Meet Jessica Regan, Project Manager, BAE Systems Digital Intelligence

Jessica Regan

Here, we speak to Jessica Regan, a Project Manager within the Digital Intelligence part of BAE.

Jessica talks to us about her experience with the glass ceiling as a woman in engineering, her biggest achievement and shares some amazing resources for women in tech.

Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role

I’m a project manager within the Digital Intelligence part of the BAE Systems business. In my current role I’m a senior project manager on a Space Satellite programme. I’ve not always worked in this sector though. Having completed a mathematics degree at the University of Southampton I went to a small PCB manufacturing company in the New Forest. As a graduate, I spent a couple of years rotating round the company in various roles including engineering, marketing and sales. Afterwards, I joined a software house in London which created the back end algorithms for sports betting companies as a project manager and business analyst.

Outside of work, my big focus is on my animals. I compete with my horse at both county and national level and I’ve recently got a Labrador, who I’m training for gundog working tests.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

I’ve never had a set plan, but I am pretty ambitious. From a young age it was drilled into me to work hard (I had my first part time job at 11!) and to make sure you always had enough money to stand on your own two feet.

I’ve been fortunate enough to be offered  some incredible opportunities in my career, and to have had senior managers who believed in me. Rather than a plan, my aim was to grab  any opportunities with both hands and to do the best I could with them.

Have you faced any career challenges along the way and how did you overcome these?

There have been a couple of times where I’ve felt like I’d hit the “glass ceiling”. At one of my previous jobs, I had rotated around the business (and particularly enjoyed engineering) and the senior management team decided to put me into a permanent sales and marketing role. Although it had never been said out loud, I got the feeling that women didn’t belong in the engineering team. I gave it a year but was unhappy in the role, so I decided to move companies and it was definitely the right move.  It just goes to show that you need to advocate for what feels right for you.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

For me, two projects stand out. Firstly, was delivering a new sportsbetting website in 6 weeks (previously had been 9 months minimum) and my current project.

My current project is an internal BAE investment. I was part of the team that came up with an incredible idea which we took through business case creation and sign off at very senior level.

Both projects were a complete crash course in delivering something I’d not done before. They were also a very steep learning curve, but I was very lucky to be supported by some incredible people.

What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?

The key for me is surrounding yourself with the best people and believing in them. As my team will tell you, I’m quite an open book, and I try to encourage an environment of trust and frankness.

What top tips would you give to an individual who is trying to excel in their career in technology?

Don’t worry about not knowing it all and be curious. The key is asking lots of question as soon as you can – there are no stupid questions and the sooner you ask them the quicker you’ll learn!

Do you believe there are still barriers for success for women working in tech, if so, how can these barriers be overcome?

Definitely. Many of these barriers exist at a subconscious level too, rather than literal obstacles. Lots of people don’t even realise that they carry these stereotypes and biases with them, let alone the impact they have.

I was recently chatting about something called “unpromotable work” with a colleague. Tasks such as note taking and coffee making that are not directly related to our jobs but are almost always given to women over men. Being asked to do all these extras can be tiring, there are so many expectations on a woman in the workplace, and it can be a very difficult line to tread.

I’d say to women when you get a request for these unpromotable takes, make a call on whether there are any upsides or things you can learn from undertaking them. If you feel that there aren’t, then speak up and either decline or delegate it to someone else.

The times where I’ve felt like I’ve hit the glass ceiling at a company I’ve moved on. Trying to battle through it is a waste of your time and energy – it’s the company’s loss for not realising you are capable of more. Find one where you are appreciated and have some head room to grow.

What do you think companies can do to support to progress the careers of women working in technology?

Certainly not an extensive list, but the following are good places to start:

  • Promote and give a platform to senior women already in the business as role models.
  • Ensure women in the business have an opportunity to get together to share ideas and support (we used to have a monthly lunch for the women in our department which was a great opportunity to network)
  • Advocate for women in your teams. If you see something happen that shouldn’t have, call it out
  • Make sure you include women in the conversation
  • Give opportunities based on strengths not experience. Women generally get less chances, so therefore have less on their CV, even when they are just as capable than their male counterparts.

There are currently only 21 per cent of women working in tech, if you could wave a magic wand, what is the one thing you would do to accelerate the pace of change for women in the industry?

Remove society’s general undercurrent that women are the weaker or less capable sex. It’s proliferated everywhere, in small comments and gestures. I’m glad to say I see it less with younger generations and actually less at work than in general society. However, I do feel like there is a long way to go for the opinions of women in STEM to be changed.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

WeAreTechWomen events are fantastic and I would definitely recommend attending. It’s incredibly inspiring to hear from female leaders in technology.

There are no resources that I regularly use to be honest. I have started  “Break your own rules: How to change the patterns of thinking that block women’s paths to power” by Jill Flynn and another I’m currently reading is “Burnout – Solve your stress cycle” by Emily and Amelia Nagoski.

Both books have a focus on how as women we are trying to be perfect all the time, which isn’t realistic or possible and actually prevents you putting your effort into going where you really want to go!