Celebrating Women in Engineering: Spotlight on Emma Knowles, Director of Engineering at Britvic plc

24th June 2024
Colin Roope
Associate Partner

In celebration of Women in Engineering Day on Sunday, 23rd June, we are delighted to spotlight inspiring women in the field. Colin Roope, Associate Partner in our Manufacturing and Engineering practice, sat down with Emma Knowles, Director of Engineering at Britvic to discuss pivotal moments in her career, such as project managing a new factory build and finally learning to trust her instincts. Join us as we delve into Emma’s career journey and celebrate the remarkable contributions of women in engineering.

Can you share a pivotal moment or experience in your engineering career that significantly influenced your path to leadership?

I would say the transition to engineering project manager role at cremer where I was project managing a new factory build was pivotal. We were a contract manufacturer setting up a chemical manufacturing facility that needed rapid delivery. I had never built a facility before. I initially managed the project engineers, construction teams and then took on engineering and maintenance teams. It was a whole new level of responsibility, and I really benefitted from the coaching from senior management and those around me. We got everyone working towards same goal, which was really powerful. This was a £26m project, I had responsibility for 13 engineers initially and then the whole construction team so 20 people in total overall. This was my first proper leadership role and I would say the key learnings were:

  • Trust my instincts when decision-making
  • Build relationships
  • Give myself a break in a high-pressured environment
  • Lean into the leadership team
As a woman in a predominantly male-dominated field, what strategies or approaches have you found most effective in navigating challenges and breaking through barriers?

Hard question to answer as I tend to be pragmatic and get on with it. I read the “Authority Gap” about how women are not taken seriously in many areas, especially business. Women have to earn credibility; men are assumed to have it. I recognised many strategies in the book I was using myself e.g; staying close to people and building relationships with peers, being well prepared for all meetings, being authentic, let results build credibility, work hard. I have always gone for the most challenging roles to push myself. I have worked in tough environments including in the mid-west US. I also joined a brewery that had never had a female engineer. I have always WANTED TO BE THE CHANGE and take other female engineers with me.

I have been lucky that I have been well supported by colleagues.

How do you think diversity and inclusion initiatives within the engineering industry have evolved throughout your career, and what impact have they had on your professional journey?

I would say It very much depends on which industry. I started in a blue chip business with a 50/50% gender split. It was only when I moved into the construction project that I realised I had to bring people through and become a STEM ambassador. The evolution has been a change in language round the benefits that women can bring. Initiatives like the LEAD Network that exists to get more women into leadership positions, for example Asahi rolled out Inclusive Leadership training which was amazing. We need to do more with primary school age girls – the biggest influence of a girl working in STEM is whether their mum thinks they can do it by the age of 10. More needs to be done before the age of 10.

In your opinion, what unique perspectives do women bring to engineering and leadership roles, and how do these contribute to innovation and success within your field?

By having only single women in engineering teams, we don’t get the best of them. We will only enable true diversity of thought by brining through more women and their often different experiences. And with more diversity, businesses can be more innovative.

As a leader in engineering, what advice would you offer to young women considering a career in STEM fields, particularly those aspiring to leadership positions?

Go for it!  Feel the fear and do it anyway.  Collect as many experiences as you can to work out what you enjoy.  Aspire towards leadership and don’t be held back.

This interview was conducted by Colin Roope, Associate Partner in our Manufacturing & Engineering Practice. If you are looking to progress your career within this sector, please contact Colin. 


Categories: Manufacturing & Engineering