Womens Engineering Society: Inspiring women as engineers, scientists and technical leaders

Tracey Foster

Tracey Foster

Tracey Foster

I’m Tracey and I am the Site Leader and Manufacturing Director at PepsiCo’s Peterlee Walkers site, based in the North East of England. My site produces some of the nation’s favourite crisps and snack products - including Walkers Extra Crunchy, Wotsits and (my personal favourite) Sweet Chilli Sensations. Our site alone produces 26,000 tonnes of crisps a year.

In terms of my background, I have over 15 years experience in engineering. I was more interested in science than humanities throughout my school career, and have always been fascinated by the way that everyday appliances, mechanisms and systems work. From a young age I developed a curiosity about how things were put together and loved coming up with practical solutions to challenges. As an engineer, it’s great to be doing my bit to help keep the world turning! When I left school, I wanted to pursue a university course that was science-based but hands on, and which would be useful for my future career. Engineering was the clear choice.

Engineering is the perfect blend of science and the practical, and I was lucky enough to be accepted for a degree in engineering at Manchester University - with a specialism in textiles. The skills I learned there enabled me to secure my first role and really kick-started my career. 

I started working for PepsiCo in May 1996 at the Peterlee site as a Front Line Manager and since then have worked across many areas of the business, including logistics, finance and operations. Across these disciplines, I have gained a skill base which has ultimately got me where I am today.

Currently I am Site Leader at Peterlee, one of the most flexible manufacturing sites in the UK. On a day-to-day basis, I set out what’s required for the site to function efficiently and work with our teams to develop plans that deliver the best possible performance - ensuring our customers get exactly what they want.

The most rewarding part of my job is working with like-minded and inspirational people, and I really enjoy recruiting new people for the manufacturing line and helping them develop their careers. In particular, I enjoy encouraging more women to join the food and drink industry, the largest manufacturing sector in the UK, which is still hugely underrepresented for women across the country. 

Shockingly, a recent report found that just 6% of engineers in the UK are female – this has to change. We need to get more girls interested in STEM careers, more studying these subjects at university and more becoming working engineers. I regularly visit schools and colleges to educate and (hopefully) inspire girls about the wealth of opportunities in engineering, but I sometimes hear people say that engineering is too ‘messy’ or too ‘hard’ for women. This is a myth that must be dispelled - it’s a great profession that I would encourage anyone to consider, regardless of their gender.  

The best way to discover the different roles out there is to get in touch with companies and arrange work experience, which can open doors to internships or even entry-level jobs. At my site we get applications from engineering students keen to find out more about opportunities in the food and drink industry - the UK's largest manufacturing sector – and it’s great to pass on our knowledge and experience. 

My training and work as an engineer has equipped me with the skills I need to be a site leader. However, PepsiCo has really helped me to achieve my career potential, in particular through the company’s ‘Strategies for Success’ programme. This programme is designed to help women in middle management rise up through the ranks. The programme really changed our once male-dominated culture in the supply chain area of the organisation – in 2009 there were no females in supply chain leadership - now 50% of our manufacturing sites are led by female engineers.

I am proud to say that we have some great female STEM ambassadors within our business, and a number of initiatives in place to encourage more female students into engineering and manufacturing roles. Yet as a company we are ambitious to do more and it is a personal ambition of mine to do whatever I can to ensure greater diversity in the food and drink industry, as well as the wider engineering profession. 

 

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