In Conversation with Krystina Pearson-Rampeearee, Aerospace Engineer and STEM Ambassador

Although the industry is still overwhelmingly dominated by men and the number of women studying engineering courses remains low (just one in seven), for those who have pursued their passion for STEM and engineering, such as Krystina Pearson-Rampeearee – a chartered engineer from Liverpool who works as a Senior Flight Systems Engineer – brighter skies may be ahead.

After being inspired by a family trip to see an airshow as a child, Krystina went on to become the first engineer in her family and now volunteers as a STEM ambassador and mentor to promote diversity and inclusion in the industry and encourage more women to consider engineering as a profession.

Last year, she set up her own business AviateHer selling accessories to further promote this goal and inspire young women to consider STEM careers and push past gender stereotypes. Late last year, we spoke with Krystina to find out a little more about her career to date, the change she would like to see and why she founded her own business to pave the way for future generations of female engineers.

Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

I was born and grew up in Liverpool where my parents moved to after emigrating from Mauritius. I’m now a Senior Flight Systems Engineer working at BAE Systems in Warton, Lancashire and living in Liverpool, the city that feels like home to me.  

What made you want to pursue a career in this field and what does a typical day at work look like for you?

I was inspired to study a Masters degree in Aerospace Systems Engineering after visiting an airshow with my family one summer whilst in school. I still remember the feeling of awe I felt on that day and that was the point I can trace back to where I knew that I wanted to be a part of the Aerospace industry. 

I began working at BAE Systems six years ago as a Flight Systems Engineer on various projects. My current role involves developing new technologies for a future combat air system as part of the Tempest project. For me a typical day varies, I could be working with various suppliers, liaising with other specialist disciplines or carrying out my own tasks, all with the goal in mind of looking at how new technologies can be integrated onto a future platform. 

Growing up, did you feel like a career in STEM was accessible to you as a woman?

Growing up, I saw my parents in STEM careers, although not engineering, and I did feel like a career in STEM was open to me. There was a disparity in my physics lessons at school yet the gender disparity was blatant when I started university as one of only two women on my course. Going from my school experience to this was jarring, especially in the first few weeks. This did not overshadow my experience at university though, my coursemates became my teammates, and gender was not an issue.

When did you first know you wanted to work in this field?

I always enjoyed creative classes when I was growing up but my favourite lessons were physics and maths. Engineering was always a top choice for me, even though my parents wanted me to pursue a different career path. However, I wasn’t aware of the various types of engineering until I went to the airshow and started researching the Aerospace industry.

What challenges did you encounter on your journey to become an aerospace engineer?

Following my four years at university, I struggled initially to find a job due to my lack of real-life experience in engineering. When I was looking at my options following school, apprenticeships were not highlighted as an alternative option to university therefore a degree qualification seemed to be the natural next step to take. I persevered and got there in the end.

As a STEM ambassador and founder of AviateHer, what do you want to change in the industry?

I want to inspire more young women to consider a career in STEM, more specifically engineering. There is currently a shortage of engineers in the UK. Companies are realising that a diverse workforce brings a lot of advantages such as more innovation, which is an important part of engineering. This means that there are opportunities out there.

I also feel that stereotypes in society play a part as well. Boys and girls are brought up with targeted advertising or gender roles which encourages gender biases. Young girls may feel embarrassed about enjoying physics as there is the perception that it isn’t cool.  

Leading on from that, how can those changes take place in a tangible way?

I believe that changes can be made with more visible role models. I see amazing women in engineering in my network but the stereotype of what a typical engineer may look like isn’t relatable to young girls. 

There is also the awareness of engineering itself. Engineers can make a difference and there are so many paths with an engineering career! Showing young people how engineering has been used in everyday life and how it can be used for the future will definitely help bring about change. When I was younger, I didn’t realise how many different career options there actually are in engineering. For example, I didn’t even know the job I am in now existed until I came to searching for jobs after university. 

Have you seen more women enter the industry in recent years and if so is this due to greater mentorship and encouragement from other women? 

I have seen more women enter the industry and this is absolutely due to encouragement from other women and mentorship. I think women are actively striving for change and are more than willing to support young women who are considering future careers in STEM. 

Selected as a Northern Power Woman Future List 2020 and winner of WeAreCity Rising Star Award, how did it feel to be given this recognition of your work? 

It was such an honour to receive the recognition alongside a brilliant group of women! It meant even more to me personally as I had only recently returned from a year’s maternity leave in 2019. To come back to work and go on to receive the recognition I have done has motivated me to open the door to more opportunities to push diversity in engineering, and showcase my experiences to young women.

If you could give your younger self one piece of advice about life, what would it be?

If I could give my younger self a piece of advice it would be not be so scared to put myself out there. I suffered from a lack of confidence when I was growing up which held me back from networking and getting involved. This changed once I had my little boy and started ‘winging’ motherhood. My confidence grew and I’m now saying yes to opportunities and trying not to be so afraid of failure!

During the first lockdown you started a business selling enamel pins to highlight diversity in STEM, how was it received and why is it so important to you to further this cause now?

The response was fantastic! I hadn’t expected such an amazing reception and the messages of support I’ve received have really inspired me to continue. The cause is perhaps more important now than ever because the Coronavirus pandemic is disproportionately impacting women’s careers and it’s so important that we retain women in STEM. 

Which charities are some of the proceeds going to and why did you select these particular causes?

I donate part of the proceeds from each pin sale to charity, with each pin contributing to a specific charity associated with the message of the pin. It started with my first Engineering pin for which I chose the Women’s Engineering Society and whenever I have expanded with a new pin I have researched to find a charity that is working to increase diversity in that field. The charities that I ended up selecting are the Women’s Engineering Society, the British Science Association, the Association for Black and Minority Ethnic Engineers (AFBE-UK) Making Engineering Hot campaign, Stemettes Futures, the Young Women’s Trust, Fly2Help and Eco-Sud. So far, in total, almost £1000 has been raised thanks to my wonderful customers.

Lockdown rules permitting, how do you like to spend your spare time?

In my spare time I enjoy spending time with my family and friends, volunteering as a mentor and STEM Ambassador and travelling all over the world (when possible!). I really miss attending live music events and festivals at the moment so I hope we can get back to those soon.    

Where are some of your favourite places in the North?

My home city of Liverpool has some of my favourite places such as Sefton Park, the Docks and Lark Lane for delicious food! I also enjoy visiting the Lake District and the Northern coastal areas as I love being near the sea.


We have to collaborate to survive

Words: Lucy Foster

Not many of us expected a global pandemic and even fewer foresaw the impact it would have on hard-won gains of working women. But as the nation pivots to adapt to the new economic landscape, one business hero is clear on how it should look.

“Facing the floods is one thing; you get on with it and you know what measures you have in place to deal with it. You get through it. But this situation is just something else. I have no idea.” Alison Bartram, 57, owner of Hebden Bridge’s Heart Gallery is musing on the impact of COVID-19 and the West Yorkshire town’s chances of survival as a shopping destination. Catastrophic floods in 2015 temporarily closed many local businesses – Alison, herself, had to shut down for six months to deal with five feet of waste water in her gallery that sells artisan jewellery, ceramics and contemporary art – but as yet, the legacy of this year’s nationwide lockdown is still to be revealed.

Alison Bartram, Heart Gallery

And no one, it seems, can give a definite answer on how it will all play out. But current forecasts don’t make for comforting reading – particularly for women. According to research from The Institute for Fiscal Studies and the UCL Institute of Education, nearly 50% of mothers are more likely to have lost their jobs, quit or been furloughed. There are warning cries that we are heading back to the 1950s, such is the expectation that women will pick up the bulk of the care and domestic work. And when the furlough scheme ends and the inevitable widespread redundancies come, it will be women – the ones who have taken the back seat, who have been absent from the Zoom calls in order to pick up the slack of home schooling, cleaning and feeding – who will find themselves facing the workplace guillotine.

Not only that, hospitality and retail – sectors which both employ a disproportionate number of females – are the two industries that have been hardest hit. A recent report by global business consultancy McKinsey has stated that while grocery and online retail has, not surprisingly, increased during lockdown, this increased expenditure has not managed to outweigh the number of closures in non-food retail – clothes shops, homeware, or galleries, like Alison’s. Accommodation and catering are next in the firing line, services vulnerable because it’s difficult to see how they can be performed remotely or with strict social distancing in place.

Rethinking the future

Anyone skimming such reports would be forgiven for thinking the worst. But unprecedented times can give way to unprecedented thinking and one figure who has been a vocal advocate of a fresh approach to business is Kate Hardcastle MBE, known also as television’s Customer Whisperer. Kate, 43, founded business consultancy Insight With Passion (IWP) in 2009 after a stellar career in marketing, which saw her turn around the fortunes of bed manufacturer Silentnight during her time as its head of marketing (“I developed a leading international online retail business in 2004, so still very early in that respect, and that gave me a lot of knowledge about how to help businesses transform,” she explains), train in strategic alliances at global business school INSEAD and win a seat at the boardroom table by the age of 30.  

Her time working across Asia in global sourcing – sometimes being the first Caucasian woman many of the factories had seen – and learning both about international business, but also more functional skills such as manufacturing techniques, has meant that she can overlay the operational with the commercial and find common ground. It has proved to be an extremely fruitful mix. “What’s unique about IWP is that I can use my experience in operations, international trade and buying, for instance, and then apply them with the customer-facing side so we find a bridge,” Kate explains. 

Kate Hardcastle MBE, Insight with Passion

IWP is, in essence, a transformation business that works with clients across the globe to restructure their current set-up. By reimagining the relationship with the customer (and by walking the shop or factory floor in addition to driving strategic changes), Kate and her team pride themselves on getting to know each organisation they work with and its supply chain and customers, finding creative, workable, and ultimately successful, solutions. 

Insight with Passion also looks to transform businesses by also using Kate’s training in strategic alliance and partnerships – often bringing together complementing businesses with similar target audiences to help ideas and projects thrive. “The idea of working together collaboratively has always been our direction when many others would do the opposite,” she says. “We do things differently and it works.”

The facts support this statement. Kate has won countless awards and accolades (including Yorkshire Business Woman of the Year in 2018, the same year she was honoured by the Queen for her services to business) and IWP’s in-built corporate social responsibility (CSR) programme, Access For All, which requires her employees to give 20% of their working hours to start-ups and charities free of charge, is also making waves.

Access For All means that micro-businesses and not-for-profits – often founded by women – get exposed to expertise allowing them to grow and develop, which might otherwise cost them thousands – perhaps best framed as a B2B mentoring scheme. We hear a lot about sending the ladder back down and anyone having heard Kate’s keynote speeches or seen her talk knows she’s a champion for women in business. Access For All is her walking the walk, not just paying it lip service.

Of course, it’s notoriously hard to measure the monetary value of guidance and mentorship but Savannah Roqaa, 24, knows first-hand how useful a guiding hand can be. The Leeds-based make-up artist and part-time nanny found herself stripped of half her revenue stream as social distancing became paramount and to fill the time, began baking, leaving brownies or the ubiquitous lockdown favourite, banana bread, on her friends’ doorsteps.

What happened next takes some believing, but to cut a long story short, Savannah, with the help of various friends’ kitchens, fortuitous sharing on some Leeds United players’ Instagram accounts, and all-night cake-making sessions, has found herself sole founder of a highly successful baking business – The Savvy Baker – all within two months. But it hasn’t been without pitfalls.

Savannah Roqaa, The Savvy Baker

“Leeds Council called me and asked if I’d registered the business at Companies House. And I was like, ‘Companies what?’” recalls Savannah. “Tax. Packaging. Premises. I’ve literally no idea.” So when Sara Hassan, 33, Kate’s protege messaged Savannah offering help to start mapping out a long-term business strategy, it couldn’t have been more welcome. “I was just bobbing along so when Sara came out of nowhere… no one has ever done that before, just offered help free of charge. Not unless there’s been an underlying agenda. And it’s so welcome because I think you can have a brilliant idea and a successful business, but make one mistake and it can quickly go south.”

Similarly, Kate – a proud Yorkshire woman who lives outside Wakefield with her husband and three children – has previously given an enormous amount of her time to Welcome to Yorkshire, the county’s regional tourist board. Working with her during that time was Laura Kirk, 34, former Head of Membership, whose job it was to put together free events and workshops for her members to add value to their annual subscription fee. Kate’s sessions focusing on the customer experience – given free of charge as part of Access For All and delivered the sole intent of helping businesses improve their customer offer – were attended by marketing managers of Yorkshire’s big attractions along with proprietors of the smallest seaside B&Bs. 

“When Kate spoke you could see people ferociously making notes and action points,” says Laura. “A lot of the businesses simply wouldn’t have had access to that sort of support otherwise – free help for which they’d normally have to pay hundreds of pounds. And Kate broke it down into achievable points, so attendees could go away and implement a couple of changes, then perhaps a couple more. It was practical and inspirational. Kate’s guidance was invaluable.”

 Access For All

Corporate social responsibility is often regarded as something only the largest of organisations can accommodate and even then, the amount of time given over to socially conscious programmes is often minuscule compared to IWP’s remarkable pledge of 20%. It’s common to find that employees are given three days a year to volunteer or that a certain amount of monthly revenue goes to a local charity.

Laura Kirk

“For micro-businesses and start-ups, there really is a need for pro-bono help,” explains Laura, who has seen first-hand how tourism and hospitality ventures can thrive with the right advice. “I’m not sure how all businesses would be able to afford the 20% that Kate has built into her Access For All model but she makes it work.”

Kate and her team have spent a lot of their Access For All quota in places like Hebden Bridge, assisting small independents find their feet again after the floods. “I’ve definitely followed Kate’s mantra and implemented things that she’s said in the past,” says Alison. “She talks about passion a lot and I fully believe that the businesses that survive are the ones where the owners are passionate about what they do. She’s always had that passion and always been really positive.” 

Kate, again, has shown she’s ahead of the curve here because for a long time, CSR was merely considered a nicely polished trophy on the corporate mantlepiece. However, increasing amounts of research are pointing towards it being a vital component of customer trust and relationship-building, and equally a surefire way of attracting young, ambitious talent. In 2011, a survey by Deloitte found that 70% of millennials listed their company’s commitment to the community as an influence on their decision to work there. For Sara Hassan and Laura Kirk, and their peer group, giving something back to the communities in which they live and work is as important a part of their job as is their monthly wage. 

And let’s not forget that despite the hardships of the last few months, there has been a renewed and welcome onus of the power of community; shopping locally or just checking in on neighbours, offering services and sharing goods, be it a bag of self-raising flour or a dozen hard-to-come-by eggs. And while many are keen to cherish and nurture this focus on community action, it remains to be seen if it can transcend the everyday and move into business, with organisations incorporating the community in their plans, collaborating and partnering with like-minded ventures to share skills and resources.

Sara Hassan + Kate Hardcastle MBE

Certainly, Alison, who as well as running the gallery in Hebden Bridge is chair of the Hebden Bridge Business Committee, is adamant that everyone contributing to improving the town freely and willingly and therefore encouraging a greater trade, is the only way small independents – and therefore high streets – rejuvenate after COVID. 

“We’ve got to work together to survive. By that I mean not just the business community but also the community in general,” she explains. “In the past, businesses were happy in their own bubble but now our survival – and the survival of the town – depends on us collaborating and partnering up. And people staying loyal to local, as they have in lockdown.”

And it’s this approach – the strategic alliance approach that Kate was advocating 15 years ago, the sharing of skills and data and budget – that might just prove the most successful and sustainable way out of the COVID slump. And hopefully her attitude to giving back, and helping the little businesses survive and thrive, will spread too. As Sara so succinctly says: “Working alongside Kate to deliver great work and good deeds is really inspiring. And she proves on a daily basis that success always leaves room for kindness.”

Getting to Know Megan Jones: Founder of Curated Makers

Words: Hannah Molyneux 

There is hope for the high street. With online shopping on the rise and empty retail units on every corner, Curated Makers offers a shopping experience with a difference. Championing northern makers, they are advocates for independent creative businesses, bringing handmade artisan products to the streets of the UK.

Working with retailers such as John Lewis, Marks and Spencer, and Paperchase, Curated Makers create a space for northern pop-up shops and outlets on the high street, giving shoppers the opportunity to purchase something lovingly handmade, while supporting a small business at the same time.

It’s been a whirlwind year for founder Megan Jones, with concession stands and pop-ups across Manchester, Liverpool, and Chester, as well as organising events such as Creatival – the creative business conference for makers and other small businesses. Recently, her efforts to showcase northern makers have been recognised with an award for North West Creative Industries Entrepreneur of the Year.

We caught a quiet moment with Megan to chat about her passion for bringing indie business to the high street, the realities of running a one-woman business, and her future ambitions for Curated Makers.

What was the inspiration behind Curated Makers?

I was working for large online retailers in digital marketing, selling mass-produced items that had no real meaning, and I wasn’t fulfilled whatsoever. I was always visiting local artisan markets and started to realise how much I loved the artists and makers there. I wanted to work with these people and see how I could use my skills to help small businesses. So then I started taking four or five makers to the market, trading on their behalf using a commission-based model, which normally doesn’t exist for small businesses.

After a while I started to realise that markets are unreliable, and the logistics involved even for five makers were almost impossible to manage. I saw an art gallery in the window of Debenhams in Manchester one day and thought, “I want to be in there,” so I approached Debenhams and pitched a pop-up shop to them. The window wasn’t available, but they gave me a space on the third floor between the café and the loos! I decided to give it a go and set up a market stall in there. 2 weeks turned into 3, and then finally they gave me the window spot. This was in June 2018 – it was my first taste of high street footfall and that’s when I made the decision to focus on the high street.

You’ve made the decision to focus on physical, tangible shopping rather than online selling – why is that?

There’s so much competition in this space online in terms of marketplaces, and I don’t really want to take them on. No one else is doing this pop-up model on the high street, and I’ve seen real success with it. The retailers want to stand out and the makers have the opportunity to sell their products on the high street. It’s important to me to create a personal shopping experience and tell the stories of the makers. I’m here to offer something different and to tempt shoppers away from mass-produced products made overseas in favour of local talent.

What is your relationship like with local makers? Were they on board from the beginning?

The makers have received it really well, especially because the footfall is so reliable. I just asked them to trust me and I’m so grateful that they did. I have a really personal relationship with the makers and that’s possible because they’re local. Even though I can’t work with everyone, I still want to build a community, so I’ve done two meet-ups this year with speakers, workshops to provide opportunities to connect with other creatives.

What do you find challenging about running this kind of business?

The sacrifice is real! The past year has been so full on and I’ve not been able to spend as much time with friends and family as I would like. There’s just me in the business and I’m responsible for every single aspect of it. Even the shop fixtures are designed by me and then made at home by my boyfriend who is a joiner. 

People tell me I’ve achieved a lot so quickly but I’m not running Curated Makers part time or even full time – I’m running it double time at the moment! Everyone’s concerned about me burning out, so I need to look after myself and work out a way of running Curated Makers that isn’t so reliant on me. At my last two pop-ups I’ve had a rota of shop staff to help me out – they’re all makers or freelancers themselves and it’s been life-changing for me to have them about.

My next challenge will be how I could run two shops at once, then three, then four, because ideally, I’d like to be in as many cities as possible all at the same time.

And if money was no object?

There would be something like this in every city across the UK. I don’t know whether it should be pop-up or permanent – the former is more exciting but logistically heavy with the added elements of moving around and storing stock and shop fittings. I had my heart set on getting into John Lewis and Marks and Spencer and I’ve managed to achieve that. I’d love a pop up in Selfridges and if Liberty would every have me that would be the dream! It would be amazing to take northern makers to the south.

I’ve got something interesting in Curated Makers and I’m starting to get emails from interesting people who want this in more places – it’s so exciting and genuinely all my dreams are starting to come true.

What is special to you about working in the north and particularly with creative women?

There’s so much going on in the south and makers are already well-represented, so I want to shine a spotlight on northern makers. The quality is so high and I’m spoilt for choice. Northern pride is fantastic and, in all the places I’ve been so far, people are so proud of being northern and that’s why I like to focus so much on local products.

I work with a lot of women and it’s great to be able to represent them. I’m really pleased to be able to contribute to a flexible style of working that suits women and their creative businesses and family lives. To be honest, the proportion of women that I work with is so high that I’m actually looking for more men to work with to create some balance!

I’m inspired by so many of the women that I’ve come across and worked with, and lots of them are good friends now. The community aspect is so important to me and I’m becoming more involved in supporting creative women in the North through events and meet-ups. I definitely find that filling a room with other creative people helps to keep me going too!

Curated Makers announce all upcoming events on Instagram @curatedmakers