Twenty-three years after graduating, Sandra is back at INSA Lyon Engineering School as a Safran ambassador and mentor for industrial engineering students. She goes along regularly to the school to share her experience, and her enthusiasm for the aerospace industry in the hope of inspiring aspirations – especially among female students.
Tell us about your career so far
I did a general degree at INSA Lyon's industrial engineering department. Following various jobs in a range of sectors (including information systems, printing and automotive), I was hired by Safran Helicopter Engines, where I quickly moved up to a management position. I'm currently head of Purchasing's Supplier Performance department.
What led you to become a mentor?
I'd reached a stage in my career when I wanted to transfer my knowledge and experience and help raise Safran's profile to encourage youngsters – and especially women – to take up a career in industry. So, a year ago, I decided to become a Safran ambassador for the INSA Lyon industrial engineering department, where I did my degree. Not long after, I was asked to become a mentor for the department and I gladly accepted!
What do these roles involve?
As ambassador, my role is to enhance Safran's attractiveness as an employer by raising awareness among students about what we do and the products we make. This mainly consists in helping them map out their career goals. Being a mentor requires a deeper level of involvement. I get together (physically or virtually) with students to discuss career issues, and I provide coaching for a third-year (female) student. I'm also actively involved in the industrial engineering department's academic board, which is responsible for degree content. In addition, I pass on applications from students who are looking for an internship or a final-year placement to the relevant contacts at Safran.
How does Safran benefit from these arrangements?
Well, to start, they strengthen ties between Safran and the school. It's also a way of raising awareness about our strategic objectives and how our skills requirements are changing. This can influence degree program content. Plus, of course, it's a very effective way of identifying and attracting new talent!
What do you get out of it?
On the personal level, I'm very keen to pass on my know-how, experience and knowledge of the aerospace sector to encourage people to take up careers there. I'm determined to encourage female students in particular, as there are still far too few women in industry, especially at senior management level. My goal is for the female students I support to go even further than me! Professionally speaking, this engagement has allowed me to build my network at both my company and across the Group.
Are you involved in any other voluntary initiatives?
Yes, I'm also part of the Elles Bougent ("Women on the Move")* network, which involves presenting my job to high-school students at annual career fairs. These events are held at a key stage in the youngsters' lives when they have to make important decisions about their studies. I try to show them that women have every good reason to aim for a career in industry or technology.
As a woman in industry yourself, have you faced any hurdles?
Being a woman has never been an issue. I've always received a positive response, both at Safran and in my previous jobs. I've succeeded because I'm very thorough and I do my background research. But above all, I'm confident about my capabilities and what I can bring to the company. This allowed me to earn a lot of credibility very early on, in all my roles.
As a woman, what do you bring to your professional role?
I believe I'm on a completely equal footing with my male counterparts. Though I must admit, I always make a point of ensuring teams are well balanced in terms of gender, age, background, and experience.
In these difficult times, do you have any messages for engineering students thinking of taking up a career in the aerospace sector?
Sometimes, the most challenging times can bring about the most promising opportunities. Market requirements are changing and to meet them, our industry is going to have to change, too. To do that, we need young engineers with a fresh perspective and the drive to initiate these transformations. Aerospace tends to be seen as a highly regulated sector, very much set in its ways. It will be an exciting challenge for youngsters who join us now, at this crucial time, to offset these exacting technical requirements with a more agile mindset.
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