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STEM Day: Diageo Graduate Engineer Katherine Montgomery

STEM Day: Diageo Graduate Engineer Katherine Montgomery

 November 07, 2019

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To mark National STEM Day in the UK, Where Women Work caught up with Katherine Montgomery, Graduate Engineer at Diageo, about her exciting work.

Katherine joined Diageo as part of the company’s Supply Chain Graduate Programme. Her daily role involves implementing improvement projects on site - this means talking to operators and understanding problems in the process, referring to site drawings and examining the system, before devising ways to improve it and engaging with contractors to implement the modifications. Finally, Katherine monitors the efficiency of the process to see whether the problem has been solved.

Katherine Montgomery Diageo

A passion for STEM from an early age

Katherine’s passion for STEM established itself long before she joined Diageo. “I can remember my brother and I using paper and cello-tape to build a packaging system to protect a digestive biscuit from a four-metre drop from the top of the staircase. We had great fun in figuring out the best way to protect the biscuit and I recall feeling proud of myself when I managed to make and invent something that solved a problem,” she remembers.

“Thankfully my mam - who is a Scientist - wasn’t too annoyed when we covered the staircase in smashed biscuits. I’m grateful to her for being my role model, in both STEM and life, and keeping me constantly supplied with cello-tape, cardboard and Lego.”

During her school years, Katherine’s passion for inventing developed further and - although she did not know what career to pursue - she knew she wanted to utilise her STEM interests.

“I knew that I enjoyed maths, science and art, but didn’t know which career would allow me to use these skills. I chose to study Civil Engineering at university because I liked buildings and drawing, but never imagined that this would lead me to a career in distilling and bioenergy.”

Choosing to work in bioenergy with Diageo

So how did Katherine’s career in distilling and bioenergy with Diageo come about? When completing her degree, she applied to several graduate programmes - mainly related to construction. However, she quickly found herself drawn to Diageo.

“I came across several articles based on Diageo and their major commitment to sustainability - this really raised my awareness of the company. Then, during the assessment process, I found the atmosphere was so different to other places that I had worked. I felt that I could be myself and I enjoyed the assessment tasks, which were technical but also creative and fun,” she remembers.

Katherine Montgomery Diageo graduate STEM

Katherine was also attracted to the idea of working in a global company with opportunities abroad and was delighted to find that authenticity and individuality are highly valued with Diageo.

“In previous jobs I have felt that I have to ‘act’ a certain way and felt a bit like I was the odd one out. However, working at Diageo has made me feel like I can really be myself, as there is a real atmosphere of inclusion,” she explains. “Even with the little things, like work uniform! I was delighted when Diageo were able to provide me with women’s Extra Extra Long work trousers (I am six foot three, so normal trousers leave me with very cold ankles!).”

Katherine Montgomery Diageo working

An exciting experience with Diageo so far

Despite having only worked with Diageo for a short time, Katherine feels she has already learnt so much. She enjoys how varied her role is; going on site visits and joining online meetings with people from all over the world. This variety extends to her location - Katherine was welcomed to the graduate programme in the Edinburgh Park offices but works on-site at the Cameronbridge Distillery in Fife.

Katherine Montgomery Diageo distilling

“My time at Edinburgh Park was a great introduction to the company - everyone is so down to earth and even some of the Executive Committee took time to talk to us. We also had a Johnnie Walker cocktail making session, which was fun and a good way to get to know the other graduates,” says Katherine.

“The Cameronbridge Distillery is huge and produces more spirit than all other Diageo distilleries in Scotland combined. I spent the first few weeks learning about and witnessing the production of Gordon’s and Tanqueray gin, Smirnoff vodka and the grain whisky used in blending Johnnie Walker. I have spent most of my time at the Bioenergy Plant and it is fascinating to see how energy is generated from ‘waste’ to align with Diageo’s sustainability targets.”

She adds “Communication is a huge part of my daily job and I really enjoy talking to different people. It is useful to be able to explain your thoughts and ideas in a clear and concise way. This helps with problem solving, which is the skill that I enjoy using the most. It is so satisfying working with people to provide solutions and to contribute to helping produce iconic brands.”

Katherine Montgomery Diageo employee

Encouraging more young women into STEM careers

In addition to her everyday work, as a young woman engineer Katherine is collaborating with Diageo to encourage more young people into STEM careers. To help Diageo spread the word during National STEM Day, This Is Engineering Day and Tomorrow’s Engineers Week, she is posting interviews on social media with STEM role models across five different countries. Diageo is also adding to the Royal Academy of Engineering image library to demonstrate diversity in the profession.

“Diageo are really engaged with encouraging the next generation. I think this is helping change the face of the STEM sector, as there are now female cask handlers, distillers and brewers. On the Executive Committee, there is a real representation of diversity and this is something that is celebrated at Diageo. It helps young people imagine themselves in these roles all the way from apprenticeships to the top of the company,” says Katherine.

“It’s important to challenge the stereotypes associated with STEM. When you Google the word ‘Engineer’ you get a lot of photos of men in hardhats. Plus, at a young age children see Bob the Builder, Fireman Sam and Thomas the Tank Engine and this makes them associate STEM with the male population. Engineering is so much more than this, and we want young people to recognise the diversity of the options available in STEM, as well as the diversity of people within the sector.”

She continues “Hopefully in the future there will be better media representation of STEM, which moves away from ‘mad scientists’ in lab coats and instead focuses on the real people who change our world every day.”

Katherine Montgomery Diageo women graduates

Advice for young women interested in STEM

Reflecting on how she ended up choosing a STEM career, Katherine says “The range of opportunities that studying STEM subjects opens up is incredible. From my class at university, I know a girl who is now working on an offshore oil rig, another who is designing bridges and one who is doing research for NASA. STEM subjects really give you an opportunity to work in a diverse range of roles. There is also a huge sense of job satisfaction when you are able to say ‘I helped make that’.”

When asked what advice she would offer to young girls considering working in STEM fields, Katherine adds “Keep asking questions. Most people are more than happy to answer questions about their job and it is a great way to learn from their expertise and obtain different insights and ideas. Also, one of the best ways to bring about change is by asking yourself and others, ‘Why do we do this in this way?’ and ‘What could we be doing differently?’”

Katherine Montgomery Diageo career

Furthering her creativity outside of work

Finally, Katherine shares how she maintains her personal interests and explains how furthering her creativity at home can help when back in the workplace. She enjoys drawing, painting and inventing - and often brings her ideas into work.

“I’m enthusiastic and eager to learn both professionally and personally. Sometimes my creative inventions don’t always work, as my work colleagues can verify - the Weetabix cupcakes that I made were not exactly the best idea!” she laughs.

“I find art very therapeutic and enjoy doing a quick sketch whenever I go to a new place. I think it is also a very useful skill for an engineer to have, as it makes it easier to summarise ideas. Watching rugby is also another passion of mine, which is good because, with a lot of British and Irish people in the office, the World Cup and Six Nations provides a lot of talking points.”

Whether she’s at work or at home, it is clear that Katherine enjoys pursuing her interest in STEM and this has allowed her to excel in a career that combines her passions and skills.

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