Life sciences: engineering in the feminine form?

Life sciences: engineering in the feminine form?

28 March 2019
genderdiversity healthcare LifeSciences pharmaceutical
Read the article
Biology, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals – life sciences is a sector that has many engineers working on manufacturing, packaging and quality control products. It employs a lot more women than other industrial sectors. And its engineering needs are highly varied, as Marie Ballu and Laura Matonog, who work in scientific profession, explain below. Both Marie and Laura are consulting engineers in Belgium, and their backgrounds and experience show that there are good opportunities for women engineers in life sciences.

Female engineers : Their engineer career paths

One of these engineer women, Marie Ballu is 30 years old and has worked for over five years as a consulting professional engineer in the factory of one of Assystem’s chemical/pharmaceuticals clients. “I work on the validation process. To sum up what I do, the engineer installs the production machinery and I check that it meets our needs. My role involves verifying the packaging phases and ensuring that the automated equipment works properly”, she says. Laura Matonog is 32 and has worked on biomedical assignments with pharma prospects for seven years, initially for BQG and then for Assystem after it acquired BQG a year ago. “Since the beginning of this year I’ve been project manager for the manufacture of the Phase 3 batches of a product as well as for the product’s market launch. I’m in charge of finalising the manufacturing process, which entails finding an external production site and launching production, right through to dispatching the product batches to treat patients”, she explains. So, while both of them currently work in Belgium, what they do is very different. The same is true for their profiles. It is after her baccalaureate in scientific field that Marie came to her current post after five years at the École de Biologie Industrielle in Cergy-Pontoise, just outside Paris. She says “Unlike at other engineering schools, around 70% of the students at EBI were female. This is because biology attracts more women. But I opted to specialise in a more male-dominated area – production and processes. I’ve always had a real leaning towards science and I love arithmetic. So this specialist subject was more suited to my personality and career aims than marketing or quality control.” Laura learned her profession as an engineering and consultant in the pharmaceuticals sector during her studies in two countries by obtaining a double diploma: in France and in Canada. She explains, “I’ve got a doctorate in pharmacy. That’s my French qualification. And I’m also a process engineer specialised in bio-pharmaceuticals – that qualification comes from Canada.” Her scientific studies and engineering degree in higher education facilitate her professional integration and have enabled her to work internationally. It also gave her the opportunity to use her talents among men and women in both marketing strategy side as well as in manufacturing. Like Marie, Laura underlines the fact that most of her fellow students were female. “60% of the students on my pharmaceuticals course at university in France were women. And in Canada – one of the most equal countries in the world – there was a good gender balance. As for the professors and the engineers we worked with, they didn’t make any difference between men and women. I was working in process engineering and they expected just as much from the women as the men”, remembers Laura.

Gender diversity at work– what’s the real picture?

For Marie, the question of gender diversity in the life sciences sector is more about how women are perceived by men, especially when they’re working in a factory. “When I started out, my male friends – who mainly worked in commerce and finance – found it difficult to understand what I was doing and, above all, why. For them, I was a woman engineer in a factory, checking machinery with a spanner and a screw-driver! And they definitely thought it wasn’t a job for a woman. It was a bit of a dated view of things and definitely not a reflection of what my job actually is. I’ve never even touched a spanner in my work! Now they’ve got used to it, but the fact that they were surprised and didn’t understand at the beginning shows there are still some firmly embedded stereotypes.” And it’s not rare for Marie to hear the odd inappropriate comment or sexist remarks in her daily work. “The factory is a manual workplace and there are a lot of men there. I very rarely rise to the bait. I just shrug it off. Though wearing a skirt or make-up does attract attention. But none of the comments are nasty and they don’t stop me from loving my job. I’m used to it – I have three younger brothers!”, Marie says laughingly. As for Laura, she’s never had to deal with macho comments, sexism or innuendos in her job. In her daily work she’s often surrounded by women who hold the decision-making positions. The only thing she says, is that “we need to make sure women can upskill and be promoted to managerial roles”, as it’s still often men who are chosen. In any event, both of these consulting engineers feel that the engineering skills needed in the life sciences sector are within everyone’s reach, particularly to encourage women’s engineering vocations among young girls and to foster a harmony between men and women rather than a gender conflict. “The main advice I’d give to young women starting out on their careers is to know how to put yourselves out there and talk up your success stories. And, of course, make sure you really know your domain because, like the nuclear industry, the pharmaceuticals sector is highly regulated and requires a high degree of precision and rigour”, says Laura. “At the end of the day, women have certain skills that men don’t and vice versa. And that balance is extremely useful for successfully carrying out a project”, says Marie. “The fact that we don’t think in the same way and have different perspectives, or even priorities, can result in more effective solutions or at least generate discussions that can really drive things forward”. As far as Laura is concerned, putting male and female engineers in different categories doesn’t do anyone any good. And she worries that organising women-only groups and events to lead the combat for gender equality and diversity could result in men feeling excluded. “It’s true that they’re supposed to give women confidence, but if we don’t invite men it means we can’t get an overall understanding of how things are being viewed in our daily professional lives. And sometimes the organisation of these groups can convey a feeling that women are superior. Yes, we need to ensure that women’s rights are respected but that applies equally to men’s rights”.

Share :

Women in engineering

Something to say ?

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

Marie Ballu

Validation Engineer Assystem Care

Laura Matonog

Consultant Pharma Assystem Care

Our vacancies

Learn more

Related articles

Being a woman architect in Saudi Arabia

Fatimah AlQaisoum and Batool Al Mualem are both working as architectural designers at Assystem Radicon, Saudi Arabia. As such, they participate in commercial, residential and even governmental project...

Being a woman in the nuclear sector

Women, the future of the nuclear energy ? Specialised in project management, Anne-Sophie’s somewhat atypical career led to one of the most interesting positions: working on the Middle East’s first nuc...

Women engineers on the move

Women engineers and the transport jobs Like the building industry, the transport sector is undergoing deep-seated change to ensure a sustainable and mobile future, particularly for towns and cities. ...

Building and civil engineering – jobs for the boys?

Women in the construction industry The building and civil engineering (“BCE”) sector is both fascinating and tough, from design to construction to decommissioning. And it’s the same for ...

Gender diversity – women in engineering

Women are a scarce resource in most engineering firms. So what has the industry done to make itself so unappealing to the female gender? It looks like the burden of history is still weighing on the en...

Marie-Sophie Pawlak

If you think that engineering schools are full of geeks and only for men, you’ve got the kind of prejudices that Marie-Sophie Pawlak wants to get rid of. Marie-Sophie is an engineer by training and is...

"I've been offered the opportunity to move on to several positions"

Between France and the UK, Nicholas Morris is currently experiencing the daily challenge of developing Assystem’s business around the British EPR project, Hinkley Point C. “FascinatingR...

Will we still need engineers in the future?

The question is not as strange as it might seem. Given the phenomenal growth of digital technology, robotics and artificial intelligence, where does this leave the engineers of tomorrow? How will they...

No, I'm not a superhero

For ordinary people, when we talk about engineers, is the image of Steve Job, inventor of the first Macintosh and founder of a now trillionaire company, or Elon Musk, imagining alone the car new gener...

So what exactly is an engineer?

Engineer /ɛndʒɪˈnɪə/, derived from the Middle English “engineour” and from the Old French “engigneor” – a designer and constructor of fortifications and weapons. > A person ...

Commute, work, sleep ... Inside an engineer's head during a banal day

Builders of bridges or power plants, application developers, designers, project managers … But what exactly do all these engineers do? Between meetings, exchanges with the client, team managemen...

When I grow up, I want to be an engineer!

Engineering schools are still as popular as ever. Why? Do we really know what an engineer is? Their backgrounds? Their daily lives? To answer this, we met up with three of them to find out more about ...

NASA’s taking nuclear energy into space

The conquest of space is more than ever at the centre of public attention, with projects like SpaceX and The Stealth Space Company, but who better than NASA to fulfil this dream that has existed for t...

Big Data Automation

It’s no secret that data is the lifeblood of more and more companies. While it brings many benefits for those who use it wisely, it creates just as many constraints for those who don’t. Ma...

Saudi, land of oil… and engineers

In Saudi, being an engineer is more than any profession. With “Saudi Vision 2030” plan to reduce Saudi Arabia’s dependence on oil and diversify its economy, Saudi engineers are becoming a rare c...

Being a woman engineer in the land of the Corcovado mountain

Happiness seems to be the watchword in the home of samba and the caipirinha. But the cool and carefree image that Brazilians present to the world is juxtaposed against a very different reality. The re...