Q&A with Lorna Millington - Future Networks Manager

#ShapeTheWorld

Tell us about yourself

After finishing a physics and electronics degree, I struggled to find a job that used my newly developed skill. I was pointed towards a job within what was then Transco to model the gas network for the West Midlands using network analysis. Through a number of restructures life changed, but I continued to do the modelling of the gas system now including the higher pressure tiers. I have always liked that my job has changed and grown without me needing to move roles. I love the fact that I can continue to learn and grow as an engineer and manager.

What first got you interested in the world of engineering?

I liked physics and electronics at school so I was trying to find something that made use of that experience and knowledge. It wasn’t that easy at the time to see that engineering would give me that opportunity but someone I knew pointed out a job at Cadent to me and I applied. 

I found myself with something that absolutely floated my boat. I didn’t expect it to initially but it used the logical part of my brain – problem solving, thinking things through – which are all engineering skills just badged in a way that suggests they’re not hands on. Some people think that can’t be engineering because you’re not building anything. You have mechanical engineering and civil engineering and they are understood because they’re tangible. But there are lots of other things that are engineering just less tangible. 

Would you define yourself as a certain type of engineer?

No, the roles in this industry – like gas engineer – mean someone who changes people’s pipes or changes someone’s boiler. That’s the traditional image of the gas engineer. But personally a lot of what I’ve done has been desk based, processes, helping people achieve the more practical aspects. 

One of the things we’re trying to get people to think past – particularly women – is that engineering doesn’t always mean build a bridge or being in a hole in the road. 

How did your education help you?

I did physics, electronics and chemistry at A Level and then went into a degree that was physics and electronics at Wolverhampton University. I was the only woman on my pure physics and electronics course; some other women joined some of my modules but I found the men perfectly fine. It never really felt that noticeable though occasionally I would look around the class and think ‘ok, it’s just me today then’. But it stood me in good stead for coming into work because that’s what the earlier stages of my career looked like.

How did you find your early career experiences in engineering?

You sort of build respect having proven yourself to be of worth. I think for me it was less to do with being a woman and more to do with the role I was doing in Network Analysis which people didn’t necessarily give much credence to at the time. They pushed back on it because they didn’t like what it was telling them.    

What kind of gender mix have you found within Cadent?

It’s changed to an extent during the 23 years I’ve been here. It’s definitely ebbed and flowed from being more male when I started to being more balanced. Within 5 years of my starting it went from largely male to more like 50:50 among managers and since then it’s ebbed and flowed. I’ve never found that particularly troublesome. I get on with both genders and I find it’s more about getting the right person for the role rather than whether they’re a particular gender.

How do you think the world of engineering benefits from a mix of genders and backgrounds?

I think there is naturally a benefit from drawing from different viewpoints and backgrounds and gender comes as part of that. You can get a group of people who all think the same because there’s no one to challenge them or question. It’s not good to not challenge or question. I think it was Einstein who said that the definition of insanity is doing the same things over and over again and expecting a different answer. We do get value from having all of those things in the mix and you can see it on a bigger scale here because Cadent is a big company.

What are the highlights of your career so far?

Becoming a chartered engineer 12 months ago. When I started I didn’t think what I did was particularly in the realm of engineering because people had a very rigid view about what engineering meant.  It’s taken me a number of years and opportunities to see past that.  

Another highlight has been looking at the role of hydrogen which has been so out of the ordinary in that we’re taking a completely different direction.  I can’t imagine there’d be too many other places where I would have an opportunity like that– to think about the world today and how we could change it so fundamentally.    

What does your current role involve?

I am Future Networks Manager, working from Cadent's Hinckley office. At the moment my role includes providing evidence to government about how our network can be converted to transport hydrogen. This is part of the preparation to move to the net zero decarbonisation targets for the UK. To achieve this the gas networks will no longer be able to transport methane to our customers. Understanding what can be reused and how it needs to be adapted is key to the gas network's future.

What do you think the future holds for hydrogen?

I believe that hydrogen will be the only real option to be able to deal with heat. I don’t think that too many other things really do offer that. It might not be hydrogen in the way we use it today in boilers, it may be hybrid boilers or other pieces of technology to create the heat but the reality is that hydrogen has to be part of that solution. 

What advice would you give to a young woman interested in engineering?

All roles that challenge you to continue to learn and think are valuable. I’ve been lucky because I haven’t had to swap jobs or companies to continue to be inspired to do this. The world around me has moved and I’ve been challenged to learn new things and apply them in different ways. An engineering background gives you a great start point. It’s the opportunity to go into a place and grow and find roles that fit for you. My background meant that I could have done around 70% of the jobs in Cadent if I’d wanted to. It gives you a great grounding to stay current and capable. 

How can employers help encourage more women into engineering?

I think it is about helping people to see beyond the job titles. We do a great job of badging what people’s job descriptions are but it’s not that easy to work out what that actually means sometimes in terms of skills. For me an engineer is a person who has a propensity to think logically, likes puzzles and problem-solving; they tend to be able to get into mathematical ends of the spectrum but not always. It’s about finding ways to show all of the people outside this industry what’s on offer, how they can use their skills and how interesting it can be.

You recently became a Women's Engineering Society (WES) Ambassador - tell us about that

I decided to be a WES ambassador as I have been fortunate to be employed by a company that respects and appreciates my skills. That is not just as an engineer, but as a female engineer and what that can bring to the company. I want to help encourage the best engineers Cadent can from all ranges of background and the benefits that diversity brings.

For me this is about everyone reaching their potential in a supportive environment. I was never dissuaded from following the path I enjoyed that is what everyone deserves.

Diversity & Inclusion at Cadent

Diversity and inclusion are woven into the fabric of who we are as a business. Find out more about what you can expect as a Cadent employee.

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