Inspirational Woman: Sophie Wilson | Programme Manager & Head of STEM, Raytheon

Sophie WilsonSophie is an experienced Programme Manager with a wealth of experience in the Defence industry. Sophie’s remit includes leading several multi-million-pound programmes, as well as managing Raytheon UK’s STEM programme, which she started leading in 2017.

As Head of STEM, Sophie is responsible for developing and building Raytheon UK’s STEM programme, which includes leading a team of STEM Ambassadors and managing a number of STEM programmes.

Sophie graduated from Northumbria Business School with a First-Class Degree in Business Leadership and Corporate Management and runs her own women's activewear business called YANA Active.

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

I am a Programme Manager and Head of STEM at Raytheon UK. I joined Raytheon UK in 2016 beginning as a Programme Management Graduate. Following graduating from this role in 2018, I was then promoted to Protector Integration Programme Manager in January 2019.

My role includes managing several multi-million-pound programmes, working with the UK Ministry of Defence as well as UK and US customers. As well as my day-to-day role I also run Raytheon UK’s STEM programme, which I started leading in 2017.

Prior to Raytheon UK, I graduated from Northumbria Business School with a First-Class Degree in Business Leadership and Corporate Management, with the Deans Award for Academic Excellence.

Along with my role at Raytheon UK, I set up my own business with my sister Charlotte at the beginning of 2020 called YANA Active, a women’s activewear brand made to empower women with high quality British-made and designed garments. I also love to renovate properties in Newcastle, and this led me to be on Homes Under the Hammer! Other hobbies include reading, weightlifting and spending time with my family.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

I’ve always seen myself working in a large company or having my own business. Fortunately, I work for a large company and have my own business, so I get the best of both worlds!

University was always in my plans. Not because I particularly wanted to go to university, but because I didn’t really understand what other options to take – we didn’t have STEM Ambassadors visiting our school to engage with us about STEM futures and careers. Fortunately for me, I found a degree which suited my skill set perfectly. I had one year at university and then secured a two-year paid placement at Nissan in Sunderland, whilst working on my degree on evenings and weekends.

Even when I graduated from university, I wasn’t entirely sure where to go next in my career, however I felt Programme Management was right for me - I knew working in technology would be something I’d find interesting and exhilarating and I wasn’t wrong!

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

It is natural for everyone to face challenges throughout their career, and I have had programmes I have worked on that have been rocky. However, if it had gone smoothly, there would be so many skills I wouldn’t have picked up; things like briefing bad news to senior leadership team but being able to offer solutions and take responsibility, negotiation skills, crisis management and resilience.

At times, I may have been underestimated. As a young, northern woman, this instantly has a stereotype attached to it which it shouldn’t, but changing perceptions has given me the drive to push forward and achieve more.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

In 2019 I was nominated by Baroness Sugg to attend the Queen’s Royal Garden Party in acknowledgement of the work I do with STEM, which was a very special day and a memory I hold very dearly.

Building the STEM programme to the next level at Raytheon UK and making long lasting relationships and partnerships with people who believe in the importance of STEM, has been a huge achievement. We have engaged with thousands of students over the past four years and I like to think I have played a big part in mobilising that.

The STEM team winning a special CEO Award and my programme team winning a Global Growth Award at Raytheon UK’s Annual Awards earlier in 2020 were two of my proudest moments at the company. Both teams work so hard and it was fantastic that they were recognised for it.

Developing property and setting up YANA alongside my busy work schedule is something I am very proud of. It is a lot, but I love it! I wanted to do my part to empower women, so I invested time in developing a community to help support women behind the YANA brand to encourage women to be active in life, work, community, mindset and being socially involved.

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

Without a doubt, having supportive managers giving me the autonomy to make decisions, but always being there to support me if I needed it. Someone believing I could achieve something, even when I didn’t have the confidence or belief in myself to do it, has helped to create the drive, ambition and confidence to try.

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

Don’t be afraid to ask questions, and for the young ambitious women reading this, don’t be intimidated by asking questions to a room full of men!

The amount of meetings I’ve attended as the only woman and person under 25 in a room full of men I’ve lost count of. Don’t be intimidated by that. I’ve found you earn respect from people by asking questions when you don’t understand something. Being honest and having integrity is the very key to success.

It is also important to look for a career that you have an interest in - if you choose something you’re genuinely interested and bought into, work never feels like a chore.

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

Absolutely. To help tackle this barrier, young women need more role models to speak out and be someone young women can relate to. I’ve worked really hard with the STEM team to always ensure our events are fairly balanced between female and male STEM ambassadors to do just this.

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

Support their local community and build the company’s CSR initiatives. This can be anything as simple as going into schools and talking to the students about the vast array of opportunities in STEM or just building engagement. It is also good to support with the more beneficial interactions such as building soft skills for kids, including those for interviews etc.

Companies should also provide access to role models and women in senior positions, which could include getting these women involved in CSR initiatives and reaching out to local communities.

There is currently only 17% 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?

Sit CEOs of major corporations down in one room and ask them why they’re not doing more to help women into leadership roles! We need to accelerate women into leadership roles to help shape the future of the industry.

I would also love to help fund grass roots STEM learning, such as cyber and tech programmes for female students to have the opportunity to explore what the industry involves and be enlightened to the variety of careers STEM can offer.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

I’ve read a lot of business-based self-development books over the year, one of my favourites is ‘The Magic of Thinking Big’ by David Schwartz, which helps you really change your thinking. Another favourite of mine is ‘Lean In’, written by Sheryl Sandberg COO of Facebook. This was one of the first business books I read about women in tech and I would really recommend it.

I would also recommend podcasts – there’s such a variety of tech-based podcasts out there. One I love is the ‘Diary of a CEO’ podcast by Steven Bartlett of Social Chain, where he interviews lots of successful young people, often in the tech industry. It is very insightful to hear about how people started their own businesses and overcame adverse situations.


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