Inmarsat exec in front of a giant map and other data on screens

Attracting girls to STEM requires grassroots change: Eirini Dimitroula

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Inmarsat’s head of operations, aviation business unit Eirini Dimitroula believes grassroots change is needed to attract girls into engineering careers.

“Growing up, I was drawn towards STEM subjects and fascinated by space. I clearly remember my first high school lesson on electromagnetic waves – my mind was blown by the concept of transporting messages in space. I think that was the moment that inspired me to work in this field,” she tells Runway Girl Network during Women’s History Month.

Dimitroula manages a tight-knit team of around 15 people at Inmarsat’s London headquarters. “We ensure our high-speed satellites deliver the highest standards of inflight Wi-Fi service 24/7. Unlike many organizations that have a different team to deal with service issues, when we detect a service interruption, we instantly work together to recover the service and cut out unnecessary delays.”

Back in 2016, Inmarsat tasked Dimitroula with building a new team to help monitor and coordinate its connectivity-delivering satellites in real-time. “Four years on,” she says, “and my team is responsible for delivering communication for hundreds of aircraft and servicing millions of customers. In a nutshell, our job is dealing with problems; working in operations can be stressful, but it’s also gratifying. I recall the day we monitored the first flight of the first ever [Ka-band satellite-based] GX installation. The work means a lot more to me than just a role that needs fulfilling.

“I’ve been at our Network Operations Centre for eight years and worked my way up to become not only the first woman, but also the youngest person to take the lead role. I’m so proud of holding this position and the excellent work the team delivers on a daily basis.”

Dimitroula says her colleagues have always valued and treated her as an equal, and she’s seen the industry make progress since she began working almost two decades ago. “But we cannot ignore the fact that in the UK, only 12.4% of engineers are women and in the aviation and aerospace industry women fill only 9% of all engineering roles.”

She says she has never faced discrimination in the workplace, but Dimitroula notices gender stereotypes in wider society, where people are often surprised to meet a female engineer. “A taxi driver in Italy, due to take me from the airport to the vessel where I was working, was adamant that I couldn’t be the engineer he was waiting for. I had to show him the name on my passport to convince him that a woman could be an engineer!”

The solution, she reiterates, starts at a grassroots level, encouraging more girls to take an interest in science and math subjects. “And girls need to see role models in sectors that are traditionally male-dominated. It broadens their horizons and it’s a step towards challenging biases. Inviting them in from an early age and introducing them to female colleagues is a great way to pique interest and break down barriers.”

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She continues, “At Inmarsat we run a mentoring initiative for school students. It’s a great way to introduce the world of engineering to girls at a crucial point in their education, when they might be considering higher education subjects, or apprenticeship schemes. We also have a women’s network and there are opportunities for peer-to-peer mentorship.

“It is also important that more formal changes are made within the workplace. An obvious example is the adoption of different work styles that accommodate family life, but equally important is the creation of avenues, such as mentorship, and training schemes that help women get into more senior leadership roles.”

Dimitroula dreams of a time when she might walk into a toy store and find it arranged by activity, not gender. Meanwhile, she says Inmarsat has committed to an ambitious development roadmap for its global Ka- and L-band satellite networks and, in this sense, the sky is no longer the limit. The same might be true for girls who take female aerospace engineer and leader Eirini Dimitroula as their role model.

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