italy?
"I have always worked in Aviation. When I was working in Engineering, I spent two years at GE's plant in Lynn, Massachusetts. It was a wonderful experience. I have wonderful memories and many friends from it!
What made you leave 'office work' to face the challenge of working in the factory?
"For some time, I wanted to get closer to the heart of production, where our product is born: to be in the factory and work with the operators, the production engineers and the designers; to identify together the best solutions for making the product. In short, tangible and concrete results in a short time: a real satisfaction for a Quality Manager!"
Who has inspired and guided you during your professional career?
"I have met a lot of people throughout my 20-year long career. The person I remember most fondly is an engineering colleague, older than I. When I was a novice program manager, he said to me one day, 'Angela, you have to make your job your hobby. That's the only way you are going be really happy with what you do. Always seek your own way, make changes if necessary, but never stop.' This approach has given me a lot of courage and that was the beginning of my wonderful adventure. Even today, the drive for my choices is the passion for what I do."
"My childhood dream was to be an archaeologist: I figured I would dig somewhere around the world and discover archaeological treasures"
What is the most stimulating aspect of your work?
"The quest for perfection, which starts from the depth of analysis. We must always be the best. Customers must be satisfied at all times and they must be aware that they cannot find better product than the one we produce. Starting from a possible problem and analyzing all the production phases, identifying what triggers and implementing all the following corrective or predictive actions is a very stimulating job."
In the workplace, is there a phrase you often repeat?
"I always like to stress the importance of teamwork for finding the right solution to every problem, addressing and analyzing any errors in a constructive manner.
From your point of view, what can companies address to facilitate gender equality?
"I believe that more attention needs to be given to work-life balance issues. Help women who have a family and children to manage - as in my case - to find the balance between work commitments and family life. This ensures greater peace of mind and satisfaction for employees, which translates into successful results for the company.
What advice can you give a young woman who wants to choose an education and a career in STEM?
"Don't be afraid to take the risk or to challenge the system and believe in your abilities. Follow your passion and focus on your goals with courage and determination, much of your success depends on you!"