To mark International Day of Women and Girls in Science, we hear from three of the women working in Serco’s Defence and Space business, reflecting on their experiences and enlisting their advice for women looking to forge a career in science.
Serco’s Business Development Director for Space, Amanda Price, started her career with an electrical and electronic engineering degree in 1990. 30 years and a fulfilling career in the defence industry later, Amanda has made the most of being one of only 10% of women in her field. “The good news is that being a woman engineer in Defence means that you are highly sought after by employers,” Amanda says.
After graduating, Amanda worked for the Ministry of Defence as a systems engineer designing test facilities for a Rolls Royce WR21 engine for the Type 45 Destroyer, before switching to project managing engineering programmes at QinetiQ, and then moving into business process re-engineering and transformation programmes while doing an MBA. Since joining Serco eight years ago, Amanda has held several different roles, from Programme Director for a new explosives test facility, Operations Director for the defence business, Transformation Director for the Atomic Weapons Establishment to her current role as Business Development Director for Space.
“If I thought working in defence was fascinating, space is awesome!” she explains. “The blend of civil and defence is really interesting. People often think about space as a mysterious place of nothingness, but often it’s more like the M25 at rush hour and getting busier by the day.
“I love the variety in my job. A recent working week for me included editing a bid for air defence radar maintenance; a meeting with the Minister for Space; discussions on a Risks in Space paper I wrote for the House of Lords Risk Select committee, a meeting with the UK Space Agency on ideas we have about how to safely clear hundreds of kilometres of international air and sea space in support of UK spaceport launch activity, and talking to students about to embark on their careers. I also talk regularly to my Serco space counterparts in Germany, Italy, the US, Canada and Australia on ideas for how we support each other internationally with bids.”
When it comes to the next generation, although their backgrounds couldn’t be more different, Systems Analyst Charlotte Newton and Spacetrack Analyst Lacey Harrison have both made the most of the opportunity to develop their early careers in science through Serco’s space team.
Charlotte is currently seconded to the UK Space Operation Centre as the first ever Commercial Integration Cell Representative at RAF High Wycombe. Representing the interests of six commercial companies to the RAF, Charlotte’s role is to facilitate and share best practice around space operations and space surveillance between commercial and military space teams. Before starting this role in 2020, Charlotte worked as a Spacetrack Analyst with Serco’s team based at RAF Fylingdales.
With a degree in Physics with Particle Physics from Royal Holloway, University of London, Charlotte is continuing her formal education through a Masters degree in Space Science and Technology at the Open University. “I put forward a business case for financial support and Serco agreed to fund my study. I have been learning so much in my job and thought it would be great to gain formal recognition of these new skills.”
As for the future, Charlotte has a good idea of where she wants to be. “There are many opportunities that I’d love to be part of, especially when you look at what Serco is doing as part of team Athena and what’s happening with Space in Europe and beyond. I don’t know how things will pan out, but if nothing else, the team at Fylingdales are amazing, with good opportunity for career progression. I’m confident that whatever I end up doing will be exciting and amazing!”
Meanwhile, Lacey is thriving in her role as a Spacetrack Analyst at RAF Fylingdales. After joining Serco four years ago, Lacey has gained a huge amount of technical expertise and confidence in her ability, despite never having completed a formal degree. Lacey’s great work was recognised with a prestigious company Global Pulse Award in 2020. Winning one of 47 awards from across 50,000 employees globally is a fantastic achievement.
“Getting the Spacetrack Analyst job shocked me because at the time I was a welder and it was not the path I thought I was going to take,” Lacey explains. “I’d just finished my Higher National Certificate in Civil Engineering, and although I was strong at maths, I didn’t have a degree. But the interviewers decided I had the right foundations and attitude, and that they could teach me on the job.”
As a woman in the space industry, and before that as a welder, Lacey is an advocate for more gender diversity and female representation. “When I trained to be a welder, I definitely stuck out as the only woman. I always had to deal with people asking, ‘why do you want to be a welder?’ The truth is I watched a lot of American Chopper, (a TV show about manufacturing custom motorcycles). So, I thought why not, and took a night class and learned how to weld. At Fylingdales, I never felt like a female, just like the next technical person they hired. It’s been amazing.”
As for opportunities for others, Lacey is optimistic. “The space industry is growing, and there are only going to be more opportunities for signal operating, radio tracking and launching satellites. Though there will likely be more and more people in these roles who have studied astrophysics (or have a degree), I personally think the most important thing is having an interest, going for it and letting that interest shine through in your interview.”
Looking ahead, Amanda adds: “Building a future workforce with diversity of thought, skills and talent is a big focus for companies like Serco, who want to encourage the best and the brightest to reach for the stars, regardless of gender.”
To learn more about career opportunities with the company, please visit the Serco website.