On February 11th, we celebrate the International Day of Women and Girls in Science. This year’s theme is “Innovate, Demonstrate, Elevate, Advance and Sustain (I.D.E.A.S)”.

We are interviewing Vanessa Viney, a senior engineer and Innovation Manager in Airbus Defence and Space. In this article, Vanessa explains how she values the importance of believing in ourselves to make things happen as a woman in engineering, and how to bring more exposure to science in education for the next generation.

Please present yourself. 

I am Vanessa Viney, UK and US Innovation Manager at Airbus Defence and Space.

I define myself as a passionate, positive and proactive woman. Passionate, because I have lots of energy and drive that I channel into my goals - I believe and care about all the projects I undertake.

Positive because a positive attitude helps overcome any barriers when you believe in a successful outcome. My passion helps me to be positive in my position and being proactive helps me find ways to achieve success. Passion, positivity and proactivity are linked if you want to make a difference!

How long have you been working at Airbus?

I joined Airbus 26 years ago, after graduating from studies in Aerospace Systems Engineering (MEng) from Southampton University and have witnessed significant evolution throughout my 26 years with the business.

Originally I was a Mission System Engineer, in the Earth Observation & Science team, working on projects like ASAR (the Advanced Synthetic Aperture Radar for Envisat - the largest Earth Observation Satellite, and a great collaboration project for Europe).

I have enjoyed the flexible mobility which Airbus offer and although I started as a Mission Systems Engineer, have taken various roles such as Cost Engineer, Project Manager, Bid Manager, Product Manager and Innovation Manager. These gave me exposure to the wider business, different skill sets and, as Support Project Manager, opportunities such as regular visits to the UAE to help build a ground station and see a space capability rise up - literally from the sand! 

I also took a ‘gap year’ in my early years at Airbus, which included being a Project Manager in Ghana on a Sightsavers project with Raleigh International, co-ordinating the 18-25 year old volunteers who helped carry out eye tests for 20,000 people. Living on floors of old buildings, a radio for communications and no running water was certainly a challenge - one which gave me an unshakeable sense of resourcefulness and resilience.

Other projects/bids I have been lucky enough to work on include Skynet 5, Inmarsat, Intelsat, Hotbird8, Galileo, Hylas, W2M and Astra-1M. Plus, during my time with Secure Communications I worked on Australian, Canadian and Turkish ground support contracts and contributed to the expansion of our product portfolio.

Beyond my day job, I am also supporting the UK Youth Rocketry competition this year, a contest championed by Airbus and the UK trade association ADS aimed at introducing 11-18 year olds to the world of Aerospace Engineering.

Why did you choose to study Engineering?

Despite attending an all girls school which lacked organic exposure to STEM and whose careers advisors had never heard of the aerospace industry, I’ve been interested in both topics since I was 7 and have always loved science.

For my A-levels I chose Maths and Physics, opening the door to engineering in the future. For my 3rd subject, I chose Politics - keeping my options open should I decide Engineering wasn’t for me, after all.

While studying, I used my connections to attend the Brunel Women into Engineering course, did a week’s work experience at MBDA and a summer placement at the Asher Space Research Institute in Israel - all invaluable experience that has helped me to get where I am today.

I’m a big believer of the more you do, the more you try and the more experience you have, the more connections and opportunities you will end up having.

My role model is Helen Sharman, the first British astronaut and the first Western European female astronaut. She was the first woman to ever visit the Space Station Mir in 1991, around the time I was looking for University courses. Seeing a woman accomplish my dream was inspiring and gave me a real confidence boost in making my career in engineering a reality.

Why Airbus?

I am passionate about space and Airbus is a leading Defence and Space company in the UK. They are involved in many exciting missions with close connections to ESA and Defence institutions across the globe.

Airbus encourages unconscious bias training, enables flexible working (which helps with childcare), and provides opportunities for promotion at all career points - for example, they promoted me on maternity leave. These values definitely help attract and retain women. The more women we have, the more role models we create.

About gender equality in your field, have you noticed a difference?

At university, I was the only girl on my course, and even though I went to an all-girls school beforehand, I just accepted it as the norm. There wasn’t as much of a push for women to try their hand in more conventionally ‘male’ roles such as engineering.

Now though, I do see a change - there are definitely more women doing engineering courses, coming into the Industry and beginning their careers within Airbus across all departments.

I’m confident things will continue to improve, but it works best if everyone is involved - parents, teachers, industry etc. Let’s make these opportunities seem reachable and indeed the norm for women!

Do you think of a reason why and which changes are required?

In order to get more girls coming in, we have to make sure we keep them excited and supported at each step of the journey, so that their passion will only grow. There are 3 stages to this for me:

  1. The Motivation: Providing exposure to the industry at a young age is key. Girls need to know that these options are available to them - increasing STEM skill development in the curriculum, rather than optional clubs, would be a huge help.
  2. The Confidence: Helping young women overcome their apprehension to join an industry that can be perceived as male dominated. Showing them examples of successful women in STEM - role models and influencers. Providing mentorship, work experience, etc.
  3. The Access: Then give them the route into the industry - through placements, apprenticeships and graduate schemes.

For me all this applies not just for women, but for all forms of diversity. As an Innovation Manager, the more diverse we can be, the richer the Innovation produced

How is the theme of this year related to your job?

  • Innovate - Being an Innovation Manager at Airbus, innovation is at the core of my job. Gathering and cultivating innovative ideas from our employees and externally through relationships with start-ups, SMEs and Academia.
  • Demonstrate - Producing Minimum Viable Products for early customer showcasing creates an agile relationship and the ability to shape the end result according to our customers' feedback/reviews.
  • Elevate - The drive for innovation stems from the desire to improve - ‘elevate’ - our products and services.
  • Advance -  Working in innovation means we always have to think outside of the box, about the future needs of our customer.
  • Sustain - As the future is “a sustainable world”, we are currently working on several innovative and sustainable projects such as detecting and deterring oil pollution (using satellite radar images and AI), sensor technology to assist aircraft to reduce their emissions impact, monitoring and reducing waste in our factories and using sustainable materials for disposable objects such as tooling.

What one piece of advice would you give to other women wanting to pursue a career in Science? 

Experience gives confidence”.

So take a chance and try things, the rest will follow. Don’t underestimate yourself - women commonly do. Then when you succeed, don’t be afraid to congratulate yourself.

Having an ally or a mentor, professionally or personally, helps to boost confidence. I myself am a mentor with Women in Defence UK. In an environment where advice and knowledge can be shared freely, women are given the confidence to accomplish whatever they desire.


"Every day, wake up to make a difference, even in a small way. This inspires others to do the same, creating a domino effect that drives positive change." Vanessa Viney, Innovation Manager, Airbus Defence and Space.